Thursday, 7 October 2010

The big impact of the EIF on European competitiveness

The European Interoperability Framework (EIF) in its version 1.0 which was published more than half a decade ago has been a great success, no doubt. I have said so before and keep repeating it. With EIF v1.0 Europe took global leadership on interoperability. And on openness.

EIF v1.0 took a clear stance on open standards for eGovernment services with a straight forward open standards definition. And it was very clear on the high relevance of open source technologies for public authorities. Accordingly, open source should be able to compete on equal footing with proprietary offerings.

From my experience, EIF v1.0 has had a number of very positive effects – not only for interoperability, but for European economy in general:
  • Awareness: EIF v1.0 has created a wide awareness about the issues around eGovernment interoperability and openness. Many EU member states meanwhile created their national interoperability frameworks following the EIF v1.0. And the reach-out of the EIF goes far beyond the borders of Europe with several other countries following the basic EIF v1.0 principles.
  • Interoperability: EIF v1.0 has driven genuine interoperability and has helped to clearly identify issues and barriers for interoperability.
  • Innovation: With its strict open standards policy the EIF has provided a basic framework which fosters innovation by using and implementing the available standards.
  • Competition: By requiring open standards EIF v1.0 has created a basis for the design and procurement of technologies for eGovernment services that supports fair competition by all – including open source technology providers – and prevents vendor lock-in.
  • Competitiveness: EIF v1.0 has triggered many companies to start thinking about how to adapt to the new world of openness and which transformations to undergo for keeping competitive in a more open and globalised world.
The latter has largely been overlooked, I believe. EIF v1.0 has had an enormous effect on businesses and the economy in Europe in general. By acknowledging the new realities of openness in the EIF v1.0 it made companies re-think their strategies and business models. And several companies thus moved on and started a transformation process to be better equipped for competing in this new, globalised economy. They took up concepts like open innovation, developed a strategy towards open source with a good many of them even crowd sourcing work themselves.

A similar effect has been on governments - and especially the CIOs amongst them. The EIF v1.0 has been a pacesetter for government policy and process transformation. As a matter of fact, today more governments in Europe and beyond are better set up to operate in our modern world. They have adopted SOAs, have redesigned their systems and implemented open infrastructures that allow scaling, improving, and getting smarter and better. And they have adopted open procurement policies that help to increase competition and competitiveness, reduce cost and give a better chance for local SMEs and the huge number of highly successful Open Source companies in Europe to compete on fair ground.

SMEs in Europe also especially benefited from the aspect that the EIF v1.0 with its clear open standards, open source and open procurement policy promotes innovation. Open Standards give a chance to every market player to innovate and compete with their innovative technologies in the market place. Because open standards ensure interoperability and thus allow modular replacement of technologies against new, better, more innovative ones at low exit cost.

Yet, we are also all aware of the hostility with which some parties have been fighting the EIF v1.0. Their reasons are hard to understand. I believe there is a good deal of paranoia involved, coupled with pure protectionism and the hope that if openness is not recognised in the EIF, businesses could avoid it and keep trying selling silos to governments. Oh my goodness, are people really that naïve?

I never really understood why the Commission decided to go for a revision of the EIF v1.0. I cannot see anything in EIF v1.0 that needs to be revised. An update with some additions and further elements around architecture and infrastructure added would have been ok. And this was, in fact, what the first publicly available draft of the EIF v2.0 was about. It reconfirmed the basic principles of EIF v1.0 and complemented the document on the architectural side and by addressing additional levels of interoperability. And this first draft did not receive any major objections in the public consultation.

Since then I have seen several leaked documents where I don't understand the purpose and the objective any more. Openness was almost entirely taken out at some point. The term open standards is not used any more even though widely used in the market place as well as in public policies and national interoperability frameworks worldwide. Etc. An EIF in such a downsized way would be turned into a pretty useless document. I'm sure we can all imagine who would like to see that.

Then, recently, there were rumours that the latest draft that was accepted in pre-inter-services consultation contained relevant elements of openness again. This sounded comforting. Until a couple of days ago there are new rumours that the basic principles of the EIF that go re-inserted are under attack again.

Can you still follow? I couldn't blame you if you can't. Whatever the current status is – I still have hopes that the Commission will not give in to those who try to get back to “pre-modern” times and try to protect some old-fashioned, outdated way of making business. I still have hopes that the Commission will not allow that the revised European Interoperability Framework turns into a European Interoperability Failure 2.0.

The positive connotation of 2.0 alone, however, will not prevent that. EIF 1.0 was a product of courageous, forward-looking policy making. And the spirit of EIF 1.0 will certainly prevail. The Digital Agenda and the Innovation Union, for instance, continue along these lines. So let's not make EIF irrelevant in these important and challenging times. Europe can be more innovative than deleting what is the predominant concept of our times: openness. Openness most notably in the form of a clear open standards policy, of a commitment to considering open source on equal footing to proprietary offerings; and in the form of a clear open procurement policy. Such an EIF 2.0 would be able to build on the success of EIF 1.0 and further promote innovation and competitiveness in Europe.

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