Thursday, 25 February 2010

EXPRESS report published – a first personal review

For the past 12+ months I was a member of the expert panel for the revision of the European standardisation system (EXPRESS) set up by the Commission with the task of developing recommendations for the standardisation in Europe for this new decade and beyond. EXPRESS was a group of 30 people appointed “ad personam”. It was agreat pleasure and very fruitful and inspiring to work in this group which had a broad spectrum of backgrouds from all different kinds of organisations including above all the formal international, European and national standards organisations, national governments and societal stakeholder groups in the EU.

The final report is now available on the Commission website. A bit of mystery had built up around the EXPRESS work since the group operated behind closed doors and under Chatham House rules. Hence the report was awaited with some curiosity and suspense. And be sure I already got some first reactions...

To be frank: don't expect any  deep hidden secrets, any breakthrough thinking or innovative leaps. After all, the report is also a compromise worked out amongst the group with all the specific interests reflected. And EXPRESS covered the entire standardisation landscape with all sectors, far beyond ICT, so had to take into consideration quite diverse situations.

Personally, I see the report and the work of EXPRESS as starting point for a discussion over the next weeks rather than the final conclusion to the many issues and challenges which EXPRESS well identified and documented in the report.

The discussion around the future challenges for standardisation in Europe is excellent, I believe. But for sure the report does not sufficiently come up with answers to the identified challenges of the new decade. The role of the European Standardisation System (ESS) in an increasingly globally integrated world and in an increasingly deregulated market needs to be further discussed. The move from standards being used in support of regulation to standards being used in support of policies. The move from mandated standards development to the need for implementing standards for smarter and interoperable solutions and open systems. The report touches on these issues. Yet, some more innovation is required for coming up with the necessary transformations.

On the basis of this report, I believe that the following seven key topics (and there might well be more) need to be addressed further with the horizon of 2020:
  1. Position the ESS for optimally supporting the development and for easily making use of open standards that are globally applicable and that are of high relevance for innovation and for innovation policy in Europe and beyond.
  2. Strive for improved processes in standards development and in consensus building, ensuring utmost transparency and allowing all interested stakeholders to adequately participate. This includes the use of modern ICT technologies and the adaption to new developments like eParticipation, open innovation and open community work.
  3. Put greater emphasis on the different sector needs and on the sectors' preferred approaches towards standardisation, e.g. with respect to global, regional or national levels.
  4. Put greater emphasis on the market needs and on the key stakeholders driving standardisation.
  5. Introduce a greater level of differentiation regarding the desired or potential effects of standards and allow for the needed flexibility, e.g. allow for different rules regarding the terms an conditions when standards are relevant for software-to-software or process interoperability in contrast to, say, basic, core technology.
  6. Introduce processes for direct referencing of open standards developed in open, global organisations (fora/consortia like OASIS, W3C, the IETF) in EU policies.
  7. Focus more on the integration of technologies and the combination of standards for achieving innovation.

The EXPRESS report provides good initial thoughts on all of these issues. There are ideas available and the report will surely help to further accelerate the thought process. In its recommendations, though, the report is perhaps too much anchored to the achievements of the current ESS over the last 20 years. What will be important for the revision of the ESS, however, is to create a structure that is able to constantly adapt to new developments. In other words, a structure that has transformation implicit and allows for continuous innovation of the ESS itself.

I'm sure that the EXPRESS report will raise many more comments, concerns, contradictions, etc. No doubt, it will provide a lot of food for thought and will be a fruitful trigger for debate. And already that will be one major added value of this document - in the context of the debate  around Commission's endeavour of a modernisation of the ESS.

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