Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Predicting the future – what's up for European standardisation in this decade until 2020

I am currently reading an interesting essay from Elena Esposito on the fictionality of future realities (“La realtà della finzione nella società moderna” - available in German translation in the edition suhrkamp under the title “Die Fiktion der wahrscheinlichen Realität”). Elena Esposito is professor at the University of Modena and Regio Emilia and one of the leading European sociologists in the tradition of Niklas Luhmann's systems theory. This essay is fascinating as it puts the rise of the novel as the increasingly predominant form of fiction in the 18th century into relation with the developments in mathematics in the area of stochastics and calculus of probabilites at the same time. And it shows the element of fictionality in the predictions of what is going to happen and how high the likelihood is.

To me this essay is a bit like a disclaimer for a piece of work that I did last year in the context of my participation in EXPRESS – the expert panel on the revision of the European Standardisation System that had the task to develop recommendations for European standardisation with the horizon of 2020. As input to the discussion I had developed a so-called PEST analysis looking at the four key aspects of political, economic, social and technological challenges for standardisation in the new decade. And I tried to clearly align my analysis with some – as precise as possible – policy recommendations in the area of standardisation. 

I received some encouraging feedback about this document. So I put it up on slide share. 

Happy to receive further feedback, criticism, whatsoever.

Any reactions?
Am I totally off track or would you share some of the predictions?
What am I missing?

Friday, 24 September 2010

European Parliament takes clear stance on openness in the context of completing the internal market

Earlier this week the European Parliament finished its “Report on completing the internal market for e-commerce” (2010/2012(INI)). It is a very interesting document, very comprehensively addressing the full spectrum of electronic commerce in relation to the internal marekt – and definitely worth reading.

In this report, once again, the Parliament takes a very clear stance on openness as critical for the internal market in many ways. It acknowledges the "importance of open and neutral access to a high-speed internet connection, without which e-commerce would be impossible" (clause 43). And it asks the Commission "to work towards creating rules and standards" to overcome the "non-interoperability of software on commercial and social networking websites" (clause 47).

Very precisely the Parliament is clear on the need for open standards in the context of e-commerce. In clause 51 the Parliament expresses that it
“Believes that the development of, and support for, common, open technical and operational specifications and standards (for compatibility, interoperability, accessibility, security, logistics, delivery, etc.) will facilitate cross-border e-commerce by assisting consumers, especially vulnerable and inexperienced computer users, and by bridging the operational, technical, cultural and language barriers that exist between the various Member States;”

More specifically, the parliament clearly requires the use of an open standard in the area of document formats. As stated in clause 41 the parliament “Highlights the importance of an open document exchange format for electronic business interoperation and calls on the Commission to take concrete steps to support its emergence and spread”. For sure, the Open Document Format (ODF) standard which was developed by OASIS and approved by ISO (ISO/IEC 26300) is the standard available for use today. It has been implemented in multiple competing products and is demonstrating interoperability in real life on a daily basis.

Some statements in the document certainly require some more clarification and detailed specification. In general, however, I think this report is another milestone in the policy debate where Europe is taking leadership on openness and open standards acknowledging the benefits of openness for both societies and business. To some extend this complements the work the Commission successfully started years ago with the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) version 1.0 which recommends open standards for achieving pan-European, cross-border interoperability in eGovernment services.

Indeed, in all areas where software-to-software interoperability is concerned, open standards are critical for ensuring interoperability. They promote innovation in providing a trusted and open base for everyone to implement and use – and to innovate on top of. They are a basis for service oriented architectures and they prevent single-vendor lock-in, foster competition, allow choice and keep costs low – including most notably exit costs for technologies.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Report of the European Parliament's IMCO Committee on the “Future of European Standardisation”

In late June I was invited by the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) of the European to a hearing on European standardisation – see my blog entry on the event. This was part of the Committee's work on a report on the “Future of European Standardisation (2010/2051(INI))”.

The draft report as put together by Edvard Kožušník, the rapporteur, has been available on the committee's web site since mid August. This week discussion in the IMCO Committee on the report continues with the objective to reach a final version.

The report is very comprehensive and covers a full range of aspects around the current European standardisation system. It especially focusses on CEN, CENELEC, the National Bodies and their processes and structures. ETSI with its highly successful mixed model of direct membership and national representation comes a bit too short in the draft report and in the discussions.

The draft report very much focusses on preserving the current system. It is not visionary or forward looking. I appreciate that the current strengths of the European standardisation system need to be preserved – and I would add: in some cases even strengthened, e.g regarding improved transparency and the possibility for all interested stakeholders to follow standardisation activities and provide comments. Yet, I believe that there are challenges ahead of us that require a bit of new thinking and punctual reform. Globalisation and the increasing importance of global standards is one such challenge; the high potential for innovation by integration of technologies and the role of standards as facilitators ensuring interoperability is another; and the role of standards in policy making in general is an important third example.

Similarly, the urgent needs of the ICT sector for standardisation reform are not dealt with. While the report acknowledges the Commission's ICT White Paper the recommendations given, in this case in particular recommendation 28, are solely focussing on the current status quo. To be very clear: the transfer of specifications from fora/consortia to international standards organisations or ESOs is already possible today. But is very obvious that there are many instances where this does not work and is, therefore, not sufficient for effective policy making and public procurement as far as a global technology like ICT is concerned. Given the fact that the ICT sector has been identified as the sector where change in standardisation policy is most urgently needed, this is a strong deficiency of the draft report. This is probably the most important point that could be fixed by the Committee this week.

Some important aspects around this fora/consortia discussion:

  • a large part of the most relevant and broadly implemented standards in ICT are developed by so called fora/consortia outside of the formal standardisation system;
  • when talking about such fora/consortia in the ICT sector we talk about well-established global organisations operating with highly open and transparent processes and with a broad global membership including large and small companies, public authorities and academia (to be very clear: closed private clubs are out of the scope);
  • since the standards from these fora/consortia are widely used and implemented globally (and relevant) there is no need and no added-value for transferring them into formally recognised organisations; after all, transferring includes additional overhead and administrative work and there are some issues like different IPR regimes that have sometimes been impossible to solve;
  • so bottom line: many well-established and relevant ICT standards will not become formal standards but will be need for effective EU policy making, for innovation and for public procurement;
  • all of this has been taken into account in the proposals made by the Commission in the ICT White Paper.

My wish-list, at first stage, for the IMCO committee and its report is pretty simple:

  1. Welcome the ICT White Paper, express support for it and urge the Commission and the Member States to work on its implementation;
  2. State the need for processes that enable direct referencing of ICT fora/consortia standards in EU policies and public procurement provided that these standards meet a set of well defined openness criteria like the attributes of eligibility laid down in the ICT paper;
  3. Support the implementation of a multi-stakeholder platform on ICT standardisation as advisory group to the Commission.

Finally, it is worth noting that these fairly moderate changes to the European standardisation system as expressed in the ICT White Paper are globally seen as a very innovative and forward-looking step taken by Europe. Europe should work hard to keep this leadership role and strive for the fast legal implementation of a new, modernised ICT standardisation policy now.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Back from vacation ....

Coming back from vacation has been pretty tough this time because of the cold weather here North of the Alps. We had perfect and warm summer weather in the South-West of France at the Atlantic coast. But driving back home suddenly North of Orleans and Troyes the temperature fell down to less than 13 degrees. Urrgghh... We must have looked like coming from another planet in our shorts, short sleeves and flip flops.

But France was extremely nice. We really enjoyed it very much - the beaches, the food, the way of life. As an appetizer I post some pictures below.

No September has started which is usually a busy month as everyone is back from vacation getting ready for autumn and year-end work. There is a good deal of work ahead - I will keep you posted.

Great Atlantic beaches
Growing oysters
Dune du Pyla
Dune du Pyla

Beautiful lake-side beach

Sunset on the beach