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Volume 31, Issue 1

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Tuesday, 27 February 2018 14:58

Date and time: the new draft of ISO 8601 explained by Klaus-Dieter Naujok

Standardization is a truly international activity, and I've been lucky to have worked with more nationalities than I can remember. But, that said, my first business meeting with a German remains etched in my memory. It was in fact nothing more than a working breakfast, a chance to meet face-to-face after a good number of productive and friendly phone calls. "So, we'll meet at the café at half-nine? Look forward to meeting you then!"

Well, it turns out that for Germans, half-nine, means "half-an-hour-before-nine-o’clock-has-arrived" (08:30), while for an Englishman, such as myself, it means "half-an-hour-has-passed-since-nine-o’clock" (09:30). It was an embarrassing mistake, though without serious consequence; an apology, and the pancakes and coffee on me. But it could have been something much more serious than a fudged Frühstück.

That’s why in 1988, ISO 8601 was published. In a single document, "Data elements and interchange formats – Information interchange – Representation of dates and times," established a fool-proof format for computer users, ensuring that critical events happen on time. Whether scheduling flights and public transport; broadcasting sports events; keeping public records; managing major projects; or establishing a reliable way to swap the inconceivably huge amount of data that keeps modern life on track, ISO 8601 is a game-changer.