Tuesday, 25 May 2010

A first reading of the Digital Agenda for Europe

Last week the Commission published its final version of the Digital Agenda. This was developed under the leadership of Commissioner Kroes who took over the responsibility for the Digital Agenda with the new European Commission earlier this year.

The Digital Agenda is one of the so-called seven flagship initiatives of this Commission and its Europe 2020 strategy. The Digital Agenda's basic objective is given in the very first sentence of the document:

“The overall aim of the Digital Agenda is to deliver sustainable economic and social benefits from a digital single market based on fast and ultra fast internet and interoperable applications.”

Thus the Digital Agenda identifies the two key pillars of the digital age: (i) integration, networked societies and economies with the internet as the prime medium for communication and integration; and (ii) – close linked with the first – interoperability, interoperable applications that allow the exchange of data and the use of information and data.

The Digital Agenda covers the full spectrum of aspects, technologies, requirements and actions along these lines. It makes many excellent points and in general deserves a lot of praise and support. It integrates across Commission DGs and provides a consolidated and consistent strategy for the next decade. In the following I want to focus on the aspects around standardisation and interoperability. These play a key role, for sure, since the “Digital Agenda can only take off if its different parts and applications are interoperable and based on standards and open platforms” (p. 5).

Regarding standardisation, it is critical for the Digital Agenda that the changes and recommendations get implemented which the Commission outlined in its 2009 White Paper on “Modernising ICT Standardisation in the EU - The Way Forward” (COM(2009) 324 final). These changes will, above all, provide Europe with the necessary means for using and implementing standards that were developed globally and got wide market acceptance. And the white paper recommendations take precaution that only such standards will be eligible for use which were developed in open and transparent processes.

The Digital Agenda has taken this up as Key Action 5 announcing that the Commission will “propose legal measures on ICT interoperability by 2010 to reform the rules on implementation of ICT standards in Europe to allow use of certain ICT for and consortia standards” (p. 15). And it is outlined that the Commission will further promote the use of standards in public procurement because this will ensure interoperability, increase competition and reduce the risk of lock-in.

Regarding interoperability, the Commission stresses that in addition to the activies in the ISA programme (Interoperability Solutions for European Public Administrations), most notably the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) and the European Interoperability Strategy (EIS), the Commission will “Examine the feasibility of measures that could lead significant market players to license interoperability information” (p. 16).

The Digital Agenda also touches on the issue of IPRs in standardisation. The Commission will further look at way to improve the situation for IPR transparency and certainty in the context of standardisation. Ex ante rules to be applied in standards organisations is one concrete example that is given.

To my mind the Digital Agenda is a milestone in the early work of the new Commission. It has potential to really drive governments, societies and economies in Europe as we are at the start of a decade that promises to lead us to very new and partly unimaginable realms of the ways we live and work. I highly welcome the clarity and the focus on change in the Digital Agenda. The ICT standards reform, for instance, has been on the Commission's table for too long already, all proposals and comments have been made – the Digital Agenda now puts it again into the proper – and highly relevant – context of the overall digital strategy for Europe. 

I trust that the legal implementation will be driven fast now. It is of utmost importance for the success of using ICT in policy making, above all in innovation policy, take, for instance, the areas of eEnergy and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) dealt with in the Digital Agenda. If Europe wants to drive innovation in such leading-edge areas it needs to include ICT standards from global fora and consortia.

Some criticism was made regarding the lack of the term “open standard” in the Digital Agenda. This is, for sure, true. A concept like open standards that is so braodly used and applied including by EU member states can't be ignored by the Commission. While I understand that the term is not a “formal” term used by the Commission for European standardisation, there is no reason not to use it at all. Open standards are important – especially in the context of the internet, of software interoperability and of eGovernment.

Yet, the lack of using the term “open standard” seems to be really *just* an issue of terminology, not of concept or content. The Digital Agenda is very clear that it talks about “open platforms” (e.g. p. 5; p. 25) and about standards “which can be implemented by all interested suppliers” (p. 15). And – as mentioned above – the Digital Agenda is very clear on reducing lock-in and means to enforce interoperability. So there might be a little spot that the term “open standard” is not even mentioned, but it does not seem to be something to be worried about.

I am positive that this Digital Agenda will have a strong push effect for Europe; for openness, interoperability and the use and implementation of standards. It is in line with the overall Commission Europe 2020 strategy. It makes many things around ICT concrete and combines the different Commission's DG's efforts into a consistent strategy. And it provides a number of prerequisites and key actions for fostering innovation in Europe. The ball is still with the Commission, though, to go for a fast implementation of the actions.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Still open: EU public consultation on reform of European Standardisation System

The European Commission is moving on with it's agenda regarding the revision of the European Standardisation System. Following the EXPRESS panel and its report and the work on the obligatory Impact Assessment which the Commission has had done over the last two months, a public consultation was launched some weeks ago inviting everybody to give input on the revision of the European Standardisation System. The consultation is still running until May 21.

Just to remind everyone: like EXPRESS this consultation is not specific to IT and communication technologies (ICT), it covers the full spectrum of standardisation. On the other hand, the Commission is explicit that this consultation is not meant to repeat last year's consultation on the ICT White Paper and thus the specific ICT issues that had already been addressed are excluded from this new exercise. This does, however, not mean that the consultation is irrellevant for ICT. Far from it, it asks several questions about standardisation and the European Standardisation System that are of high importance for anyone interested in standardisation – including ICT. 

In the context of this consultation some public debate has built up on the reform of the European Standardisation System – including a lot of speculation and a good deal of FUD. Partly this may result from the options which the Commission had drafted as the basis for the Impact Assessment study. Some of these options would, indeed, mean a fundamental restructuring of the European Standardisation System, if not an abolishing of the current system. And partly it may result from the fact that the Commission has not yet presented a precise outline on which changes are actually being considered; the questions of the current consultation only give some vague hints and leave a lot room for interpretation. The best overview can be gained from the Roadmap the Commission has drafted up.

I always like a vivid debate. Makes things more exciting than just silence and stiff exchange of positions. But for sure the facts need to correct, the style needs to be professional and the overall attitude needs to be democratic, i.e. respect others and their opinions, as well, listen and be open for new arguments. Openness might, in fact, be a key aspect in the overall debate: openness for new things, for innovative add-ons to the current system. In my personal resumee on the EXPRESS report I blogged about what I believe was not considered in the required detail yet and what is important for standardisation in Europe. Overall the system in Europe works well. But it is the pivotal improvements that are required for future success. And for the ICT sector the Commission's ICT White Paper provides highly innovative proposals for urgently needed improvements.

In my opinion the following aspects are most critical regardnig the revision process of the European Standardisation System:  
  1. Fast revision of ICT standardisation policy: The Commission needs to go for the revision of ICT Standardisation Policy as laid down in the ICT White Paper last year soon as possible. The ICT White Paper presented a consistent programme for change and received broad support in the public consultation. The changes are highly critical for effective innovation policy making and in general for innovation, competitiveness and growth in Europe.
  2. Separate revision of horizontal standardisation system and ICT policy: The revision of the ICT standardisation policy should be decoupled from the horizontal review of the European Standardisation System. They are different in scope: While the horizontal review is concerned about the development of standards in support of regulation and legislation, the focus of the modernising of the ICT standards policy is about the use and implementation of standards for promoting interoperability and competitiveness. 
  3. No need to fundamentally reconstruct the current system, but a need to innovate: The current European Standardisation as governed by Directive 98/34 works fine. What is important, though, is that there are some specific, innovative, pivotal improvements that make the system fit for the next decade, in particular for coping with all challenges of globalisation. The future European Standardisation System needs to be flexible enough for reacting to global (and other) trends effectively and without coming into a deadlock.
Everybody still has the chance to submit innovative ideas in the context of this consultation. It will be very interesting to see all the submissions once they are published on the Commission website. In my opinion the Commission is well set-up for taking the necessary steps for innovative reform of the European Standardisation System. ICT could move ahead fast with a focus on the implementation of standards. This would manifest Europe's global leadership in standards policy.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Spring impressions from Heidelberg

Spring has made a pause again with rather cold and cloudy weather outside. But the last weeks saw some fabulous days with open-space life returning. The following pictures are some impression of the riverside lawn at the Neckar in Heidelberg on some of the first nice, warm and sunny weekend days this year. Spring ... please come back....