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.

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