Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Cornerstones of an Innovation Society (Part II): Embracing Change

Innovation always means change. Innovators are hungry for change, for improvement, for finding better, smarter ways of doing things. And change always means that things will be different. Where people don't like to see things getting different there is no room for innovation. I assume there is no dispute on that.

Innovators drive change. They don't wait till they are changed. About a decade ago the small book “Who moved my cheese” from Spencer Johnson provided an entertaining and inspiring allegory on the need to embrace change and to actively get involved into working on the future and driving change.

Now, for sure all of us constantly see situations where people, groups or organisations are hesitant to accept change because they fear of loosing something, be it status, influence, market dominance, etc. The consequence is resistance to change – which is, in turn, a barrier to innovation.

It is, therefore, important to create a mentality for innovation. It is up to everyone of us to become more open to change, to constantly look and strive for change rather than waiting for others to start change processes. After all, those who do not drive change, will be changed. In his speech at the European Innovation Summit President Barroso talked about the task of “nurturing the mindset” (p.2). And for sure we need to go ahead with good example and develop the proper mindset ourselves.

The following 5 imperatives are fundamental for a culture of change and we constantly need to investigate ourselves:

  1. Are there changes or modernisations that I consider necessary or desirable?

  2. Are there areas where I am resistant to change and therefore block or try to avoid?

  3. What prevents me from going ahead?

  4. Am I open for the necessary changes and the consequences?

  5. Am I ready to invest time and effort in taking responsibility for driving change?

These imperatives are certainly not inclusive. We can work on them to make them more precise. Suggestions more than welcome. But what is clear, I think: A successful innovation society needs a culture of change, a mindset that accepts and embraces movement, improvement, change – in other words: a mindset that is always ready to innovate.



See also my blog entry on Cornerstones of an Innovation Society (Part I): Openness

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

New era starts in Europe today as Lisbon treaty comes into force

After a long time of debate and negotiation as well as of ratification in the member states the Lisbon treaty comes into force today. This treaty defines the new constitution for Europe - with two main new introductions:
  1. a permanent President of the European Council
  2. a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
For these two posts Herman Van Rompuy and Baroness Catherine Ashton were recently chosen.

The German newspaper FAZ gives on its website a good chart today illustrating the functions and organisations according to the Lisbon treaty.

See also the official EU website on the Treaty of Lisbon and the summary of the new structure at The Treaty at a Glance.

Friday, 27 November 2009

New European Commission is taking shape

President Barroso announced today his new Commission. See the details about who will be responsible for which department in the Commission press release. Just to mention two of the new Commissioners: Ms Neelie Kroes from the Netherlands who was formerly responsible for DG Competition will now be lead the Digital Agenda - which will incorporate much of what was formerly DG INFSO. And the Italian Commissioner Mr Antonio Tajani will be responsible for Industry and Entrepreneurship, much of what was formerly DG ENTR. Both will also act as Vice-Presidents of the Commission.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

EU Commission conference on Standards Education - my personal take-aways

Yesterday the European Commission held a conference on standards education titled “Educating a New Generation of ICT Standards Professionals”. There was a focus on information and communication technologies (ICT) in relation to standards education. Part of the objective was to get an overview on the initiatives for standards education that are already available; to identify whether there are specifics for ICT that need to be considered and if so, which; and finally to come to some thinking towards recommendations and concrete actions.

To begin with, the workshop was of highest quality. Congratulations to the Commission for making such an interesting and inspiring event possible. The workshop brought together high capacity experts in the subject matter and policy makers as well as people from all stakeholders in ICT standardisation.

Not being an expert on standards education myself, my major take-aways from the conference are:

  1. Standards education is an important topic that needs to be considered more in the discussions around EU standards policy reform.

  2. Standards education is in itself a diverse field targetting very different audiences. Be it the standards development organisations that are interested in providing courses relative to the work in their institutions; be it academia looking at how to integrate the topic of standardisation into education curricula; be it small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that are looking for focussed information and for channels and multipliers to reach out to the many SMEs locally; be it consumer representatives that are in need of training and support for being properly equipped to represent consumer interests in standards matters.

  3. To achieve a better level of knowledge about standardisation is important given the relevance of standardisation for innovation and competitiveness. This aims at the technical aspects as well as at business and legal aspects.

  4. Very many things are already available, projects going on in standards education. What seems to be required is to gather and consolidate what is around and strive for a next level of cooperation between the actors in standards education. The ISO representative made a passionate plea into this direction.

  5. The real specifics of the ICT sector are not yet covered, though. It became clear in the discussions of the last panel and in the presentations from W3C and IETF that there is some common ground equal for all standardisation, but that ICT standardisation has different ways for doing its work, yet with high effectiveness and efficiency.

There were also some side-remarks that were very interesting. These included above all the various statements stressing the need for openness and open standards in the ICT sector. I should like to add: for promoting the implementation of software interoperability and thus for facilitating innovation.

Finally, I think supporting activities in standards education can be a task for all of us who are active as “professionals” in the standardisation. All large companies have programmes for supporting academia in knowledge transfer or for working with networks and clusters. This could be a way of offering support and bridging the gap between practical knowledge and the need for education.

I left the conference with the impression that much can be done on the short range without too many efforts. There needs to be some funding, e.g. from the European Commission as well as from national and even regional governments, which, in my view, would be justified given that education is a societal task. Such funding would help to get started fast in some way, e.g. creating pilot projects with some universities for including standardisation into their curricula etc. These initial activities would, for sure, not solve all the issues. But I am a strong believer in piecemeal process and incremental enhancement and expansion.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

French Prime Minster formally adopted French Interoperability Guide

As announced by the French government yesterday, the French Prime Minister formally approved the French Interoperability Guide, the Référentiel Général d'Iinteropérabilité (RGI). The RGI outlines the needs for achieving Interoperability for eGovernment service provision and public administrations' IT infrastructures. It gives a clear commitment to openness and provides yet another successful, forward-looking implementation of the principles outlined in the European Interoperability Framework (EIF).

Vivid public debate around the EIF and openness

A vivid debate is currently ongoing about the European Interoperability Framework (EIF). After the publication of the public draft for EIF 2.0 in summer 2008 and the public consultation on it (which ended in September 2008), a new draft leaked to the public end of last week.

The public reaction to the new draft is entirely negative complaining about the move away from a clear commitment to openness and outlining the risks of such a change:

In his article of Nov 2 in ComputerworldUK, titled “EU Wants to Re-define 'Closed' as 'Nearly Open'”, Glyn Moody concludes:

“[...] if the real version 2 of the European Interoperability Framework is anything like the one discussed above, with its pathetically devalued definition of openness [...] it will represent a huge setback for the use of free software in Europe, and a major boost for closed-source software producers and the patents they all-too often claim there [...].”

Similarly, the German IT news channel Spiegelonline Netzwelt Ticker states on Nov 3:

“Wo früher klar für mehr Offenheit plädiert wurde, steht jetzt eine schwammige philosophische Abhandlung über das, was Offenheit sein soll - im Grunde ein schönes Gefühl. Es gebe ein Offenheits-Kontinuum, auch Closed-Source-Software könne als "Open" betrachtet werden.”

Heise online (H-open) on Nov 10 summarises the “Protests against proposed redefinition of open standards within the EU”:

“Open source associations have criticised the fact that the draft of a planned amendment to the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) [...] includes patented and proprietary solutions in an 'openness continuum'. They are concerned that this could significantly restrict the usability of open source software in public administration. [...] Until now, the EIF has required that standards be developed by non-commercial organisations and published either free of charge or for a nominal fee. IP rights, in particular patent rights, which impact a standard must also be made " irrevocably available on a royalty-free basis." This is important for ensuring that standards can be implemented in both proprietary and open source software without being restricted by commercial property rights.”

For the OpenForum Europe, Graham Taylor, the organisation's CEO, pointed out that

"The EU is at risk to lose its global leadership position on openness and interoperability. The Commission's reputation will be seriously damaged if EIF 2.0 is released in the way it is currently worded. [..] The drastic changes from the consultation document of 2008 to this document cannot be seen as resulting from the comments submitted through the public consultation [...].”

Perhaps this open, public and citizen-driven debate with the clear reactions against any move away from openness can help - to use some IT jargon - that bugs in the proposed new “EIF code” can be singled out before EIF 2.0 goes live.

As mentioned in my last blog on the importance of openness for an Innovation Society, I believe that EIF 1.0 needs an “innovation step” rather than a revision. Essentially, to me this means:

  1. Build on the wide success and broad adoption of EIF 1.0 including its clear commitment to openness;
  2. Develop it further, e.g. by covering new levels relevant for the realisation of pan-European eGovernment Services (PEGS) interoperability and by updating recommendations on architecture and infrastructure reflecting new market developments.

Regarding the latter, in fact, the new “leaked” draft for the EIF 2.0 does reflect some of these innovative updates. For instance, it extends the scope of interoperability to new, important levels like legal and organisational interoperability and it reflects service orientation as the central underlying architectural paradigm for modern eGovernment IT infrastructures.

Regarding the first, I would agree with those who are asking for a strong stance on openness and a reconfirmation of the principles that are included in EIF 1.0. Requiring open standards, considering open source technologies on equal footing with proprietary offerings – all of that is essential for the public sector.

EIF 1.0 has, indeed, had a global lead role on this. The openness principles of EIF 1.0 have been widely welcomed by member states, the general public as well as by governments all over the globe. Using non-documented, proprietary specifications or trying to achieve interoperability without open standards on the basis of homogeneity of IT systems will lead to critical lock-in situations and negatively impact choice, competition and innovation. The updated EIF 2.0 should leave no doubts on this. Especially as openness is high on the Commission's agenda as a central element for the transformation of the EU into an Innovation Society as pointed out by President Barroso in his recent speech at the European Innovation Summit.

EU Commission workshop on Standards Education

Next week the European Commission is holding a conference on "Educating a New Generation of ICT Standards Professionals". The agenda looks very good - a lot of high level people will be presenting and discussing. Registration is still open via the Commission website.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Cornerstones of an Innovation Society (Part I): Openness

Earlier this summer I blogged about the concept of a Knowledge Society for Europe as successor of the Information Society. And I had anticipated that several directorates in the Commission are working on the concept for the successor to Innovation Society.

Now President Barroso recently announced the programme for the new term of office of the Commission (see my last blog post in October). Under the motto “Knowledge4Innovation” he set the direction of “Transforming the EU into an Innovation Society”. This is a great move, I think, exactly at the right time, and with the right focus.

Innovation is key. It is key for solving the problems and challenges societies and economies are facing. Innovation is about constant improvement of the instruments, processes and relations we have in place for making things better, smarter, more efficient, more effective.

An innovation society is, in my opinion, a society that constantly aims for improvement, that constantly looks for better ways of doing the things we do. In our days, innovation is for society what the progressive movement was at the beginning of the last century. And I am sure innovation will shape much of this century in a similar way the progressive movement shaped the last century – up into the 1970s at least.

President Barroso also started to outline the focal elements for an Innovation Society. One of them is openness:
"Moreover, the application of innovations like Web 2.0 to business and public life is changing the way in which innovation happens. It is becoming more open and
collaborative. Once the preserve of a select elite, it now involves a much wider
range of actors. It tends to happen at the inter-section between different disciplines. It is sometimes disruptive, resulting in the downfall of established companies. Often, it is employee or consumer-driven. [...] crowd-sourcing and co-creation are now the order of the day!"
I think President Barroso is absolutely right. Over the last decade openness has increasingly become a key element for driving change and fostering innovation. In the IT world, the Open Source model (only think of Linux !), the increasing demand for Open Standards, and in general models of Open Innovation are prime examples.

Openness is moreover a key factor in the political arena as well as for societies in total. Opening up your think tanks, your expert groups etc. for including outside opinion and for gathering outside ideas and integrating them into your thinking is the approach for moving ahead in an Innovation Society.

There are two pieces of literature which I would list as key masterminds about the value of openness for innovation and progress. For the IT world it is Eric S. Raymond's “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”; for society as a whole it is James Surowiecki's “The Wisdom of Crowds”. I owe tremendous insights to both these writings.

It seems to be appropriate at this point to also stress that openness is not about making everything available for free for everyone and about letting loose on everything. Far from it. The key task is to find a new equilibrium between open and closed, between open and proprietary. Find new, innovative processes and instruments for opening up one's systems. Create permeable membranes rather than iron curtains. And we are seeing and will continue to see that those companies, organisations and even economies and societies perform best and progress best which are working on this change towards increased openness and open innovation.

Given all that I think President Barroso is right in outlining the task for the Commission:
"We need a new policy that reflects these changes. This means that we will have to, well, innovate!"
Some directorates and units had been ahead in the Commission already for some time – especially in the IT and standards world. Initiatives from DG Information Society have been aiming at more openness as a facilitator for innovation. Commissioner Kroes at several occasions outlined the benefits of openness and open standards for competitiveness and innovation. And, last but not least, the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) 1.0 had been a driver of openness and innovation in the area of eGovernment with a clear stance on Open Standards and on the need to consider Open Source offerings on equal footing with proprietary solutions.

In its discussions on standardisation and standard policy reform the Commission is currently at a crossroads. The White Paper on “Modernising ICT Standardisation in the EU” published in July this year proposes a bit more openness and would be a first step ahead (see my blog entry in July). EXPRESS is due to submit its report in January with recommendations for the overall European standardisation system. Supporting the transformation of the EU into an Innovation Society will be a key task for the new EU standards policy.

EIF is currently under review. I would say that the focus should not be to revise or review EIF 1.0, but – once again – to innovate. With EIF 1.0 the Commission took global leadership on openness and driving change. There seems to be a weird discussion currently whether to turn away from openness and adapt more to yesterday's thinking. This certainly would not help and would make the EIF almost meaningless. EIF 2.0 needs to build on the great successes of EIF 1.0 that can be seen in many of the member states and to further push for openness as key facilitator of innovation in the area of eGovernment, as well. After all, this is so critical for providing interoperable eGovernment services as part of the transformation of the EU into an Innovation Society.

Openness is essential for innovation. Don't wait for great minds locked-in behind closed walls to come up with the only valid solutions. In a knowledge-based society there needs to be room for great ideas and good proposals to freely circulate. This is the energy which will fire the innovation engine. Governance and policy making need to take this up if the transformation into an Innovation Society is to be successful.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Speech from President Barroso on Europe's Innovation Policy

Last week president Barroso gave a remarkable, forward looking speech to Parliament at the European Innovation Summit. He characterises how the knowledge society needs to be a driver of innovation and outlines the cornerstones of the future European innovation policy. This includes, amongst other things, the aspects of open innovation, of standardisation as a facilitator of innovation, and of the need for new, innovative models for IPR handling.

For more information see the Commission website on the Innovation Summit called Knowledge4Innovation where you can also view and download further information.

Addition of Oct 20:
The speech is now also available in transcript for reading - read on the Commission website or download as pdf.

Relevant link of today: Speech of Commissioner Kroes on competition policy and the role of standards and interoperability

Last week Commissioner Kroes gave a speech at the Harvard Club of Belgium. The Commissioner addressed the full range of issues regarding competition policy and the benefits of standards and interoperability as well as issues regarding improvement of IPR handling in Standards Developing Organisations with mechanisms like patent disclosure etc. I would like to highlight the following three passages from Commissioner Kroes' speech here:

Following her speech on open standards from 2008, Commissioner Kroes stressed:
In essence, standards are good because they create the level playing field on which all can compete. More than that, good standard-setting helps consumers, boosts competitiveness and can spur market growth. Remember, for example, the wide-spread benefits of some of the most common standards in everyday use I am thinking of the GSM standard for mobile phone, Internet protocols, the magnetic stripe on various ID and banking cards, MPEG for videos and podcasts.
Commissioner Kroes continued emphasizing the benefits of open and transparent standardisation for competitiveness and innovation:
If standardisation processes are open and transparent, then standards can bring significant benefits to consumers by ensuring compatibility between products, which will generate competition on price and innovation.

And on interoperability the Commissioner pointed out:
Standards may facilitate economies of scale, but it is with interoperability that they really add value to the economy. Standards are the foundation of interoperability – they create the level playing field needed for interoperability, where all can compete. When good standard-setting allows everyone to interoperate, it is also more likely that consumers will get the sort of high-quality and innovative products that work in a wide range of situations.
To some extend the speech reads like the resumée of Commissioner Kroes' term of office of the last 5 years. It is worth reading the full speech on the Commissions website or download from there in pdf format. (All quotes above from the Commission website)

Friday, 16 October 2009

You need a new suit once in a while, don't you...

I decided to give my blog a new look today. I find it a bit more modern and clear. Hope you like it too and further enjoy browsing by here. Have a nice weekend everyone. I will enjoy the days off after a rather busy week and will enjoy the sports and culture events in which my kids are performing this weekend. So business will go on, but in different domains. Cheers...

Thursday, 15 October 2009

World Standards Day on EXPRESS: some snippets

Yesterday was World Standards Day. And it was on EXPRESS – the expert panel on the revision of the European standardisation system. See my blog post of Oct 6 for the announcement and in particular the link to the EXPRESS issues paper that had been prepared as input to yesterday's conference.

The conference was over all a success. At least if you count in participants. The large conference theatre in Charlemagne was not full, but well and densely populated. And the entire community of standards folks was around – the usual suspects and a good many more.

You couldn't really say that the conference did bring forth new breakthrough thinking. It was to a large extend rather a reconfirmation of the topics and issues that have been identified and are being discussed by the EXPRESS panel. This is good because it shows that the EXPRESS panel is capturing the critical items. There were no controversies, which might be due to the fact that participation from the audience was very much restricted to asking questions rather than bringing up ideas or criticism.

Several of the panelists were in positioning-mode rather than in visionary or brainstorming-mode. So the benefits of the ESOs and the current European standardisation system were stressed a lot with pointing at the needs to improve cooperation and the needs for global standards.

So here's what I personally take away as essentials from the conference:

  1. The critical issues that societies, or if you like: mankind, are facing in the next decade are around the environment, climate change, water and energy supply, optimisation and efficiency. Standardisation can help in finding smarter ways of doing things and getting processes and supply-chains better connected and optimised. The consequence to me is: What is needed is a mechanism to systematically support the integration of technologies via standards, the combination of standards into complex systems for solving the pressing issues described and foster innovative.

  2. Costas Andropoulos, Head of Commission Unit D4, gave a first overview on the comments the Commission received on the white paper on “Modernisation of the ICT standardisation policy in Europe”. The feedback is highly supportive to the Commission recommendations. Main areas where most comments were submitted include the list of attributes and their implementation; IPR; the composition of the platform. Costas explained that the Commission will now work on analysing the comments and taking them into account for the revision of the Council Decision. And he stressed that the Commission will submit a revised Council Decision in spring 2010 and that this time table even needs to be kept in case EXPRESS results should not be ready by then since further time should not be lost.

  3. Peter Brown, Executive Director of OASIS, pointed out that he and the OASIS Board of Directors see themselves not primarily as representing an organisation but as providing a platform for stakeholders to efficiently develop standards. I like this service provider attitude very much.

  4. The discussion around innovation was, to my mind, too much limited to the issue of transferring research results into standardisation. This is only one aspect of innovation. A broader view on innovation is needed taking into account the implementation of standards and the innovation on top of standards, e.g. for integrating technologies as described above. This innovation potential where open standards play a key role needs to be taken up by an effective European innovation policy.

And here's some criticism of the conference which I picked up in coffee break discussions:

  • Some people were disappointed that there were no real progressive or visionary thinking;
  • Some people were disappointed that there was a lack of representation of speakers in supporting open standards, more open and community oriented approaches;
  • Some people thought that the discussions were not lively enough.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Thought leadership from OpenForum Europe: Seven key elements for the reform of the European Standardisation System

OpenForum Europe published today a strategic discussion paper listing "Seven Key Elements for a Modernised European Standardisation System". This is in the context of work of the European Commission on reforming the European standardisation system and the EU ICT standards policy.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, this week, on world standards day, there will be an open conference on the reform of the European standardisation system taking into account the work of the EXPRESS panel.

Secondly, in early summer this year, the Commission had published a white paper on the modernisation of the ICT standardisation policy for Europe (see also my blog entry from early July).

The discussion paper from OpenForum Europe provides some breakthrough and pragmatic thinking on required reform steps. The "seven key elements" include aspects like
  • positioning Europe in a globalised world;
  • making effective use of open standards developed by global open standards organisations and fora;
  • identifying additional roles for the National Standards Organisations in Europe;
  • promoting innovation and growth with open standars;
  • looking at the societal dimension of standardisation;
  • striving for more open and transparent processes in standards development and consensus building.
Read the full article on the OFE website or download the strategic discussion paper directly from there.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

World Standards Day- EU Commission workshop on EXPRESS

The European Commission is dedicating this year's world standards day for discussing the work and tasks of the Expert Panel on the Revision of the European Standardisation System (EXPRESS).

The conference title is forward looking: "European Standardisation for the next decade". It will be held on October 14, 2009, in Brussels in the Charlemagne Building. Registration is now open and the agenda can be downloaded on the respective Commission website.

For the basis of the discussion at the conference, the EXPRESS group has produced an Issue Paper which is available online for download.

This Issue Paper outlines the key challenges and elements that are discussed in EXPRESS and that have been identified as critical for the future European standardisation system. Apart from organisational and financial issues these include most notably globalisation, standardisation and innovation, services and the relation to global standards development organisations. The focal question is, of course, in which way public policies should be refocussed to better address issues around standardisation and to better use standards for achieving and promoting the respective policy objective. Moreover, it needs to be decided which changes need to be made to the European legal framework on standardisation, above all to Directive 98/34.

The Commission explicitly invites all interested parties to submit comments to the EXPRESS Issue Paper.

Monday, 28 September 2009

German general elections

So Germany voted. Yesterday. New Bundestag, which is our federal parliament and which will elect the new chancellor. Which will be the old chancellor but in a new coalition - not with the Social Democrats anymore but with the Liberal Democrats. Congratulations to chancellor Merkel and the winning parties.

Almost needless to give a link or viewing the final result of the election. I's everywhere in the German press today. So here's just one for the FAZ online site with the election results.

There's one remarkable result and that is the amount of support which the new German Piratenpartei (Pirate Party) managed to get. They got roughly 2% of the votes cast. This is not enough for sending a representative into the parliament. But with around 2% they are the largest group of those "other" parties who are below the clipping level. And with the young and digitally educated people the Piratenpartei has got a huge support of over 10%. So no wonder that they were very happy with the election results as is reported, for instance, by Die Zeit. In some university towns with a strong technical focus they got more than 3%.

The Piratenpartei is bringing up new topics - almost all, so far, focussing on issues around the internet, copyright, patents, etc. They reach out to the generation internet to some extend.

In a recent article in the German FAZ Sonntagszeitung Frank Schirrmacher, chief editor of the Feuilleton, gave a very informative and forward looking analysis of the Piratenpartei and of nerds in general.

After yesterday's election, the Piratenpartei is certainly a group that can't be ignored anymore. Time will show whether it's a new party on the horizon like the Greens were 30+ years ago. But I'm sure that the polical establishment will, from now on, take a closer look at the generation internet.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

On Blogging or A New Era in the Transformation of the Public Sphere

Blogging is fun and reading blogs is a great source of information and a great way for debating topics and exchanging views on certain issues. I have recently had several chats with people who are not yet into blogosphere and who wonder whether it's worth entering or whether it's – bluntly spoken – a waste of time.

The success of blogging is amazing, I think. But it's not really surprising. I see blogging as well as all the other web 2.0 technologies of collaboration and social networking very much as a new level in what the German sociologist and philosopher Juergen Habermas called The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. And I would be as presumptions to say that with blogging and the access to information and the exchange of information over the internet we are entering a new era of enlightenment. Blogs and networking platforms are a modern form of what the Salons were in the 18th century.

Similarly, the success of blogging lies – at least partly – in the fact that blogging very much follows a centuries old maxim of writing. Derived from Horace's Ars poetica, line 333, the classicist writers and the public in the 17th and 18th century gave out the objectives of prodesse et delectare – “to be of use and to entertain” – for writing. Successful bloggers accommodate exactly that: they share useful information and provide useful, innovative thinking and at the same time they are extremely funny, witty and entertaining.

Writers and especially bloggers and internet users in general in our time have very much grasped the success factor of “prodesse et delectare”. In the flood of texts and information primarily those people are read which are able to attract their readers in some way. This means that rhetoric and it's instruments and what is called poetics are back on the agenda.

Blogging is powerful. The comparison to the age of enlightenment might sound heretical to some. But the blogosphere is read and heard and its role in influencing the development of public opinion making is constantly increasing.

Blogging has established its role in public discourse. It's the young, energetic, independent digitally educated people that heavily use the instrument of blogging and of social networking for discussing items of public interest.

Blogging and social networking will change the way our societies work and how social systems are transforming. Blogging and social networking are on the forefront of eParticipation and eDemocracy. And these new forms of communication and networking break the traditional constellations of the public, the poltical sphere, the media, etc.

There are opportunities and risks, for sure. But in the light of democracy blogging certainly is a new step towards a more open society. Blogging increasingly unveils our societies' potential for creative, innovative thinking and provides a new platform for public discourse.

So the response to those sceptical about blogging should probably be: embrace it, get involved, and find your personal way and style to join in playing in the public sphere. Don't ignore it, you will miss a lot of creativity and insights if you do so.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Future internet in a globalised world: spoken web

There is an interesting project running in IBM Research: it is about creating a spoken web in parallel to the world wide web:

The World Wide Web is perhaps the greatest technology innovation the world has seen in the last few decades. It has created the largest repository of information, opened new streams of businesses, and transformed the way people communicate. The World Wide Web has helped eliminate geographical barriers and paved the way for global collaboration and integration. All done with a few clicks on our computers.

Unfortunately, a majority of the population on this planet does not have computers or connectivity to the Internet. And the chances of that changing any time soon is probably a distant dream.

The basic principle of Spoken Web lies in creating a system analogous to the World Wide Web using a technology most of us all have in common - speech. Spoken Web helps people create voice sites using a simple telephone, mobile or landline. The user gets a unique phone number which is analogous to a URL and when other users access this voice site they get to hear the content uploaded there. Interestingly, all these voice sites can be interlinked creating a massive network, which can work like the World Wide Web.

Sounds very exciting to me. I could imagine collaboration platforms and social networking platforms emerge in such a spoken web. And in combination with speech recognition and speech synthesis technologies this could even be interlinked with platforms like Twitter. And it might be a further way of overcoming digital divide.

See the website of the IBM India Research Lab for the full article on this project.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Relevant link of today: European Parliament approves second term for EC chief Barroso

It's broadly in the news today. The Sofia Echo gives a pretty detailed report online:

European Parliament approves second term for EC chief Barroso

European Commission President Jose Barroso won a second term in office in a European Parliament vote on September 16 2009, although Greens and the socialist bloc held to their opposition to him.

Of the 736 members of the European Parliament, 718 were present for the vote; 382 voted in favour, 219 against and there were 117 abstentions. [...]

Read the full article on the Sofia Echo website.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Relevant link of today: Handelsblatt on use of IBM Lotus Symphony as office software

The German newspaper Handelsblatt published an interesting article today on IBM LotusSymphony as office software and on IBM using Symphony in-house throughout worldwide. The article starts a bit "thrilling" but is definitely worth reading:
"Lotus Symphony
IBM wirft MS Office raus
von Axel Postinett

IBM verschärft den Kampf um die Büroarbeitsplätze der Zukunft und geht dabei den Konkurrenten Microsoft an: Die Mitarbeiter des US-Computerkonzerns müssen auf die hauseigene Bürolösung umsteigen. Die Propagandisten von freier Software hoffen auf eine Signalwirkung.

Read the full article online at the Handelsblatt website.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Dilbert on standards

Being back from vacation - Yes, thanks, I had a great time. We spent two weeks at the Mediterranean coast in the South of France. Fantastic!! Wonderful landscape, wonderful sea, great food, great people - all you need for a relaxing time. And of course time was flying....

So again, being back from vacation I found, in my in-box, several mails from colleagues pointing me at the recent Dilbert cartoons on standardisation. Please take a look how Dilbert sees the world of standards ... and, as always, there is more than a glimpse of truth in Dilbert:

- cartoon of Aug 31
- cartoon of Sep 1
- cartoon of Sep 2

Have fun ...

PS: I hope you all had a great summer, too, with nice and inspiring vacations.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Knowledge Society - Part I

In a recent meeting the current Cenelec president, Dietmar Harting, made an excellent proposal: To start in Europe a programme "Knowledge Society" similar to the programme "Information Society" that was launched in the middle of the 90s.

Dietmar is absolutely correct: societies and economies in Europe are transforming from the information society to the knowledge society. This is can be seen as the central movement into this new millenium. And Europe should react on this and become a driver in the transformation process.

I understand that different units and directorates in the European Commission are already considering an initiative along these lines. The critical issue is, of course, what constitutes this transformation, what are key elements of the knowledge society, and what focus should such a programme have.

Over the next couple of weeks I will start a bit of brainstorming, for sure with a focus on openness and standardisation, but not necessarily limited to that. This is definitely an exciting topic. Being successful in the Knowledge Society means being successful in globalisation.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Goal - Football's back

Last weekend the first round of the German national football league took place after the summer break. And what a wonderful start for Eintracht Frankfurt - winning in Bremen with Bremen 2 : Frankfurt 3. Congratulations Eintracht.

I enjoyed watching the top-game of the day live here in Hoffenheim: Hoffenheim against Bayern München. I went there with my son who recently decided to support Bayern (we agreed that he can support Bayern or any other team he likes but shall never shout against Frankfurt ;-) )

Saturday's match of Hoffenheim against Bayern was a good match with Hoffenheim being clearly better in the first half. Towards the end, though, Bayern dominated and Hoffenheim seemed to be running out of power. The match ended 1:1. However, Hoffenheim were a bit unlucky since a clear goal was not given. The referee had not seen that the ball was behind the line and the Bayern goalkeepter managed to catapult it out of the goal again. Too bad... but perhaps time for some digital help to measure when a ball has really surpassed the magic line.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Relevant link of today: Interview with Vint Cerf in German newspaper FAZ

The German newspaper FAZ publishes today an interview with Vint Cerf. It is available on the online edition of the FAZ.

It is a fairly short but good interview - touching on all the relevant aspects currently discussed in the context of the world wide web. Vint Cerf, for instance, stresses that cloud computing is the key paradigm for the internet:
"Beim Cloud Computing bleiben Anwendungen und Daten „in der Wolke“, also im Netz. Dadurch können die Daten topaktuell gehalten, Sicherheitskopien erstellt und die Anwendungen leicht simultan genutzt werden. Auch erscheinen Updates der Anwendungssoftware bei allen Nutzern gleichzeitig, so dass jederzeit Kompatibilität gewährleistet ist. Die Anwendungen „in der Wolke“ können zudem auf die Leistung und Kapazität der Großrechner zugreifen, die Notebooks oder Desktops nie haben werden. [...]"
Other topics discussed include IPv4 vs. IPv6, the issues around copyright, etc. It is certainly worth reading the full interview at:

Monday, 27 July 2009

French Interoperability Framework

The French government recently published the first version of a Référentiel Général d'Interoperabilité, a National Interoperability Framework for ensuring interoperability in eGovernment services.

It is an excellent document outlining the necessity of interoperability and putting it into perspective for public authorities and the development of public administrations' infrastructures and eGovernment services. The document takes a clear stance on the need of standards for achieving genuine interoperability and on the benefits of standards for fostering innovation. And it puts this National Interoperability Framework into the broader context of the European Interoperability Framework and its objectives.
"La référence à des normes et standards externes permet auy pertenaires d'un échange d'aller au-delà de simples arrangemetns bilatéraux, de réutiliser des spécifications existantes e donc de limiteer des coûts liés à la réalisation de solutions spécifiques.

La stratégie européenne pour la croissance et l'emploi prćise qu'une standardisation forte et dynamique est un des instrument pour encourager l'innovation. Elle considère la standardisation comme d'intérêt public, en particulier lorsque la sécurité, la santé, l'environment et les performances sont en jeux (cf. EIF)." [p. 6]

In its detailed passages this interoperability guide lists concrete standards to be implemented for achieving specific functions. This is built up along six different levels of interoperability: political, legal, organisational, semantic, syntactic and technical.

And the document makes very clear that for IT infrastructures and eGovernment services it is essential to take standards and specifications from global open standards development organisations (fora/consortia) which complement the work of the official, formally recognised standards organisations. The principal global bodies taken into consideration are OASIS, W3C, IETF, Ecma, OMG and WS-I [p. 14]. The standards and specifications from these organisations complement the work of the formally recognised organsiations:

"En complément des organisations officielles, le secteur des technologies de l'information et des télécommunications se caractérise par un foisonnement d'organismes qui contribuent à l'évolution des standards." [p. 14]
In this respect, this French interoperability document also underlines the necessity of the changes to the European standardisation framework and the European ICT standardisation policy which the Commission outlined in its White Paper on ICT standardisation earlier this month. See my blog posts of Jul 6 and Jul 7. It is paramount that these legal changes are implemented fast so that the full potential of such strategies like the French interoperability strategy can fully flourish.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Moving up the age of retirement

A new idea has been spread in Germany: to move up the age of retirement to 69. Not immediately, but some time in the future, e.g. in 2060. See, for instance, the respective article in the German newspaper FAZ.

A couple of years ago the German parliament decided to move the age up from 65 to 67. The change process was decided to take place over a period of roughly 20 years, adding 1 month per year. The main reason for these proposed changes are that our current social welfare system is not fully capable of coping with the increase in average life time of people and that the birth rate has fallen dramatically since the 1970s. In effect, in a couple of years there will be far more old age people compared to people being employed and paying taxes and bearing the cost of the pension scheme.

Now, regardless of whether this is true or false, regardless of whether people will really continuously grow older, live longer, enjoy health and happiness longer than before, etc. - there remains one critical question to me: Why introduce the changes in 20 and more years only?

The problems are around already today. And the future impact can be forecast today pretty accurately, as well. In terms of justice and solidarity between generations: Wouldn't it be appropriate to move up the age of retirement right away and use the additional money to be got for accrued reserves for future generations?

Whatever the burden needs to be, in a just society it cannot all be put onto future generations, can it? Otherwise all such proposals and decisions of politicians and officials made a couple of years before they go into early retirement sound rather cynical and egotistic. What is needed is not sexy headlines in the press, but a solid concept how society can manage the required transformations over the next decades in a joint, common and reasonable way.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Relevant link of today: Adjusting EU ICT standardisation policy to the realities of 21 century

This is the European Commission press release to the whitepaper on ICT standardisation I blogged about yesterday:

In this press release the Commission stresses again the need for the proposed changes in order to better cope with the needs and challenges of Europe in the globalised world so that innovation, competitiveness and growth can best be achieved. Interoperability is key as well as the ability to be well positioned for responding to "changing societal, market and policy needs", as Vice-President Verheugen put it.

At the beginning of the press release the Commission highlights:
"The landscape for ICT (Information and Communication Technology) standardisation has dramatically changed over the last decade. Alongside the traditional standard stetting organisations, specialised and mostly global fora and consortia have become more active and several have emerged as world-leading ICT standards development bodies, such as those responsible for the standards covering the internet and the World Wide Web."
Read the full press release at the Commission website.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Major EU Commission move towards modernising the European standardisation system

End of last week the European Commission adopted and published a whitepaper on “Modernising ICT Standardisation in the EU - The Way Forward”. The document is available on the Commission website.

This whitepaper is a first step towards a reform of the European standardisation system. It focusses on Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), and the proposed reform steps might best be described as means for making Europe better equipped to benefit from and operate within the global ICT standardisation ecosystem – to the benefit of innovation, competitiveness and growth in Europe.

I am very supportive of the whitepaper and the proposals therein. In my opinion the Commission tackles the right issues and makes many good suggestions that go into right direction. Some highlights:

  1. The Commission recognises the need for a process for collaborating with global open standards development organisations like W3C, OASIS, IETF, etc. Under the current legal framework these organisations are outside of the European standardisation system and their specifications can not directly be used and referenced in support of EU policies or in public procurement. The proposals in the whitepaper aim for a major improvement in this respect;

  2. The Commission introduces a set of criteria (called attributes in the whitepaper) for ensuring openness of the specifications used and referenced in the public sector. This is the right approach towards ensuring best quality standards – even though there might still be some glitches in the wording of one or the other attribute definition. The criteria are closely derived from the WTO criteria for best practices in standards development. And the Commission's list will ensure that no closed, proprietary standards will be used in the public sector. What is extremely important, in my opinion, is that the criteria include the aspect of implementation – good, open standards need to have been implemented in several, competing implementations.

  3. The Commissions looks at improving the relation between research and development (R&D) and standardisation and the transfer of R&D results into standardisation. This is particularly important for R&D activities on the level of infrastructures and architectures. Every action to facilitate the transfer of such R&D results into open standards will be helpful – for making such work available for open ecosystems design and innovation on top of these results.

  4. The Commission makes an excellent analysis of the current status regarding the intersection of standards and intellectual property rights (IPRs) recognising that new approaches regarding IPR policies in standards organisations are under way and are needed for better fostering innovation and the exploitation of technologies for the benefit of competitiveness and growth. The actual proposals made by the Commission go into the right direction, but probably need to be extended and made more concrete, e.g. regarding industrial policy for fostering innovation and regarding the improvement of certainty regarding terms and conditions and the availability of patents for licensing.

  5. The Commission lays down the importance for standards based public procurement and, at the same time, enables public procurement to directly reference global open standards.

  6. The Commission proposes to implement a High Level Strategy Platform as an advisory committee to the Commission on ICT standardisation. This will improve communication and cooperation around ICT standardisation. The list of tasks for this platform as described in the whitepaper is excellent. It will be important for the Commission to ensure that all stakeholders are properly represented in the platform.

What is important next is that the proposals made in the whitepaper will be implemented into EU legislation fast. This means, first of all, that Council Decision 87/95 will be revised – or, more likely, be replaced by a new Council Decision. In addition, some of the ideas and proposals should further be taken up in the context of an overall revision of the European standardisation system (concerning Directive 98/34) and within competition law, patent law as well as in industrial policy in general.

To summarise: I am positive of the benefits of the proposals made by the Commission. This whitepaper responds to urgent needs of many stakeholders, be it industry, SMEs, users, and, above all, the public sector iteself. It is a major step towards gaining a leadership position for Europe in ICT in the globalised world. The whitepaper deserves strong support.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Relevant link of today: London Stock Exchange to abandon failed Windows platform

See Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols' blog at Computerworld:

"It's not often that you see a major company dump its infrastructure software the way the LSE is about to do. But, then, it's not often you see enterprise software fail quite so badly and publicly as was the case with the LSE. I can only wonder how many other Windows enterprise software failures are kept hidden away within IT departments by companies unwilling to reveal just how foolish their decisions to rely on archaic, cranky Windows software solutions have proven to be.

I'm sure the LSE management couldn't tell Linux from Windows without a techie at hand. They can tell, however, when their business comes to a complete stop in front of the entire world."

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Ralf Dahrendorf died

I recently added a blog entry about Ralf Dahrendorf when he celebrated his 80th birthday. Today the news communicate that Ralf Dahrendorf died yesterday - see for instance the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) and Spiegel online. This is very sad news. I - we all will miss a great thinker, intellectual and liberal, a great European citizen. For me, Ralf Dahrendorf was a fixed part in my political socialisation. I hold him and his work in high regard.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Excellent example for the threat to the openness of the internet

Were you ever worried that the internet could be controlled by single vendor technology? That there is certain information that you can only see and get when using one specific browser? That interoperability is at risk?

You are certainly not paranoid if you have such worries. Microsoft Australia now gives an example for what is possible and done by offering the chance to get $10,000 by finding information on some website - WHICH CAN ONLY BE VIEWED USING INTERNET EXPLORER 8 !!

Here's what is announced on the Microsoft Australia website:

As you can see in the picture - for me using Firefox the following statement is included right away: "But you'll never find it using that browser. (So get rid of it, or get lost)."

With this competition called "TenGrand" Microsoft provide an excellent example for the risks the internet is facing today: proprietary control over information and data in the internet. Unless you use one specific vendor's software you are excluded from access to information.

There is a role for public authorities here to ensure that full interoperability is kept and that the internet will be kept open.

For those who are interested in more details I also recommend a recent position paper from ECIS, the European Committee for Interoperable Systems, on the topic.

PS: Thanks to my colleague Arnaud for drawing my attention to that.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Firefox is in Germany ahead of Internet Explorer

The German consulting and market research company Fittkau & Maaß published the results of a recent study yesterday which shows that Firefox has become the preferred web browser in Germany and surpasses Internet Explorer.

According to the study, Firefox 3 is used by about 40% of all users of the internet while Internet Explorer 7 and 8 reach together about 38%. In the study taken in April and May this year 120000 people were interviewed.

Only if also legacy versions of the Internet Explorer are added, as well, is there a slight lead for Internet Explorer. But in the direct comparison of the latest versions Firefox 3 is used by 40,2% of internet users in Germany compared to 30,6% for Internet Explorer V7. This is gigantic.

In its analysis of these results the German news magazine "Der Spiegel" concludes that people who have a choice prefer the free open source product Firefox over Internet Explorer. Best evidence is that user rates for Firefox increase at weekends when people use internet from home and from their home computers, while on workdays, when people are bound to corporate and organisational policies, Internet Explorer prevails dominant - see the respective article in the online edition of "Der Spiegel":
"Wer die freie Wahl hat, bewegt sich lieber mit dem Gratisbrowser durch die Weiten des Netzes. Was vor allem am unterschiedlichen Nutzerverhalten an Arbeitstagen und an Wochenenden erkennbar wird: In der Woche hat der Internet Explorer die Nase vorn, da sitzen die meisten im Büro und verwenden die von ihren Arbeitgebern vorinstallierten Programme. Am Wochenende aber schnellen die Firefox-Werte nach oben, wenn die Netzgemeinde freiwillig und auf eigene Rechnung unterwegs ist."

Bottom line: It is time for companies and administrations to open up their IT rules and policies and allow for efficient and effective open source and freeware technologies to be used. There is a huge potential to increase productivity and reduce cost. Go ahead, explore Linux, explore OpenOffice or Lotus Symphony, explore Firefox. The future is open...

FYI: I am totally on Linux since beginning of this year, have used Firefox for ages now, use Lotus Symphony and OpenOffice as office suits and am a happy camper throughout.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Relevant link of today: NY Times - I.B.M. to Help Clients Fight Cost and Complexity

Very interesting article in the New York Times (NYT) on IBM's stance on cloud computing as THE future paradigm for industry and governments to run and optimise their datacenters. Read the full article online in the NYT. Just a glimpse at the beginning of the article below:

"In 2000, the Linux operating system was a hot technology, but it had not spread much beyond scientists, researchers and computer programmers. Then I.B.M. declared that it would back Linux with investment, research and marketing, and the technology moved swiftly into the corporate mainstream.

"The same thing happened with the personal computer in the early 1980s, when I.B.M. endorsed that upstart technology and entered the market.

"Starting this week, I.B.M. is returning to the same playbook, introducing some initial products and services and a roadmap for its stable of corporate and government customers to comfortably embrace cloud computing."

Friday, 5 June 2009

Old poem of mine

It's more than 15 years ago since I wrote this poem. I publish it now for the first time here. The basic message is still valid, I believe.


nachdem ich nun

schon mehrere jahre lang

immer und immer wieder


nach gott gesucht hatte

fand ich ihn kürzlich

rein zufällig

wie könnte es anders sein

um die mittagszeit

in der innenstadt

in einem kaufhaus

in der parfümerieabteilung.

er roch

nach Chanel No 5.

Sorry for those who are not familiar with German – this short poem is about a person who had been looking for God for years and accidentally found him in a shopping centre smelling of Chanel No 5.

There is another strange one which I once posted on this blog - in English this time. See the entry of last July.

Relevant link to OSOR: RO: Proprietary licence deal draws ire open source proponents

OSOR - the "Open Source Observatory and Repository Europe", initated and hosted by the European Commission, provides the information that
"The Romanian government announced its renewal of a framework software licence with Microsoft in the middle of May. The framework licence deal is worth 100 million euro in software licences to be used by government agencies between 2010 and 2012. Romania will also pay the software giant another 58 million euro this fall, as the final payment for the 2004 - 2009 framework licence agreement that expired last month."
Please see the full article on the OSOR website titled "RO: Proprietary licence deal draws ire open source proponents."

For those who would like to compare these figures to some figures of the overall Romanian government budget some figures are listed here: (Please note that the conversion rate for EUR : RON is about 1:4).

You could, for instance, see from these figures that 100 mln Euros for proprietary software is equal to about 25% of the total budget that Romania has available for Research (1700 mln RON which equals about 425 mln EUR). Interesting, isn't it.

Relevant link of today: Article in the Economist on Openness and Open Source

I owe this pointer to a colleague I regularly collaborate with - many thanks to C.!

In this weeks Economist - as well as in the online edition - there is a very interesting and great article on benefits of open source software in the recession. It it titled "Born free" and shows how open source is increasingly being taken up in the market and plays an important role alongside proprietary offerings. It also shows how those companies are most successful which manage to create a proper, new balance between openness and proprietary.

The article concludes with the following statement:

"This sort of problem has spawned an open-data movement. In March a group of technology firms led by IBM published an “Open Cloud Manifesto” that has since received the support of more than 150 companies and organisations. It is only a beginning, but perhaps this time around the industry will not have to go through a long proprietary period before rediscovering the virtues of openness."
Bottom line: it's definitely worth reading the full article - either in your print edition of the Economist or online at ...ENJOY

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Elections for European Parliament starting today

I have been rather quiet over the last weeks - partially due to a lot of work, partially due to something more than a week of vacation. With my family I spent a week at the Lago di Como in Northern Italy. It was fabulous. We had a wonderful holiday home (thanks to my wife who has by now turned into a professional for sorting out excellent places to stay), fantastic weather - and simply a great time in one of the most beautiful areas of the world.

This weekend will be an important one for Europe with the elections to the European Parliament. The election process starts today in some countries - those which by tradition have their voting day on a Thursday, e.g. the UK and the Netherlands. The majority of the countries will have their election day on Sunday.

I recently signed an open petition that people should go and vote. Unfortunately the European Parliament is still not really seen in its full importance by the people of Europe. While it is true that national elections are much more important and national parliaments have the real power, the European parliament does have a lot of competencies regarding legislation on the EU level. But communication and public awareness are rather low.

I will certainly cast my vote on Sunday - and will be curious about the outcome.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

60 years post-war Germany and presidential election

2009 is an important year for Germany. On Saturday Germany will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the post-war democratic Federal Republic of Germany (later on this year we will be able to celebrate 20 years of re-unification which brought democracy and liberty to former communist East Germany).

Also on Saturday the new German president (Bundespräsident) will be elected. For those not so familiar with the German political system: The president is not a powerful position even though formally he (and so far it has always been a "he") is the highest representative of the German people. But the actual governmental power is with the chancellor. So the power of the president is in the power of his/her words. You find similar political systems in Austria, Italy or Portugal.

There is no direct election of the president in Germany. The person is elected by a constitutional assembly (Bundesversammlung) which only gathers for this single purpose and consists of all members of the German parliament ("Commons") and an equal number of members sent from the federal states.

For the last five years Horst Köhler has been president. He is running for a second term and is supported by the conservative and the liberal party which are close to having the majority in the electorate assembly.

The second candidate for the coming election is Gesine Schwan. She was already candidate five years ago. She is supported by the center-left Social-Democrats and by the Green Party.

I could happily live with either of the candidates. Horst Köhler has done a solid job over the last five years and gained a lot of popularity. Gesine Schwan would probably be the more interesting person with more forward looking ideas. Her chances are not the best to be elected since the camp supporting her doesn't have enough votes. But you never know - perhaps some people in the electorate believe that they should vote for change rather than continuation, and for a remarkable lady. On Saturday we will know....

Monday, 11 May 2009

Relevant link of today: Europe - the place to be

In a recent blog entry my colleague Arnaud LeHors states that
"it seems worthwhile to underscore that Europe is really playing a major role in getting our industry to move forward".
He gives a good analysis of European initiatives to promote standards and open source in ICT to the benefit of technical progress and increased competitiveness of the ICT industry.

Read the full blog entry on Arnaud's Open Blog.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Ralf Dahrendorf celebrates his 80th birthday today

Today is Ralf Dahrendorf's 80th birthday. As the Sueddeutsche Zeitung put it: He is the only genuinely liberal thinker in Germany. I have always found great inspiration reading Ralf Dahrendorf's books - I have got several of them at home and enjoy to browse them from time to time.

In almost every German newspaper there is an article of appreciation today. One of the best ones I found in yesterday's edition of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung - also available online:
"Politik muss nicht originell sein
Der Soziologe Ralf Dahrendorf hat die Planstelle des einzigen genuin liberalen Denkers der Bundesrepublik besetzt. Jetzt wird er achtzig. [....]"
One of Ralf Dahrendorf's focal points is that a liberal and progressive society needs to use its conflicts properly. Conflicts are a source for progress - they should not be surpressed, but managed.

I am certainly looking forward for many more books and articles from Ralf Dahrendorf. One of the great personalities in post-war Germany.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

EU Commission study on "Access to Standardisation"

Recently the European Commission published the study on “Access to Standardisation” commissioned by the European Commission, DG Enterprise and Industry, and carried out by EIM. The study is available for downloading at Follow-on discussions and comments on the study are taking place these days.

The study is very interesting with a remarkable and convincing amount of data which has been collected as a base for the analyses. I can definitely recommend reading it. It asks the right questions, gives some helpful insights and draws some interesting conclusions given in 13 concrete recommendations. It is in particular worth noting that the study correctly looked at the aspect of access both from the perspective of participation in the development of standards and from the perspective of using and implementing standards.

Below I give some more detailed comments on specific aspects addressed in the study:

Better processes for public enquiry:

I strongly support recommendation 10 that “public enquiries are indeed published widely and that stakeholders not (yet) participating in standardisation are indeed reached”. The process of public enquiry as practiced today is rather outdated. Most notably it does not sufficiently leverage modern ICT technologies. Their use can improve transparency and the ability of real “public” outreach to a large extend. In addition, the process for public enquiry and for reaching consensus should be harmonised across the national standards bodies to ensure that the same rules apply in all member states.

Use of modern collaboration technologies:

Similarly strong I support recommendation 12 to increase the use of modern collaboration technologies for standards development in order to further facilitate broad stakeholder participation and involvement and to minimise the requirements for travelling. This would be an important step towards smarter ways of collaboration. Several global standards organisations already have implementations of such technologies, see for instance W3C, OASIS or the recent activities around the ETSI Green Agenda.

Three identified major barriers for using standards:

Very interesting are the three top barriers which have been identified for using standards: (i) price of standards; (ii) cost of implementing the standards; (iii) the number of cross-references in the standards (p. 9 of the study). Needless to say that I wholeheartedly agree that these are important topics to be addressed. It is very positive that barriers for the use of standards have been identified with such clarity. It is up to standards organisations and to the members and stakeholders in standardisation to draw their conclusions and develop measures for overcoming such barriers and thus facilitating the use and uptake of standards.

Consolidation of institutions:

Recommendation 7 makes another interesting point. It proposes to “monitor continuously the possibilities to merge different institutions”. Consolidations of standards developing groups and bodies is certainly a key issue. In fact, industry does continuously look at such possibilities. A prominent example for consolidation of standards bodies is the establishment of the Open Grid Forum merging several organisations. A second recent example is the consolidation of the CIDX organisation in OAGi. In the end it is very much a market decision when to found new organisations and when to terminate or merge them; but certainly consolidation is a key element in industry considerations around standardisation.

For sure I also have some points where I think further discussion is required:

The full standards ecosystem ought to be considered:

Above all, the study focusses entirely on the formally recognised standards organisations CEN, CENELEC and ETSI and the national standards organisations. However, the European Standardisation System is more than just the formal standards bodies. Especially in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) the majority of relevant standards is developed in global private standards organisations. Examples include organisations like W3C, OASIS or the IETF. Some of these global standards organisations can make significant contributions to best practices in standards development processes, openness, transparency and the way consensus is achieved. For global market access through standards and for the use and implementation of standards these organisations, or in other words: the full standards ecosystem, need to be considered regarding access to standardisation.

Similarly, the study takes strong emphasis on the principle of national delegation. Even though ETSI with its different model is taken into account, many passages read as if ETSI was exceptionally recognised despite it's different membership model. I would argue for a more balanced approach in this respect – acknowledging that there are different but equally eligible models implemented around the globe for achieving best results in standardisation. This also includes the global fora and consortia.

For a comprehensive approach instead of an exclusive one:

In Recommendations 2 and 4 the report suggests to move towards “one system” and proposes a route of “gradually dismantling the system of national delegation and moving towards a truly European system, in which a consensus between the various interests is actually developed and obtained at the European level”. From my experience and many talks I had on standardisation in Europe I am cautious about this concept that presupposes that one size fits all. While the ICT industry largely uses global organisations for standards development other industrial sectors have a strong preference for working in a system of national delegation. Therefore, I'd propose looking at a comprehensive approach integrating different structures and models of standardisation rather than trying to reduce everything into one system. I believe that this is also more promising to be able and provide the necessary flexibility and adaptability for a future system being able to leverage standards and standardisation for smart solutions to pressing problems around the globe.

Caution against more administrative requirements:

And finally I am sceptical about recommendation 9 on implementing a “uniform registration of the participation of the various types of stakeholders in technical bodies”. There is a risk of increasing the level of administration (and of associated cost) to an extend that is not justified by the expected improvements and insights from such a move.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Relevant link of today: Standards and Interoperability

There is an interesting article on Information Week published yesterday about Standardisation and Interoperability. It touches on many interesting aspects around standards and interoperability, including:
  • the issue of proprietary extensions as a potential threat to interoperability;
  • the benefit of voluntary interoperability testing in addition to implementing the standard;
  • the importance of standards in new and hot IT areas like cloud computing - with a discussion of the recently published Open Cloud Manifesto of which IBM is co-author and signatory;
  • a discussion about document format standards;
  • a clear statement that having competing standards is no benefit at all.
The article is definitely worth a read. Please see it at Information Week:

"Standards Matter: The Battle For Interoperability Goes On
We all say we want our gear to work together, but are you willing to hold vendors accountable for breaking faith?

Used to be, vendors didn't brazenly fracture standards. Sure, they sought lock-in opportunities, but most knew that if they played too fast and loose, the market would mete out punishment, as in the '90s when TCP/IP rule breakers lost sales.
[...] "