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 The process of public enquiry as practiced today is rather outdated.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.
[...] "

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Fastest spring ever

It started two weeks ago. I remember only too well when I went on a one day trip to Berlin leaving home at 6 am in the morning. The temperature was 1.5°C - so almost freezing. But during the day the temperature climbed up to about 13° to 15°. It was the last day of March and it was the first warm day of the year.

Since then we have had splendid weather, warm, sunny, summer-like temperatures. And within these two weeks nature changed from leafless, brown winter to full green mid-spring. Trees and flowers were in bloom and within two weeks grew their leaves. Remarkable. And unbelievably fast.

I tried to capture it last weekend with the view from our living room.

OpenForum Europe Summit 2009 - Great agenda and set of speakers

The OpenForum Europe will hold its 2009 summit on April 24, 9:30 am - 5:30 pm, in Brussels in the Residence Palace, Rue de Loi 155. The agenda is fantastic and the list of speakers is impressive.

I will unfortunately not be able to attend in person but I am sure that it will be a great event with very inspiring and innovative insights.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Jobbing for life

A while ago I entered a link to an interview in Spiegel online with Silvana Koch-Mehrin, member of the European Parliament for the Liberal party (ALDE), where she talks about her most terrible student job. In her case it was in a call center working late hours and calling people according to the rhythm of ads running on TV channels.

There are basically two reasons for working while being a student:

1) First, you need to earn some money in addition to what your parents provide you with or to the grant you get so that you can afford another beer, an overseas trip or what not.

2) Secondly, you gain experience in the real world, in business, experience that you can add to your CV, usually accommodated with a nice letter of recommendation from the employer.

The latter has become more and more important over the last, say, three decades. The kind of jobs students are doing has become a one of the key factors for Human Resource departments in selecting the candidates that get invited for job interviews. And students, in turn, show the tendency to believe that they need to get the best and greatest record of qualifications in addition to their studies for having a chance on the labour market when finishing.

While our parents and grandparents worked as bricklayers or at petrol stations or in bakeries, there is some societal pressure nowadays for doing something “better”, more “relevant”, more “qualifying”. The trend clearly is for internships in large, multinational companies or organisations, best coupled with some time in a foreign country.

Quite honestly, that's fantastic to do and I would love my children to pursue such an opportunity when it's their turn – some more years to go, though.

In addition, however, I firmly believe that society – including, most notably, Human Resource departments – ought to acknowledge that some odd jobs are equally valuable even though they are not at all like high profile international internships.

In probably any kind of job you gain a lot experience which you can use in your profession later on. It's above all the soft skills that matter. The interaction with people you are working with, the integration of yourself into existing teams and work environments. This includes individuals, strata, business domains, etc.

In other words: What is important is to gain experience. And with the most horrible horrible student job – as described in the Spiegel interview series – people might make the most valuable experience for their later profession, and, in fact, for life.

Negative experience, seeing and learning how things don't work and go wrong, is vital. We all know that since our childhood and we see it repeating with our own children. It includes the experience of failing, of disappointment, of having to muddle-through for getting things done. Who never went through tough situations is more likely to fail when confronted with them. After all we don't live in egg shells.

So jobs that qualify people for leadership positions can be different. There is no one size meets all needs. And jobbing for life could – and perhaps should – mean to aim for a good mix of high profile jobs and real grunt work.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Open Cloud Manifesto

As announced earlier this week, IBM has been a major contributor to the drafting of the Open Cloud Manifesto which is avaialble for download at

The goal and purpose of this manifesto is excellently described in the introductory chapter:

The industry needs an objective, straightforward conversation about how this new computing paradigm will impact organizations, how it can be used with existing technologies, and the potential pitfalls of proprietary technologies that can lead to lock-in and limited choice.

This document is intended to initiate a conversation that will bring together the emerging cloud computing community (both cloud users and cloud providers) around a core set of principles. We believe that these core principles are rooted in the belief that cloud computing should be as open as all other IT technologies. (p. 2)
The key element of the manifesto is, for sure, the six principles of an open cloud, listed on page 6 of the manifesto. Standards play a key role for cloud computing - without open standards cloud computing will not work. The manifesto rightly stresses the need to use at
and implement available standards and where new standards are needed to proceed in a collaborative and coordinated way.

But read yourself at the Open Cloud Manifesto website.