ISO 8601 – The International Standard that keeps us all up to date

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Looking for an unambiguous calendar-and-clock format that is internationally understood? It’s time for ISO 8601.


This ISO standard helps remove doubts that can result from the various day–date conventions, cultures and time zones that impact a global operation. It gives a way of presenting dates and times that is clearly defined and understandable to both people and machines.


What can ISO 8601 do for me?


When dates are represented with numbers they can be interpreted in different ways. For example, 01/05/12 could mean January 5, 2012, or May 1, 2012. On an individual level this uncertainty can be very frustrating, in a business context it can be very expensive. Organizing meetings and deliveries, writing contracts and buying airplane tickets can be very difficult when the date is unclear.


ISO 8601 tackles this uncertainty by setting out an internationally agreed way to represent dates:




For example, September 27, 2012 is represented as 2012-09-27.

ISO 8601 can be used by anyone who wants to use a standardized way of presenting:


  • Date
  • Time of day
  • Coordinated Universal Time (UTC)
  • Local time with offset to UTC
  • Date and time
  • Time intervals
  • Recurring time intervals

What ISO 8601 Means to Atlas Furniture Asia

Working with Chinese, Vietnamese and Malaysian manufacturing partners, as well as clients all across the world, there will never be a date format to match the ‘natural’ date format used by everyone.

Therefore, we decided as a company to use the ISO 8601 date format of YYYY-MM-DD hh:mm:ss in order to limit errors caused by simple misunderstandings.

When I first encountered this date format during my Masters degree in Internet Computing, the logic made absolute sense to me.

…says Mark Clulow, Business Systems Administrator for Atlas Furniture Asia.

The fact that any and all coding languages are built with this at their core made it an instant necessity for me to adopt – and I was sold on the idea right away. Ever since then, it’s the only date & time format I use. I had a similar ‘epiphany’ experience moving from imperial to metric as a very young child in school – imperial measurements (weights and lengths) were of no interested to me when metric made so much more sense to me decimal-thinking brain.

The team at Atlas were quick to adopt the format and – aside from a couple of reminders here and there and needing to update one or two excel spreadsheets, the changeover was relatively painless and we have had zero push-back from our customers.

The initial concern from Mr Broybn (Atlas Director for APAC region) was that it would confuse customers and cause major issues. We’re really pleased that this wasn’t the case and that we now recognise that – in the long-run – we have probably avoided costly and time-wasting issues and errors by making the switch.

Mark goes on the express his surprise and disappointment at companies that fail to make the switch, saying:

I’m often surprised when I get push-back over this small, yet highly effective change in how to operate and communicate. For one, reports become instantly more powerful (in that you can sort by date properly), you better communicate with customers and suppliers regardless of their locale and your business data integrates seamlessly (without the need for costly processes) into computer systems.

How to convert your company to ISO 8601

The main area is in communicating the efficiency of the date & time format to your staff. Make them aware that this seemingly tiny change (whilst initially may seem odd), can have major positive benefits to the business and to the overall effectiveness of their communication. No longer will there be any doubt what 20/02/04 means, when written as 2020-04-02!

Next up, check any software and SaaS service settings – for example, your email settings, your phone settings and your website settings (especially if you regularly post news to your website). More often than not, ISO 8601 is an option you can choose, but the default is often set to the one most popular in your chose location (for example USA being the opposite to the UK with day and month order.

Finally (and this one is made easier if the first stage is carried out, as everyone can help out here), when someone comes across a document within the organisation that displays anything BUT the ISO 8601 format, go ahead and change it!

In word processing software, it may just be a case of re-writing it (remember to check headers and footers!), whereas, in spreadsheet software, you may need to drill into the DATA > FORMAT section of the software to specify the best format (YYYY-MM-DD hh:mm:ss). For sure, this is set as ONE of the default options under ‘United Kingdom’ in Microsofts’ world-renown ‘Excel’ spreadsheet software – our weapon of choice at present here at Atlas.

To use the International Standards Organisation Motto: “Great Things Happen When The World Agrees”

I hope you’ll agree, it’s time we all agree on the date and time format, for starters.