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.