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.

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