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.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

OpenForum Europe Summit: Presentations online

The OpenForum Europe Summit which took place in Brussels on Thursday last week was a highly successful and informative event with a fine set of excellent speakers and panelists.

In my last blog entry I reported in detail about Vice-President Kroes' speech which was a powerful interpretation of the Digital Agenda and the most important actions associated with it.

All presentations and speeches that were given at the Summit are now available online on the OpenForum Europe Summit 2010 website. Shortly the recordings will be added, too.

In addition, you might also want to take a look at the twitter entries that were posted during the summit and have been added since then.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Europe ready to continue taking leadership on Openness

Yesterday, Vice-President Kroes of the European Commission, responsible for the Digital Agenda, gave the opening keynote speech at the OpenForum Europe summit in Brussels. The conference room at Autoworld Brussels was packed with people including some high level representatives on IT technology and standardisation from governments, industry and communities.

VP Kroes' speech was extremely powerful and inspiring. It is available on the Commission website and definitely worth reading. Building on the strong substance of the recently published Digital Agenda for Europe , VP Kroes set the directions for Europe to be a leader in the digital age. The EU will continue as a pacesetter taking leadership on openness and on defining open government IT policies.

VP Kroes started with reconfirming her position expressed two years ago, that “choosing open standards is a very smart business decision” stressing the importance of open standards for interoperability and making it very clear how highly she rates openness: “I am still a big fan of open standards. I believe in openness, and I believe in practising what one preaches.” And to prove her point on openness she asked the simple rhetorical question which standards are likely to get more uptake: those that you have to buy, acquire a license and pay royalties or those that you can simply download from the web and that are freely available for implementation. Just to be clear, that latter is what open standards are about.

From this starting point, the Commissioner elaborated on some of the key issues that are on the Commission's to-do list to be tackled for getting the Digital Agenda going. Let me take a glimpse at some of them.

First on VP Kroes' list was the reform of the European standardisation system. She reconfirmed the plan for reforming the European standardisation system introducing processes for making global open standards from fora/consortia like OASIS, W3C etc. available from Europe, e.g. by assessing these standards against a set of openness criteria.

Next on her list was IPR. Ms. Kroes stressed that she has nothing against including IP into standards but there is a need for more transparency and certainty. In particular she highlighted ex ante declaration as a possible way to explore further in standards organisations.

Turning to the use of standards in the public sector VP Kroes clearly expressed that public authorities need to be careful of not getting locked in using proprietary software. An example I liked most she used was that is inacceptable that kids in school are forced to use some specific vendor software. Rightfully, she considers getting into ock-in a waste of public money and made clear that openness and the focus on standards are the best way to prevent that.

With a similar focus on how tax-payers' money is spent, VP Kroes went on stressing the importance of the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) for fostering cross-border interoperability in Europen eGovernment. She outlined that the current EIF is “not bad”, that it “sets out a list of characteristics of 'open standards'”, but that improvemens are still possible.

To me, if I could bring-in a wish list, I would hope that this means that the EIF 1.0 will remain the foundation of thinking and will be supplemented rather than fundamentally reworked. EIF 1.0 has been at the core of European leadership on openness and interoperability. What in my mind is needed is not a new EIF but simply supplementing it by providing more details in some areas like infrastructure, architecture, etc.

Before reaching the end of her speech Ms. Kroes briefly touched on the importance of interoperabilty and on efforts for making companies disclose relevant interoperability information.

Ms. Kroes concluded that interoperability and standardisation play a high role in the Digital Agenda – also on a horizontal level for fostering innovation in areas of technology integration. She mentioned eHealth and smart metering as examples. She finished by pointing out that “there will be plenty who try to stop change”, but that she will not rest and will work towards this change.

I am sure that this speech from VP Kroes will get a wide reception and will be considered a cornerstone for the Commission's work ahead. It was an enlightening interpretation of the Digital Agenda highlighting the key topics for action and almost providing a roadmap of Commission activities for the rest of this year.

The OpenForum Europe summit was a wonderful set up and VP Kroes' opening keynote was a great starting point for a great, highly informative and high level conference. All presentations will soon be available online on the OpenForum Europe summit website.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

OpenForum Europe Summit on Openness at the heart of the EU Digital Agenda

The OpenForum Europe will hold its annual summit in Brussels tomorrow, Thursday, June 11, starting at 9 am in Brussels, Autoworld, 11 Parc du Cinquantenaire. The summit is open for everyone - see the invitation and agenda on the OpenForum Europe website.

The agenda has largely been inspired by the European Commission's Digital Agenda. Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes will give the opening keynote - which alone is worth attending the summit. Almost exactly two years ago VP Kroes, the Commissioner for Competition, spoke at the OpenForum Europe taking a strong stance on openness and open standards. The Digital Agenda presented by VP Kroes some weeks ago can be seen as a direct continuation of her positions and reasonings two years ago.

The summit will continue with two sessions on the open digital European market and on open eGovernment. The OpenForum Europe managed to get numerous high level speakers for this summit so that high quality and lots of interesting thoughts and inspiring and innovative thinking are guaranteed. I am all enthusiastic about it. Let's go and participate.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

On reading the responses to EU Commission's public consultation on standardisation

The EU Commission's public consultation on the European standardisation system ended about 2.5 weeks ago. All responses which the Commission received have meanwhile been published and are available online on the Commission web site

Curious as I am, I scanned through several of the responses last night – not all, though, since the Commission received many – really many. So I just picked some of which I thought could be interesting. Below I record a handful of observations which I would like to share with the world (hello world!):
  1. Reservations about changes prevail: The responses I looked at are far from enthusiastic about change. Almost everybody stresses that the current European standardisation system works well and its successful structures should not be jeopardized. Even more, some respondents seem to be almost frightened about possible changes and therefore give strongest “No”-statements on almost all questions. Personally, I think this might partially be due to the fact that the direction the Commission is planning to go for the revision of Directive 98/34 is not clear yet. Together with the confusion around the options listed in the context of the Impact Assessment study this might have led to a general notion that arguing against any change is the lowest risk.
  2. Successful lobbying: There are obvious verbatim repetitions in the responses which shows that some successful lobbying with prepared responses was done ;-)
  3. Strong support for ICT specific solution: A suprisingly high number of respondents stress the need for the reform of the EU ICT standardisation policy as proposed in the EU Commission's ICT White Paper.  This goes across all kinds of organisations and is not limited to ICT-near groups. So to conclude: there is (i) a widespread awareness of the different global structures in ICT standardisation compared to other setors; (ii) a broad consensus on the need for the changes as proposed in the ICT White Paper; and (iii) a broad consideration that the proposals of the Commission are well-defined.
  4. Confusion about the introduction of the WTO Principles: Several respondents reject the introduction of the WTO Principles into the European standardisation system. Several others point out that the current Directive 98/34 already lists principles in whereas clause 24 on which the European standardisation system is founded. The Commission questionnaire had not mentioned that this list is already today part of the Directive. Some stress that the WTO Principles are already implemented by the ESOs and that, therefore, it is not necessary to introduce them. And others bring this proposal in context with the establishment of further ESOs – which they then reject. Whatsoever, there seems to be a lot of suspicion around this proposal. I believe the WTO Principles are the internationally recognised high-level principles for standards development and there is no reason why the current list in the Directive should not be replaced with a reference to the WTO Principles.

If I were asked to draw some conclusion from my readings, I should come up with what has a good chance of becoming my ceterum censeo and propose to focus on the ICT standardisation reform. It is well-defined in the ICT White Paper, it's pressing need is obvious and widely recognised, and the proposals brought forward by the Commission receive broad stakeholder support.

The implementation should be done in a successor-document to Council Decision 87/95 with a focus on the use and implementation of standards and on interoperability. This should be de-coupled from the horizontal standards review of Directive 98/34. And it could and should be done fast.