Thursday, 25 November 2010

Tensions between IPRs and ICT standardisation – Need for action on all sides

On Monday this week I attended the workshop jointly organised by the European Commission and the European Patent Office (EPO) on “Tensions between Intellectual Property Rights and the ICT standardisation process: reasons and remedies”. It was a very interesting conference with an impressive set of speakers. Regarding the agenda this conference built nicely on the one on IPRs and ICT standardisation of November 2008 looking more closely and some of the issues that had then been identified.

Very briefly, I noted the following seven points as key items coming out of the discussion. They are all very important and I consider this an excellent result of the conference:
  1. Problem areas do exist and there is need for action both from public authorities, from standards bodies and from the EPO.
  2. Progress is made in several organisations regarding improved IPR databases and the collaboration with EPO on this. The ETSI DARE project for restructuring the ETSI database was given as a prime example.
  3. The EU patent would be a significant step forward. It is also one example for government action.
  4. The concept of a License of Right is worth pursuing. It would be viable method for ensuring the availability of patents for standardisation. There were several supporter of this in different panels.

  5. The topic of ex ante declaration of licensing terms remains disputed. Yet, there seems to be a dividing line between software standardisation on the one hand and telecommunication on the other hand.
  6. Regarding open source the key issue is not to use and implement open source technologies in proprietary offerings but it is for open source communities to implement standards that are available only at FRAND terms.
  7. The idea for a Software Interoperability Directive was brought forward that governs that standards for software interoperability should be available under terms and conditions that allow their implementation in open source.
There was one presentation that – to my mind – did not quite fit into the respective panel but that was interesting for for another reason. A gentleman representing a consortium (that he several times called himself a “club”) explained that this “club” produced a specification and then collaborated with Cenelec for transposing it into an EN. So far so good. But the representative clearly stated that his consortium, which is a for-profit organisation, uses this standard for doing certifications. This is frightening and, in fact, in my mind to some extend an abuse of standardisation. This example once again illustrates the justification of the requirement for Open Standards that they are developed in non-profit organisations.

The Commission and EPO announced that they are going for a follow-on conference next year with a focus on the international dimension which as not covered by the agenda this time.

I believe that this Monday's conference, however, produced already a number of results that are critical items and that the Commission and EPO will start working on right away. My seven points above might give an indicator of those critical items. And perhaps some intermediate results can already be presented at the conference next year.

A further outcome, out of my perspective, is that the issues identified are not crucial for the revision of the European standardisation system that has been ongoing since 2006 and is supposed to be finalised by mid 2011. And I'd like to repeat: the ICT sector is in urgent need of reforms concerning the EU ICT standardisation policy as proposed in the Commission's ICT White Paper of 2009.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Open Standards for eGovernance

For more than half a decade Europe has played a leading role globally in defining framework conditions for eGovernment services provision. The European Interoperability Framework (EIF) version 1.0 was a breakthrough document in this respect. Essentially, it set three clear directions:

  1. Openness must be a key principle in eGovernance;
  2. eGovernment services must be built on Open Standards and the term Open Standards was clearly defined;
  3. Open Source needs to be considered on equal footing with proprietary offerings.

These rules and directions should not come as a surprise to anyone. eGovernance and eGovernment services are – bluntly speaking – about the internet, about offering citizens and businesses information and services over the internet. Openness governs the internet and the web and Open Standards are at the core of it. Industry has broadly agreed on the respective open conditions in the relevant global standards bodies such as W3C, IETF or OASIS that deliver Open Standards.

The EIF 1.0 has had a huge positive effect. It triggered the development of National Interoperability Frameworks in the EU Member States following the basic directions of the EIF regarding openness and interoperability. And EIF 1.0 influenced other countries and regions outside the EU. They followed Europe's leadership in developing open frameworks. In this respect, EIF 1.0 has been a very successful document with strong global impact.

Now last week India adopted its “Policy on Open Standards for eGovernment”. It follows the same principles as the EIF 1.0. And the Indian Policy also gives a clear definition of the characteristics of an Open Standard:

“An Identified Standard will qualify as an “Open Standard”, if it meets the following criteria:
4.1.1 Specification document of the Identified Standard shall be available with or without a nominal fee.
4.1.2 The Patent claims necessary to implement the Identified Standard shall be made available on a Royalty-Free basis for the life time of the Standard.
4.1.3 Identified Standard shall be adopted and maintained by a not-for-profit organization, wherein all stakeholders can opt to participate in a transparent, collaborative and consensual manner.
4.1.4 Identified Standard shall be recursively open as far as possible.
4.1.5 Identified Standard shall have technology-neutral specification.
4.1.6 Identified Standard shall be capable of localization support, where applicable, for all Indian official Languages for all applicable domains.” (p. 2)

In addition, the Indian Policy contains some provisions in case Open Standards are not available for a given purpose so that, for instance, “RAND-based” standards can be used for some time. This is pretty reasonable; yet, the default is for Open Standards.

I very much like the clarity, simplicity and the straight-forward approach of the Indian Policy. It provides a proper framework and thus creates a clear basis for everyone to operate on. Like with the EIF 1.0 this framework builds on the common practice of the internet and the world wide web and the Open Standards used there. And its scope is clearly on eGovernment services. Nobody needs to be surprised by it; nobody needs to be afraid of it.

Reading this Indian Policy, though, makes me wonder once again what the debate about the revision of the EIF that has been ongoing for almost 3 years is actually about. The apparent attempts to delete the clear commitment to openness from a revised EIF seem to be more than anachronistic looking both at National Interoperability Frameworks and at other regions in the world like India but also looking at the common practice applied in the context of the world wide web. In effect, Europe blocks itself from moving ahead in implementing eGovernment solutions and delivering interoperable eGovernment services to the citizens and businesses in Europe. And we witness how other regions pass by following the very principles that EIF 1.0 had laid down have a dozen years ago.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Commission announces EU standardisation reform for early 2011 – Communication on industrial policy

Last Friday the European Commission published its next Communication for one of the flagships initiatives under the Europe 2020 strategy – the Communication on “An Integrated Industrial Policy for the Globalisation Era: Putting Competitiveness and Sustainability at Centre Stage” (COM(2010) 614). It was prepared under the leadership of DG Enterprise and is available at the DG ENTR website.

I gave it a first quick reading over the weekend – focussing on the passages and statements where standardisation and innovation are addressed. This means, for sure, in particular chapter 4.4 that is explicitly dedicated to standardisation.

This section on standardisation seems to have been drafted very carefully in order not to create any further uproar or protest with anybody – we all know the noise that was made against any reform over the last months. This has the downside that the text remains very high level and does not go much into detail. For “early 2011” the Commission commits to “present through a standardisation communication and legislative proposal a strategy to promote a stronger role for European standard setting in a rapidly changing world and society” (p. 12).

Regarding the ICT sector the Communication outlines that one aspect for change is the “rapid adoption of the best available global standards, where global standard making practices are well established such as in the ICT sector” (p. 12). This is surprisingly unspecific given the outstanding work DG ENTR has done on modernising the ICT standardisation policy in the EU since the start of the ICT Study which continued into the development of the recommendations that are laid down in the ICT White Paper of 2009 and that have broad support from industry across all sectors. The key messages on the needs of the ICT sector for reform of European standardisation were reconfirmed in the Digital Agenda – and quite frankly I would have expected them to be more clearly stated in the Communication on industrial policy, as well. After all, global, open ICT standards are of critical relevance for an effective industrial and innovation policy in Europe. For almost of all of the “big issues” that are listed and where standardisation can be of critical relevance global ICT standards from so called fora and consortia, above all the internet standards, are indispensable. There is simply no way to realise a smart grid without using TCP/IP, HTML, XML, and many such like.

The issue of fora or consortia standards is not addressed in this document. It addresses standardisation at European, international or national level. In addition, the document claims that “markets themselves often generate factual standards through technological leadership, market agreements, and/or market dominance” (p. 11). I believe the term “factual standards” – similar to “de facto” standards – is not clear enough here. It puts global open standards from well-established organisations (fora/consortia) on the same level like proprietary technologies with huge market dominance. Quite frankly, the latter should be totally out when talking about standards and standardisation.

The general direction which is given on standardisation is very good:
“For the manufacturing industries, the overall goal in the decade to come is to develop a standards system for Europe that will meet the expectations of both the market players and European public authorities. This needs to be achieved in a rapidly changing world and society, and should preferably also promote European influence beyond the single market in the globalised economy.” (p. 12)
What is not quite clear to me is why this statement is limited to the “manufacturing industries” – to me this is too much a limitation given the fact that economies are increasingly adopting post-industrial structures and are transforming into globally integrated economies where standardisation plays a key role on the level of process innovation and in the integration of technologies for developing smarter solutions for the things we do. It is exactly this role of standardisation that is of high importance on the context of sustainability. This is very clearly seen and addressed in the section on innovation:

“Improved use of ICT for industrial competitiveness, resource optimisation and innovation will be essential for future competitiveness too, as set out in the Europe 2020 flagship on the Digital Agenda. […] a more innovative use of ICT throughout industrial value chains needs to be encouraged to streamline business transactions for example by e-invoicing, and boost overall competitiveness through demonstration projects” (pp. 12-13).

Earlier in the document the Commission already addresses the topic of services and announces “set up a High Level Group on Business Services to examine market gaps, standards and innovation and international trade issues in industries such as such as [sic!] logistics, facility management, marketing and advertising (2012)” (p.9). This is very worth supporting. The services sector is clearly a growth sector for Europe with an enormous potential for further innovation and growth. This, by the way, again includes the ICT sector. Think, for instance, of all the SMEs across Europe that build their business on the internet – o providing services related to the world wide web. In this way, they very much benefit from using global open standards and from innovating on the level of the use and implementation of these standards.

Finally, I'd like to point at the passages dealing with Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). The Commission very clearly says: “Improvements in the European system of intellectual property rights are essential and long overdue, especially an effective EU Patent and patent litigation system.” (p. 9). No doubt, the EU Patent would be a major achievement. The Commission continues to outline that proper enforcement of IPRs is also necessary and touches on the negative effects of piracy and counterfeiting. What is not yet addressed in this Communication but what I think will have to be considered soon in this decade when talking about IPRs are aspects of open innovation, of flexible IPR systems that allow for different rules to be chosed in different contexts, of crowd sourcing and open source development, etc. Again, business models are changing and collaboration and co-creation are increasing – at least in certain areas. These are new challenges to the patent system. In the ICT sector they are vital already and have led to a very differentiated view on IPRs, e.g. by concluding that standards in the area of software interoperability should be available on a Royalty-free basis and under such terms and conditions that allow open source to use and implement them.

As I said in the beginning, this is a first snapshot on my side only after briefly reading through the Communication. The document is extremely rich and contains a lot of details – and thus provides a large amount of food for thought.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Broad consensus on the need for ICT standardisation reform in order to promote innovation

On Wednesday this week I was invited as a speaker at a breakfast briefing of the European Internet Foundation on “The Role of Standards in Promoting Innovation”. The second speaker this morning was Antti Peltomaki, Deputy Director General of DG INFSO.

The event was absolutely impressive. Very well organised by the European Internet Foundation and very kindly introduced and hosted by Mme Catherine Trautmann, MEP. It was a lively discussion with two short and crisp introductory speeches from Mr Peltomaki and myself. No slides were shown. I had a slide deck prepared that the European Internet Foundation kindly handed out to all participants – I posted it on slideshare and you can browse through it below.

Essentially I made three points in my introductory speech:

First, I talked about the different types of innovation in relation to standardisation: Bringing some basic new technology into a standard on the one hand. Versus innovating by making use of standards, by putting innovative solutions and technologies – intelligence layers – on top of standards based infrastructures, on the other hand. These different aspects need to be kept in mind when talking about effective innovation policy since they require different approaches, e.g. to IPR requirements.

Secondly, I elaborated on the importance of open standards in the area of software interoperability for fostering innovation. The world wide web, global integration and solutions for a smarter planet and for eco-efficiency are key examples here. And the integration of technologies and the combination of standards provide a huge potential for innovation and are key for promoting and driving such innovations. They should, therefore, be high on the agenda of the Commission when dealing with industrial policy.

And thirdly, I outlined that what is important is that relevant global open standards are available for use and implementation in Europe. This, for sure, touches on the current political reform agenda of the Commission. A large amount of highly relevant standards in ICT is developed by global fora and consortia. No ICT-system can be implemented without these fora/consortia standards. And it is, therefore, important that the recommendations made by the Commission in the ICT White Paper – and reconfirmed in the Digital Agenda – are implemented. These complementary changes to the European Standardisation System will allow the direct referencing of fora/consortia standards in EU policies and public procurement on a strict by-need basis and subject to a case-by-case assessment of the respective fora/consortia standards against a set of openness criteria as outlined in the ICT White Paper.

As mentioned above we had a very good and constructive discussion. There was full consensus that the changes proposed by the Commission in the ICT White Paper need to be implemented. Mr Peltomaki also had this in his speech as vital for the Digital Agenda.

Two people also made comments about the term “open standards” and whether to use it. In my opinion, it is a term widely used in the market place, its concepts have broadly been adopted by leading ICT standards bodies (fora/consortia) e.g. in the area of the internet, and it is used by many national governments in their policies and interoperability frameworks throughout Europe and beyond. So not taking notice of the term and concept won't work – and won't gain credibility. It is important to clearly differentiate in what contexts open standards are important – as, for instance, when we talk about software interoperability where open standards are essential for promoting innovation.

Interoperability was key topic at EU Digital Agenda Stakeholder Day

On Monday this week I participated in the EU Digital Agenda Stakeholder Day organised by DG INFSO. To begin with, this was a real workshop – and that's why I said participated above rather than attended. The point is: you could not just attend, you had to participate. The organisers had outlined this beforehand in the methodology for the workshop which was published on the Digital Agenda website. Participants had to move around, discuss the various proposals that had been submitted a while before the conference, had to convince others about their proposals, had to vote and select the top projects. This is what took place in the morning sessions. The afternoon then was dedicated to presenting the top projects to the Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Vice-President Neelie Kroes and the Director-General of DG INFSO, Robert Madelin.

I liked this set up and methodology very much and I should say it was extremely successful. It really made people move and get engaged. It provided the proper disruptions that are needed to stifle creativity and innovative thinking. And after some warming up amongst all participants my impression was that everybody well accommodated to the workshop and its methodology.

Regarding the proposals that were submitted and discussed during the day, what was astonishing to me was the pervasive agreement on the high importance of interoperability. I would say in more than every second project proposal interoperability was a key element. This shows that its critical values are widely acknowledged and seen – interoperability is of high importance for fostering innovating, competitiveness and growth. And this naturally goes together with standards – open standards – that are an indispensable enabling force for interoperability.

Regarding the actual project proposals some were really interesting. Personally I took a lot of interest in the proposal on driving the use and development of standards around public sector information. This proposal even made it to the round of the top projects that were presented in the afternoon. I also liked the idea about making public procurement more transparent and driving that open standards and interoperability are major requirements in public procurement while referencing of specific products should not be a reality anymore. And I liked one project proposing the elaboration and implementation of an OASIS standard for reaching a meta-identifier working across the sectoral, vertical identifiers as used, for instance, in SWIFT, ODETTE, etc. This could really help in cross-sectoral eBusiness.

The stars at the end of the event were two guys who argued for better conditions in Europe for supporting young, digital entrepreneurs. Their cause is totally right. For my personal gusto they were a bit too critical about Europe. I know a lot of digital entrepreneurs who are very good and successful in Europe, e.g. in the region where I live. There are many such similar success stories of SMEs in Europe that have started around the internet and have very successfully established on the market. We should not forget about them in such debates.

To sum it all up: the Digital Agenda Stakeholder Day was, in my opinion, a very successful event. Very thought provoking and inspiring. I am curious to see the further results coming out of it.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

EU Parliament to adopt report from the IMCO Committee on the Future of European Standardisation

Tomorrow, October 21, the European Parliament will discuss the report produced by the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) on the Future of European Standardisation. The document is was recently adopted by the IMCO Committee and is available both on the IMCO website and on the agenda for the Parliament for tomorrow. Both listings also contain the Opinion of the ITRE Committee (Committee on Industry, Technology and Research) which is very worth reading and in several instances more straight and forward looking than the full IMCO report.

A couple of weeks ago I commented on the draft version that had been published by IMCO in mid August listing some issues that I still saw missing from the report – most notably around the specifics of the ICT sector.

Now the final report has much improved in this respect and takes full account of the specifics and the needs of the ICT sector in addition to the broad and impressively concise perspective taken on European standardisation at large. In general the report is overly balanced. It addresses all stakeholder interests as well as the different sectors and the processes that have developed within the sectors for developing standards and specifications. Perhaps with one exception: I find that ETSI comes a bit short in the report. But clause G clearly mentions the different processes that are part of the European Standardisation System in its totality including direct membership in ETSI.

Out of my perspective I see a number of items in the report that are particularly worth noting:

1. The different structures in ICT standardisation require action:
The Committee clearly identifies the different structures and processes in the ICT sector where a large amount of standards is developed in global open fora and consortia. And IMCO stresses the relevance of these fora/consortia standards for innovation as well as for interoperability which, in turn, again is a trigger for innovation. (clauses 64-67). In its recommendations the Committee puts a clear emphasis on improving the cooperation between fora/consortia and the formal standards organisations. Yet, the Committee also clearly “welcomes the Commission white paper on ‘Modernising ICT Standardisation in the EU – The Way Forward’; calls on the Member States and the Commission to implement the key recommendations outlined in the white paper” (clause 6). It supports the set of attributes that is proposed in the ICT White Paper (clause 8). And it “Stresses the imperative need to adapt ICT standardisation policy to market and policy developments, which will lead to achieving important European policy goals requiring interoperability” (clause 67).

It is interesting to compare the sometimes a bit obscure and circuitous wording of the IMCO report with the Opinion of the ITRE Committee which is much clearer and more to the point. The ITRE Committee gives two clear directions on how to proceed:

“27. Calls on the Commission to introduce into the legal framework the possibility of referring, solely in the field of ICT and solely on the condition of compliance with certain basic standardisation principles, to deliverables of fora and consortia;
36. Calls on the Commission to put in place a mechanism for recognising specific standards developed by industry fora and consortia which could have a significant impact on filling standardisation gaps and on international cooperation in ICT standardisation matters;”

Taking both the IMCO report and the ITRE opinion together rounds up the picture and gives the right direction where to go.

2. Correlation between standards, interoperability, innovation and competitiveness:
The report leaves no doubt that standards are essential for interoperability and both are an important trigger for innovation and competitiveness. Thus, the Committee “recognises that interoperability is key to innovation and competitiveness, especially in the ICT sector” (clause 66).

3. Short but clear statement regarding IPRs:
Clause 63 touches on IPRs in relation to standardisation as well as innovation. What I like is that the Committee keeps this short. IPR is a complex topic and can easily overshadow any discussion on standardisation. The Committee concentrates on the right issues: First, there are different aspects that need to be considered in the debate, namely whether the focus is on the transfer of basic research into standardisation for technology exploitation and market access or whether it is on the availability of standards for use, implementation and innovation on top of the standards. And secondly the Committee clearly states that care needs to be taken when using proprietary technologies to make sure that they are available later on to all users. What is perhaps missing in this respect is a consideration of Open Source and its needs. After all, Open Source technologies are of high relevance to the public sector.

4. Modernisation of processes is needed:
The Committee is very clear on the need for the National Standards Bodies and the ESOs to review their processes and drastically increase the use of modern ICT technologies for a modernisation of the way they work and operate. They see the opportunities this will bring for more openness and transparency, for better stakeholder involvement – including above all SMEs and societal stakeholders. And I would like to add to this: standards bodies should use standards based solutions when moving into this direction.

5. The power of public procurement:
It is only a short mention in clause 58 but it is of utmost importance: public procurement needs to use standards “in order to improve the quality of public services and foster innovative technologies”. I ignore the fact that there is a bit patriotism included in the clause as it only talks about “European standards”. This raises the questions of what is a European standard, what about international standards, what about fora/consortia standards etc. Nonetheless, public procurement is a powerful element of governments to drive the implementation and use of standards and thus to ensure interoperability and drive innovation and competitiveness.

So far the points I would like to highlight in the report out of my very personal perspective. Now there are also some aspects where I think the report could be improved.

First, I already indicated above that I think the report is in general a bit too conservative – meaning protectionist of the current system. If I may say so, some passages read as if nightmares of a complete overhaul of the European standardisation system had haunted the respective authors. While I fully share the basic position that the European standardisation system works well and has entirely fulfilled its purpose and function over the last two decades, above all in supporting the internal market, I also see that modern times require some adaptions and changes. Only at one point, for instance, does the report mention globalisation (clause I), which, however, is a major challenge for Europe and for European standardisation as well as a major driver for change.
The report overemphasises the preservation of the current structures. What I am missing is some forward-looking on flexibility and changes that might be needed for the future system in Europe. Not that I would expect the Parliament to come up with the exact proposals for such changes. But the report should have identified the need and given directions to the Commission and the Member States to consider such aspects.

Secondly, there seems to be a general assumption in the report as if standardisation and standards bodies were a governmental institution. Standardisation is above all for the market, and standards bodies are tools for market players to develop the standards the market needs. The element of developing and using standards in support of regulation is, compared to that, fairly small. On the other hand, this is the part of standardisation where public authorities are concerned. But it could have been made clearer in the report that there is a broader aspect of standardisation and this is the market.

And thirdly a final point where I believe some improvement could be made: the report entirely avoids the term “Open Standard”. Yet, “Open Standard” is such a powerful and widely used concept in the global market as well as widely used term adopted in various policies throughout Europe and beyond that it should at least be mentioned at some point to show that the Committee has taken notice of its existence and has given it some reflection.

For tomorrow, I expect that the Parliament will not hold any debate on this report but in a straight forward voting adopt it. That's also what the agenda indicates. And after all, the report is good. It was accepted by a broad majority as was the ITRE opinion in the ITRE Committee. And it provides a very comprehensive basis for the further processes around the reform of the European Standardisation System.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Conference on Green IT - showing the relevance of open standards in the market place and for innovation policy

As I had blogged earlier in expectation of this conference on Green IT which is co-organised by the Belgian EU presidency and OASIS this is a great manifestation of the benefits Open Standards have in the market place. Open Standards drive innovation and competitiveness, enable SOAs and are, therefore, essential for  the development of sustainable solutions in creating a smarter planet.

And, indeed, the first speeches and panel sessions confirmed exactly this. Open Standards, collaboration are key. And even in areas like security the expert on the panel very clearly said that if you think to reach security by obscurity you are misguided.

I also touched on this issue in my presentation given in the first panel which was on developing open standards in support of sustainability. 

Monday, 11 October 2010

Open Standards are a reality in the market place – OASIS conference on Green IT

Open Standards are still a controversial issue. See, for instance, the debate around the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) where opponents to the concept of Open Standards for software interoperability in the area of eGovernment have been lobbying for years with highest intensity. This discussion is largely held on a theoretical level and with a lot of emotion.

In my opinion the dispute is largely strange and off the facts of reality. Open Standards are successfully applied in the market place everywhere. Most notably, the internet would not have become what it is today – with all its effects on innovation and growth – without Open Standards. And many future tasks we are facing will be tackled with the support of Open Standards.

I think it's time to overcome this strange debate whether Open Standards are bad or good and whether the term can be used or should be banned. Perhaps the conference that takes place in Brussels this week can help in this respect. It is a conference on Green IT organised by the Belgian EU presidency in cooperation with the standards body OASIS. And it is exactly on the point where Open Standards benefit for sustainability and more intelligent and smarter ways of doing things.

I have hopes that this conference can shed some light on areas where Open Standards are applied and implemented and where they drive progress and trigger innovative ways of integrating technologies and improving processes. Everybody looking at the conference programme will easily see that Open Standards can't be overlooked. OASIS and other standards bodies in the area of software interoperability, the internet and process interoperability develop Open Standards. And the great thing is everybody uses them. And everybody gains in competitiveness – be it large, mult-national companies or small and medium sized enterprises.

For Europe the EIF in its version 1.0 had recognised the benefits of Open Standards and provided an good definition of what Open Standards are. See also my blog post from last week on this. And many national policy makers in Europe and abroad had followed and included the concept and the requirement for Open Standards into their National Interoperability Frameworks.

I am sure the conference on Green IT this week will prove them right by showing the practical side of Open Standards. And it will provide some good arguments for integrating the concept of Open Standards into the overall ICT standardisation framework for Europe which is currently under review. It doesn't all have to be Open Standards. But there are many policy areas where Open Standards make sense – above all where software interoperability is concerned (again: like with the internet). This is what policy makers are rightly seeing. And by using the powerful concept of Open Standards in their policies they create a good deal of drive and act as great pacesetters.

Friday, 8 October 2010

The high impact standardisation makes for fostering innovation - European Commission Communication on the Innovation Union

On Wednesday this week the European Commission published a Communication on the Innovation Union which is one of the Europe 2020 Flagship Initiatives. This flagship initiative is led by Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn who also presented the Communication. The document is available with some further introductory notes and links to the respective press conference on the website of DG Research.

In my opinion this Communication is a very good document. Regarding standardisation it addresses a wide range of aspects where standards are relevant for innovation. And it touches on and identifies some key issues that exist with European standardisation today:

“If not able to adapt, the European standardisation system risks becoming irrelevant with companies turning instead to other instruments (as could be seen in the ICT sector) or worse could start to work as a brake on innovation. A dynamic standardisation system is also a pre-condition for the EU to maintain and further reinforce its impact on the setting of standards at global level, where other countries are increasingly seeking to set the rules.” (p. 16)

I personally think this general criticism is a bit too harsh. The European standardisation system is not bad at all. It's basic structures are working fine and it has worked very well in supporting the development of harmonised standards for the European common market. Nonetheless, it is true that the system requires some reform. It needs to be more flexible for reacting to global developments. And for the ICT sector it needs mechanisms for allowing specifications from fora and consortia that meet a certain set of openness criteria to be used and implemented in Europe, i.e. to be available for direct referencing in EU policies and in public procurement.

This urgent need of ICT is, in fact, addressed in the Communication as well with a re-confirmation on the ICT standardisation reform – committed now for “early 2011”:

“In early 2011, as a first step, the Commission will present a Communication accompanied by a legislative proposal on standardisation, which will inter alia cover the ICT sector, in order to speed up and modernise standard-setting to enable interoperability and foster innovation in fast-moving global markets. This will be combined with a multi-annual programme to anticipate new standardisation needs and integration of standards into R&D projects in the research Framework Programme.” (p. 17)

Open Standards from global ICT fora and consortia are so important for fostering innovation so that this reform is of highest relevance. Open Standards ensure interoperability and thus provide a trusted base on which innovation can take place by implementing the standards, integrating them and combining technologies for developing new, smarter solutions.

For being effective in fostering innovation, the availability and the conditions under which standards can be used are, for sure, key. The Commission has clearly recognised this and stresses that “standard setting processes require clear IPR rules to avoid situations where a company can gain unfair market power by incorporating proprietary IPRs in a standard” (p. 19). And the Commission makes the right level of differentiation that is needed on the one hand for providing incentives for contributing technologies to standardisation and on the other hand for having technologies available for exploitation and innovation:

“This means, in particular, offering equivalent protection of IPRs, open access to interoperable standards, nondiscriminatory public procurements, and removing other non-physical barriers to trade, in line with international requirements.” (p. 27)

The reference to public procurement is very good, as well, because this is where public authorities have an actual tool to promote innovative technologies based on standards and thus making active use of all the benefits from open standards. So “faster setting of interoperable standards and strategic use of our massive procurement budgets” (p. 3) is for sure the right angle to look at. This Communication is very promising in this respect and is certainly another extremely important step the Commission has taken within its flagship initiatives.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The big impact of the EIF on European competitiveness

The European Interoperability Framework (EIF) in its version 1.0 which was published more than half a decade ago has been a great success, no doubt. I have said so before and keep repeating it. With EIF v1.0 Europe took global leadership on interoperability. And on openness.

EIF v1.0 took a clear stance on open standards for eGovernment services with a straight forward open standards definition. And it was very clear on the high relevance of open source technologies for public authorities. Accordingly, open source should be able to compete on equal footing with proprietary offerings.

From my experience, EIF v1.0 has had a number of very positive effects – not only for interoperability, but for European economy in general:
  • Awareness: EIF v1.0 has created a wide awareness about the issues around eGovernment interoperability and openness. Many EU member states meanwhile created their national interoperability frameworks following the EIF v1.0. And the reach-out of the EIF goes far beyond the borders of Europe with several other countries following the basic EIF v1.0 principles.
  • Interoperability: EIF v1.0 has driven genuine interoperability and has helped to clearly identify issues and barriers for interoperability.
  • Innovation: With its strict open standards policy the EIF has provided a basic framework which fosters innovation by using and implementing the available standards.
  • Competition: By requiring open standards EIF v1.0 has created a basis for the design and procurement of technologies for eGovernment services that supports fair competition by all – including open source technology providers – and prevents vendor lock-in.
  • Competitiveness: EIF v1.0 has triggered many companies to start thinking about how to adapt to the new world of openness and which transformations to undergo for keeping competitive in a more open and globalised world.
The latter has largely been overlooked, I believe. EIF v1.0 has had an enormous effect on businesses and the economy in Europe in general. By acknowledging the new realities of openness in the EIF v1.0 it made companies re-think their strategies and business models. And several companies thus moved on and started a transformation process to be better equipped for competing in this new, globalised economy. They took up concepts like open innovation, developed a strategy towards open source with a good many of them even crowd sourcing work themselves.

A similar effect has been on governments - and especially the CIOs amongst them. The EIF v1.0 has been a pacesetter for government policy and process transformation. As a matter of fact, today more governments in Europe and beyond are better set up to operate in our modern world. They have adopted SOAs, have redesigned their systems and implemented open infrastructures that allow scaling, improving, and getting smarter and better. And they have adopted open procurement policies that help to increase competition and competitiveness, reduce cost and give a better chance for local SMEs and the huge number of highly successful Open Source companies in Europe to compete on fair ground.

SMEs in Europe also especially benefited from the aspect that the EIF v1.0 with its clear open standards, open source and open procurement policy promotes innovation. Open Standards give a chance to every market player to innovate and compete with their innovative technologies in the market place. Because open standards ensure interoperability and thus allow modular replacement of technologies against new, better, more innovative ones at low exit cost.

Yet, we are also all aware of the hostility with which some parties have been fighting the EIF v1.0. Their reasons are hard to understand. I believe there is a good deal of paranoia involved, coupled with pure protectionism and the hope that if openness is not recognised in the EIF, businesses could avoid it and keep trying selling silos to governments. Oh my goodness, are people really that naïve?

I never really understood why the Commission decided to go for a revision of the EIF v1.0. I cannot see anything in EIF v1.0 that needs to be revised. An update with some additions and further elements around architecture and infrastructure added would have been ok. And this was, in fact, what the first publicly available draft of the EIF v2.0 was about. It reconfirmed the basic principles of EIF v1.0 and complemented the document on the architectural side and by addressing additional levels of interoperability. And this first draft did not receive any major objections in the public consultation.

Since then I have seen several leaked documents where I don't understand the purpose and the objective any more. Openness was almost entirely taken out at some point. The term open standards is not used any more even though widely used in the market place as well as in public policies and national interoperability frameworks worldwide. Etc. An EIF in such a downsized way would be turned into a pretty useless document. I'm sure we can all imagine who would like to see that.

Then, recently, there were rumours that the latest draft that was accepted in pre-inter-services consultation contained relevant elements of openness again. This sounded comforting. Until a couple of days ago there are new rumours that the basic principles of the EIF that go re-inserted are under attack again.

Can you still follow? I couldn't blame you if you can't. Whatever the current status is – I still have hopes that the Commission will not give in to those who try to get back to “pre-modern” times and try to protect some old-fashioned, outdated way of making business. I still have hopes that the Commission will not allow that the revised European Interoperability Framework turns into a European Interoperability Failure 2.0.

The positive connotation of 2.0 alone, however, will not prevent that. EIF 1.0 was a product of courageous, forward-looking policy making. And the spirit of EIF 1.0 will certainly prevail. The Digital Agenda and the Innovation Union, for instance, continue along these lines. So let's not make EIF irrelevant in these important and challenging times. Europe can be more innovative than deleting what is the predominant concept of our times: openness. Openness most notably in the form of a clear open standards policy, of a commitment to considering open source on equal footing to proprietary offerings; and in the form of a clear open procurement policy. Such an EIF 2.0 would be able to build on the success of EIF 1.0 and further promote innovation and competitiveness in Europe.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Predicting the future – what's up for European standardisation in this decade until 2020

I am currently reading an interesting essay from Elena Esposito on the fictionality of future realities (“La realtà della finzione nella società moderna” - available in German translation in the edition suhrkamp under the title “Die Fiktion der wahrscheinlichen Realität”). Elena Esposito is professor at the University of Modena and Regio Emilia and one of the leading European sociologists in the tradition of Niklas Luhmann's systems theory. This essay is fascinating as it puts the rise of the novel as the increasingly predominant form of fiction in the 18th century into relation with the developments in mathematics in the area of stochastics and calculus of probabilites at the same time. And it shows the element of fictionality in the predictions of what is going to happen and how high the likelihood is.

To me this essay is a bit like a disclaimer for a piece of work that I did last year in the context of my participation in EXPRESS – the expert panel on the revision of the European Standardisation System that had the task to develop recommendations for European standardisation with the horizon of 2020. As input to the discussion I had developed a so-called PEST analysis looking at the four key aspects of political, economic, social and technological challenges for standardisation in the new decade. And I tried to clearly align my analysis with some – as precise as possible – policy recommendations in the area of standardisation. 

I received some encouraging feedback about this document. So I put it up on slide share. 

Happy to receive further feedback, criticism, whatsoever.

Any reactions?
Am I totally off track or would you share some of the predictions?
What am I missing?

Friday, 24 September 2010

European Parliament takes clear stance on openness in the context of completing the internal market

Earlier this week the European Parliament finished its “Report on completing the internal market for e-commerce” (2010/2012(INI)). It is a very interesting document, very comprehensively addressing the full spectrum of electronic commerce in relation to the internal marekt – and definitely worth reading.

In this report, once again, the Parliament takes a very clear stance on openness as critical for the internal market in many ways. It acknowledges the "importance of open and neutral access to a high-speed internet connection, without which e-commerce would be impossible" (clause 43). And it asks the Commission "to work towards creating rules and standards" to overcome the "non-interoperability of software on commercial and social networking websites" (clause 47).

Very precisely the Parliament is clear on the need for open standards in the context of e-commerce. In clause 51 the Parliament expresses that it
“Believes that the development of, and support for, common, open technical and operational specifications and standards (for compatibility, interoperability, accessibility, security, logistics, delivery, etc.) will facilitate cross-border e-commerce by assisting consumers, especially vulnerable and inexperienced computer users, and by bridging the operational, technical, cultural and language barriers that exist between the various Member States;”

More specifically, the parliament clearly requires the use of an open standard in the area of document formats. As stated in clause 41 the parliament “Highlights the importance of an open document exchange format for electronic business interoperation and calls on the Commission to take concrete steps to support its emergence and spread”. For sure, the Open Document Format (ODF) standard which was developed by OASIS and approved by ISO (ISO/IEC 26300) is the standard available for use today. It has been implemented in multiple competing products and is demonstrating interoperability in real life on a daily basis.

Some statements in the document certainly require some more clarification and detailed specification. In general, however, I think this report is another milestone in the policy debate where Europe is taking leadership on openness and open standards acknowledging the benefits of openness for both societies and business. To some extend this complements the work the Commission successfully started years ago with the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) version 1.0 which recommends open standards for achieving pan-European, cross-border interoperability in eGovernment services.

Indeed, in all areas where software-to-software interoperability is concerned, open standards are critical for ensuring interoperability. They promote innovation in providing a trusted and open base for everyone to implement and use – and to innovate on top of. They are a basis for service oriented architectures and they prevent single-vendor lock-in, foster competition, allow choice and keep costs low – including most notably exit costs for technologies.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Report of the European Parliament's IMCO Committee on the “Future of European Standardisation”

In late June I was invited by the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) of the European to a hearing on European standardisation – see my blog entry on the event. This was part of the Committee's work on a report on the “Future of European Standardisation (2010/2051(INI))”.

The draft report as put together by Edvard Kožušník, the rapporteur, has been available on the committee's web site since mid August. This week discussion in the IMCO Committee on the report continues with the objective to reach a final version.

The report is very comprehensive and covers a full range of aspects around the current European standardisation system. It especially focusses on CEN, CENELEC, the National Bodies and their processes and structures. ETSI with its highly successful mixed model of direct membership and national representation comes a bit too short in the draft report and in the discussions.

The draft report very much focusses on preserving the current system. It is not visionary or forward looking. I appreciate that the current strengths of the European standardisation system need to be preserved – and I would add: in some cases even strengthened, e.g regarding improved transparency and the possibility for all interested stakeholders to follow standardisation activities and provide comments. Yet, I believe that there are challenges ahead of us that require a bit of new thinking and punctual reform. Globalisation and the increasing importance of global standards is one such challenge; the high potential for innovation by integration of technologies and the role of standards as facilitators ensuring interoperability is another; and the role of standards in policy making in general is an important third example.

Similarly, the urgent needs of the ICT sector for standardisation reform are not dealt with. While the report acknowledges the Commission's ICT White Paper the recommendations given, in this case in particular recommendation 28, are solely focussing on the current status quo. To be very clear: the transfer of specifications from fora/consortia to international standards organisations or ESOs is already possible today. But is very obvious that there are many instances where this does not work and is, therefore, not sufficient for effective policy making and public procurement as far as a global technology like ICT is concerned. Given the fact that the ICT sector has been identified as the sector where change in standardisation policy is most urgently needed, this is a strong deficiency of the draft report. This is probably the most important point that could be fixed by the Committee this week.

Some important aspects around this fora/consortia discussion:

  • a large part of the most relevant and broadly implemented standards in ICT are developed by so called fora/consortia outside of the formal standardisation system;
  • when talking about such fora/consortia in the ICT sector we talk about well-established global organisations operating with highly open and transparent processes and with a broad global membership including large and small companies, public authorities and academia (to be very clear: closed private clubs are out of the scope);
  • since the standards from these fora/consortia are widely used and implemented globally (and relevant) there is no need and no added-value for transferring them into formally recognised organisations; after all, transferring includes additional overhead and administrative work and there are some issues like different IPR regimes that have sometimes been impossible to solve;
  • so bottom line: many well-established and relevant ICT standards will not become formal standards but will be need for effective EU policy making, for innovation and for public procurement;
  • all of this has been taken into account in the proposals made by the Commission in the ICT White Paper.

My wish-list, at first stage, for the IMCO committee and its report is pretty simple:

  1. Welcome the ICT White Paper, express support for it and urge the Commission and the Member States to work on its implementation;
  2. State the need for processes that enable direct referencing of ICT fora/consortia standards in EU policies and public procurement provided that these standards meet a set of well defined openness criteria like the attributes of eligibility laid down in the ICT paper;
  3. Support the implementation of a multi-stakeholder platform on ICT standardisation as advisory group to the Commission.

Finally, it is worth noting that these fairly moderate changes to the European standardisation system as expressed in the ICT White Paper are globally seen as a very innovative and forward-looking step taken by Europe. Europe should work hard to keep this leadership role and strive for the fast legal implementation of a new, modernised ICT standardisation policy now.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Back from vacation ....

Coming back from vacation has been pretty tough this time because of the cold weather here North of the Alps. We had perfect and warm summer weather in the South-West of France at the Atlantic coast. But driving back home suddenly North of Orleans and Troyes the temperature fell down to less than 13 degrees. Urrgghh... We must have looked like coming from another planet in our shorts, short sleeves and flip flops.

But France was extremely nice. We really enjoyed it very much - the beaches, the food, the way of life. As an appetizer I post some pictures below.

No September has started which is usually a busy month as everyone is back from vacation getting ready for autumn and year-end work. There is a good deal of work ahead - I will keep you posted.

Great Atlantic beaches
Growing oysters
Dune du Pyla
Dune du Pyla

Beautiful lake-side beach

Sunset on the beach

Monday, 2 August 2010

To be or not to be - good to have been there

Saturday evening we saw Hamlet at the Heidelberg Castle Festival – luckily with perfect weather this evening. The Castle Festival is always a fantastic event with open air performances in the central castle courtyard. It was a very modern production of good old Shakespeare, with a good many modifications of the old text, but extremely impressive.

Director Simon Solberg has created a tour de force into all evil of the world. His Hamlet gets mad about the corruption and deceit he sees everywhere. The serpent of evil has undermined the entire world and continues to drive mankind into a life that is not worth living and that is disgraceful for human beings. Hamlet impressively shows this in the famous play within the play which he orchestrates. He starts with Adam and Eve and ends with the big banking crash of recent years. However, his madness drives Hamlet to finally becoming a tragic hero in the form of a terrorist accepting the death even of his friends. Like in the original of roughly 400 years ago the ending is disastrous. Death is everywhere – while there might be a glimpse of hope because the citizens of Denmark entered the castle ready to overthrow the corrupt regime.

The production is extremely powerful and the actors, above all Paul Grill as Hamlet, were marvellous and had to work really hard. I have never seen such a fast-moving production before, full with action and full with citations from other plays, from the rock and pop scene, from the global discourse of the last 40 years as such – including trivial TV shows as well as “the serious arts”. My favourite was the serpent talking like Kermit from the Muppets and Sesame Street. And don't worry if you don't remember any serpent at all from the last time you read Hamlet ;-)

There were some people who expressed their dislike with this production when the break started. Some even left and did not want to stay for the second part. The review articles that appeared in the local press are pretty neutral. The local Rhein-Neckar TV even gives you some glimpse of the performance. A nice picture gallery is available on the Heidelberg theatre's website.

All of us really enjoyed the performance very much. We found it very thought-provoking and all in all an impressive new interpretation of Hamlet in our time. This is definitely innovative theatre. This Hamlet might have some impact and influence far beyond the old walls of Heidelberg castle.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Openness at the core of eGovernance

A couple of weeks ago a Yale scholar, Dr Laura DeNardis, visited Europe and presented on e-Governance policies for interoperability and open standards. Dr DeNardis was, for instance, keynote speaker at a breakfast briefing hosted by OpenForum Europe. Unfortunately, I could not attend this event due to some schedule conflict, but only got the report – which made me regret even more that I couldn't attend.

But here's good news: Laura DeNardis' paper on the topic is available for download – I just came across this download link on the Social Sciences Research Network today.

I find this paper a very valuable piece of research. In a comparative approach Dr DeNardis has examined eGovernment policies around globe. She puts some spotlight on the government interoperability frameworks established in South Africa, Europe (the European Interoperability Framework – EIF), Brazil and Japan and, in the final section, derives some clear recommendations out of her research.

Dr DeNardis' analysis shows the changed role of governments with respect to ICT standards:

“Governments increasingly do not simply assume that 'all will be well' with standards. ICT standards have become an invisible but powerful form of technological rulemaking with consequences for national innovation policy, public safety, knowledge policy, and government efficiency and openness. Even in the 21st century, interoperability through standards is not a given but something that must be promoted. Lack of interoperability or problems with standards can create social or economic harm or contribute to a loss of faith in government. The use of proprietary specifications can impede government functions and services or make e-Government services and critical public information dependent upon a single company. These same proprietary specifications can limit the pace of information and communication technology innovation and be used as technical barriers to trade in global technology markets.” (p. 22)

In other words, Governments should consistently require open standards. As Dr DeNardis states, “When a standard is openly published and available to implement in new products, it can result in multiple, competing products and rapid technological innovation.” (pp. 2-3). The paper shows how leading global ICT standards organisations have adopted open standards policies governing the development, the access to and the availability of the respective organisation's standards. And the paper works out the relation between an eGovernment policy and the various functions governments have to fullfil, be it global trade, facilitating innovation, promoting competitiveness, ensuring fair and equal access to government information and to interaction with public authorities, etc.

Concluding, Dr DeNardis first provides, as she calls it, a “working definition of open standards” built around the key aspects of (i) open in development; (ii) open in implementation; (iii) open in use. And building on this working definition the paper derives a set of eight guiding principles for government interoperability frameworks.

Dr DeNardis' paper is definitely worth reading for everyone who is interested in standards and their use and implementation. It provides deep insights in the interests governments have and need to have in standardisation and open standards as critical elements in support of key government activities and tasks. And it gives a clear perspective on items to consider when defining eGovernance policies. I believe the paper can be of high relevance both for governments as they work on their policies or on refining them; for technology providers as they define their strategies and their portolios; for standardisers as they look at the future standards needed and at the terms and conditions for these standards; and, last but not least, for everyone of us – the citizens – as we have an interest in how public services are designed so that an open and democratic system is provided from which everyone can benefit in the interaction with their governments and authorities.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Relevant link of today: Video message from Vice-President Kroes to GUADEC 2010

Vice-President Neelie Kroes, EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, has given a video message on open source to the upcoming Gnome conference GUADEC 2010. The message is available on Youtube and embedded on the GUADEC website as well. I also embed it below.

In her speech Commissioner Kroes outlines the high acceptance of open source, its potential for innovation and its relevance for governments and public administrations. She mentions the leadership Europe has pursued on openness with the European Interoperability Framework, with other programmes like OSOR.EU, and now with the Digital Agenda and its focus on open standards and interoperability. Only 4 minutes long this is a remarkable address from the Commissioner bringing Europe back into the pacesetting position on driving growth, competitiveness and transformation in the digital age.

 But just watch yourselves: 

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Football world cup 2010 – some personal observations and conclusions

Spain made it – congratulations!!! Haven't got any mail from my Spanish friends and colleagues since the weekend. Wondering when they will have recovered ;-)

I very much like the reaction of Iniesta who scored Spain's golden goal in the final: when being back home and asked to give a speech he said had he known that he would be asked to speak he wouldn't have scored the goal.

I also very much like the Spanish coach. It was reported that his motto in life was that “modesty and intelligence bring success” (see the online article in the FAZ).

In general, modesty and team spirit seem to have won in this world cup. The big stars were not able to dominate the matches. I like that because I am a strong believer in team work and collaboration.

Very many comments were made about the English referee of the final. Some think he should have been more tough and shown red to some Dutch – and by the way the Dutch were really going too far in the aggressive way they were playing and the guy who kicked the breast of his Spanish colleague should have been sent far away. Yet, others say that the referee did well in not “spoiling” this final by showing red cards like mad – as he could have done. Let's say it is a bit like poetic justice that Spain's golden goal was scored after a real mistake by the referee who had decided against corner for the Netherlands. And I think he was not bad at all, he managed to keep control of the match without showing red cards like mad.

Some commentator said that Spain was winning by playing the kind of football that Johan Cruyff introduced in Barcelona more than a decade ago. So ironically you could say that the former Dutch football super-star indirectly prepared the way for Spain to beat the Dutch in this world cup.

This was also the world cup of the highly qualified, meticulously working, highly experienced, and highly inspiring coaches.

France, Italy and England are facing tough times of renewal of their national teams.

I bet that the South American teams will make a lot of efforts to be much better and stronger in four years when the world cup will be held in Brasil – first time back in the Americas since 1986 when it was held in Mexico. First time back in South America since 1978 when the world cup was held in Argentina.

I like the songs from this worldcup, “Wavin' Flag” from K'naan and also Shakira's “Waka Waka” – yes, I do, I always liked Shakira. And good news for Sportfreunde Stiller: they can continue their song in four years by singing “'54, '74, '90, 2014” (they will probably have to pronounce 2014 as “zwanzig vierzehn” to match the rhythm) …

I hope that hosting this world cup in Africa will have some lasting effect. It brought the continent back to people's minds which is highly necessary. I thought the atmosphere was fantastic. I was a bit sad that Ghana did not make it into the semi-finals – would have been nice for Africa to have a team amongst the best 4 of the world.

Spain and Germany were playing the best football. This is what you could call modern football – extremely fast, always awake, extremely good ball handling. It is a pity that these two had to meet at the semi-finals already and could not combat in the final.

I will miss Günther Netzer as co-commentator on TV.

The German team was fantastic. Amazing the team spirit and the friendliness and naturalness of the players. Wonderful ambassadors of modern Germany.

In my opinion Germany was playing the best football since the seventies.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Aphorism of the day

I am certainly too old for being a Digital Native. At best I can try to become a Digital Immigrant. But it will probably be up to my children and the like to decide whether I will be accounted with having residence in Digitaliana.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

ICT Standardisation on top of Europe's reform agenda – a hearing at the IMCO Committee of the European Parliament

Yesterday I was a speaker at a hearing on standardisation in the European Parliament. The hearing was organised by the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO). The chair of the IMCO Committee is Malcolm Harbour; the rapporteur on the standardisation topic is Edvard Kozusnik. It was perfectly organised and it was a great honour and pleasure for me to participate.

The agenda was pretty packed – mainly with people from the formal standards organisations (ISO, CEN/CENELEC, ETSI, National Bodies) and the societal stakeholders. So 7 to 8 minutes was all that each speaker got.

The hearing started with a speech from Commission Vice-President Tajani from DG Entreprise who outlined the status and plans for reform of European standardisation. He was also tightened by the agenda. In the 10 minutes he got he put standardisation in perspective of the Commission's policy objectives, in particular concerning innovation. He also gave some words of comfort to those who were afraid of a complete overhaul of the system, e.g. by implementing an agency. And he provided an outline on the Commission's plans and announced the legal reform package on standardisation for autumn this year.

Regarding ICT standardisation VP Tajani confirmed that the Commission sees the need for reform and stressed that all the elements that have been developed by the Commission so far will be implemented via the legal package. This was very promising to hear given the urgent need in ICT for reform action.

I was invited to talk about the need for ICT standards reform. My slides are available on slideshare:

The hearing covered the full spectrum of standardisation and therefore touched on a multitude of aspects. The following are some personal take-aways I gathered:
  1. Processes are important. With modern ICT technologies applied effectively in standards bodies it will be easier for interested parties, in particular including SMEs, to participate, travelling and cost will be reduced, and openness will be increased.

  2. Transparency is key. Again, modern ICT technologies can provide the relevant tools for making work and procedures more transparent so that all interested parties can easily what's going on, what the status of development of a respective standard is, etc. Again, very important for SMEs.

  3. Lack of clarity about reform needs. There is confusion regarding the clear identification of areas that need reform on the one hand and the extensive lobbying against reform on the other. While some say that the system is optimal and nothing should be changed, others claim that there are critical issues, e.g. with access to standardisation, as well as regarding the above mentioned topics of processes, openness and transparency. My personal conclusion on this is that better differentiation is needed in the discussion and especially with regards to topics that are of relevance for the changing of the legal framework and such that are procedural matters of the standards bodies.

  4. No clear concept regarding services. The services sector is a huge growth market in Europe. This has raised the awareness of standards bodies for services. However, services is a broad field and there seems to be a lot of confusion when people talk about services standards - depending which sector and area people have in mind. Very often the underlying objective is certification. This might be helpful in some areas, but can kill growth in others. I believe more differentiation is needed here. And I believe the question that was raised by some MEPs whether services should have a separate legal framework is valid.

  5. Lack of clarity regarding the benefits of standards in relation to public procurement. I had the impression that the relation between standards, interoperability, competitiveness and the role public procurement has in this needs to be further elaborated. Markus Reigl representing the German Business Federation (BDI) and I stressed the common industry position that referencing standards in public procurement is highly important for promoting interoperability and fostering competitiveness in Europe.

  6. ICT is clearly identified as the sector that urgently requires reform. This probably the only really clear point. It was widely acknowledged that processes need to be available so that global open standards from so-called fora and consortia, i.e. organisations like OASIS, W3C, IETF, etc., can be used in EU policies and public procurement. And the proposed solution has clearly been outlined by the Commission in the ICT White Paper which received broad stakeholder support in the public consultation.

You are correct in assuming that the latter pleases me very much ;-)  I was the last speaker on yesterday's agenda trying to highlight and explain again the need for reform. The discussion and reactions I got afterwards were, for sure, very encouraging - even though the Commission seems to favour one single legal act while we in industry think that a separation of Directive 98/34 and the ICT-specific Council-Decision 87/95 would be better and could be realized faster.

The full information about the hearing - including all presenatations - is available on the IMCO Committee website. If I were asked to sum up the entire hearing I got the impression that the MEPs have a very good sense on the needs regarding standardisation in and for Europe as well as on the potential and importance of standardisation for competitiveness and growth. It will be interesting to see the final report of the IMCO committee as well as the report of the ITRE committee that also deals with standardisation and for which Reinhard Buetikofer, rapporteur of the ITRE committee, gave a short and very substantial summary. All of this is certainly a space that is worth to keep watching.