Wednesday, 16 November 2011

On re-reading the Monti Report

It's more than a year ago since I read the so called Monti Report, the report on "A new strategy for the single market at the service of Europe's economy and society, delivered in May 2010 to the European Commission by Professor Mario Monti who was a former EU Commissioner is now the new Italian Prime Minister. With Mr Monti starting in his new role I grabbed out the report again and gave it a re-reading last night.

To begin with, it is an excellent and very inspiring document. Worth reading - it is available on President Barroso's web site. From my standards perspective the report provides a number of interesting points on the benefits of standards and on the contribution standards and standardisation makes to growth and innovation in Europe. And - especially in the section on the digital single market - it takes a good and forward looking approach on ICT and the way it transforms societies and markets.

Let me just give you two appetizers - starting with a passage on digital technologies:
"2.3. Shaping Europe's digital single market
"Digital technologies are radically transforming the way we live, work and interact. The propagation of digital technology is a spontaneous process of innovation and transformation. Yet, regulatory and social conditions influence the speed and extent of the uptake of new technologies and the spread of the benefits of a digital economy. Europe is moving at a slower speed than the US. A number of obstacles reduce the capacity of industry in Europe to innovate and generate value added in the digital sphere: the fragmentation of online markets, ill-adapted intellectual property legislation, the lack of trust and interoperability, the lack of high-speed transmission infrastructure and the lack of digital skills. Many of these obstacles point to a simple cause: a lack of a Digital single market." (p. 44)
And specifically on standardisation:
"Reforming the standardisation process
"Standardisation is key for the governance of the single market. Europe needs today faster and more efficient setting of interoperable and market-relevant standards, based on internationally accepted models. It is necessary to review the European standards process, maintaining the benefits of the current system while striking the right balance between European and national dimension. Special attention should be paid to enhancing private sector access to the standardisation process and to making standards cheaper and easier to use for SMEs." (p. 50f.)
Many - if not all - of the points raised by Professor Monti have been taken up by the Commission, most notably in the various flagship initiatives. And the legal package on standardisation also nicely fits into this with a proposed Regulation that preserves the successful structures of European standardisation and complements them with necessary changes, e.g. in the filed of ICT, in order to promote competitiveness, innovation and growth in Europe.

Regarding the reform of ICT standardisation the Commission also very much worked according to what Professor Monti calles "smart regulation", i.e. with broad stakeholder involvement and consultations:
"For a smart regulation, policy making methods are equally important as legal techniques. Smart regulation means regulation informed by an accurate  knowledge of the factors at play and by a sharp awareness of its potential impacts on the economy, the social context and the environment. The commitment to better regulation should continue. Impact assessment and stakeholders' consultation have proven their advantages in terms of quality of regulation, transparency and accountability. They are key features for reforming effectively the single market." (p. 94)
I recommend to everyone to read or re-read this report. Happy that it got back into my perspective with Professor Monti taking on his new role in Italy.

Announcement - Workshop from the EU Commission and EPO on ICT Standardisation and IPR

Following up from the successful workshop on tensions between standardisation and IPRs jointly organised by the European Commission and the European Patent Office (EPO) in 2010 both organisations are again jointly organising a further workshop on the issue of patents, IPRs and ICT standardisation. This year the focus is on

"ICT Standards and Patents: The public authorities and international perspective:
how to increase transparency and predictability"

The formal announcement and the link to register are available on the Commission website. The agenda looks very interesting with a broad range of speaker from both leading international standards organisations and from the stakeholders in industry.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Interviews on the EU legal package on standardisation

When speaking at the conference on standardisation and innovation, the SIIT, in Berlin the other day a number of speakers were interviewed including myself (see also my blog post on the SIIT). We were asked to give our opinions on the legal package and on the ICT part in particular.

BITKOM now posted all interviews on their Youtube channel. My responses can be seen in the two videos below. Beware, it's in German....

Statement on the legal package in general:

Statement on the ICT part of the legal package:

It is worth watching also the other interviews starring Renate Weissenhorn, Head of Unit Standardisation in the European Commission, Dirk Weiler, Chairman of the ETSI General Assembly, Friedrich Smaxwil, CEN President, Bernhard Thies, Chairman (CEO) of the German Electrotechnical Committee DKE.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

German BITKOM Forum on Standardisation and the New Legilative Framework

Today I participated in the BITKOM Forum on standardisation, technical regulation and market access. I was on the agenda in the first slot on the EU legal package on standardisation. The first speaker was Mme Anne Lehouck from the European Commission who gave an overview on the legal package with a focus on the ICT standardisation reform part in it. As second speaker I outlined the ICT industry position on the legal package and the needs we seen that make the proposed changes so utterly necessary.

The workshop reconfirmed that industry strongly supports the changes for ICT that are proposed in the legal package.

BITKOM will also publish the presentations shorts. If you like a preview view my slide deck on slide share:

Breakfast Briefing in European Parliament: Global ICT Standards for Innovation and Growth in Europe

Yesterday I participated in a breakfast briefing in the European Parliament on "Global ICT Standards for Innovation and Growth in Europe" focussing on the EU legal package on standardisation. Many thanks again to Malcolm Harbour, Chair of the EP's IMCO Committee, for being a perfect host for this event that was organised by OpenForum Europe. (You can watch some pictures of the event on the OFE website.)

The purpose of this briefing was to provide a broad range of opinions on the legal package on standardisation. We were five speakers, Sebastiano Toffaletti (NORMAPME and PIN-SME), Luis Jorge Romero (ETSI), Elisabeth Stampfl-Blaha (Austrian Standards Insitute), Carol Cosgrove-Sacks (OASIS) and myself (OpenFourm Europe). With this group we covered quite a range of perspectives. The good news: all speakers conceded that the ICT parts of the legal package and the proposed draft Regulation are good and deserve full support by Parliament and Council in the legal process.

I posted the draft for my speech on slide share - happy to receive comments.

View more documents from Jochen Friedrich.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

EU legal package on standardisation: some aspects discussed in depth (III): How to ensure openness and transparency for assessing fora/consortia standards – including on the national level

As the debate on the EU legal package on standardisation starts in the Council and in the European Parliament I hear voices – especially from one member state – that the assessment of fora/consortia standards against the criteria listed in Annex II of the draft Regulation should include a Public Enquiry in the process. And apparently even a further criterion along these lines is proposed. The main argument I hear for that is that SMEs and other national stakeholders should have an opportunity to follow the process and raise concerns when needed.

Well, I fully support the intention to have openness and transparency of the process of assessing fora/consortia specifications against the criteria. But to require a Public Enquiry and mean with it the a formal process as it is practiced in the development of European Standards / European Norms is not an appropriate proposal. This is full-fledged process for the development of harmonised standards and for reviewing the technical content of a draft European Standard / European Norm and make proposals for technical changes.

Asking for a Public Enquiry for the assessment of globally used and well-established fora/consortia standards would mean, for instance, to ask that the WLAN standard 802.11 from IEEE or TCP/IP from IETF or http or html etc. are submitted into a process that asks for technical comments. That would not meet the purpose which is to assess whether these fora/consortia standards were developed in open processes. And let's be clear: the process of Public Enquiry is not followed for a large number of standardisation deliverables from the ESOs, either, namely all those that are not European Standards / European Norms.

Yet, to say it again, I totally support the need for openness and transparency of the process. So how could that be done? Here are some considerations:
  1. Whenever a new assessment process starts the Commission announces this publicly on a website.
  2. This website is mirrored on a national level, e.g. by the National Standards Bodies which act as a “one stop shop” for national stakeholders, e.g. SMEs merely operating on a national level.
  3. Subscription is possible both for the EU website as well as for the national mirroring website so that people get an automatic notification whenever a new assessment process starts. And this subscription should be available for anybody, not just members of the National Standards Bodies.
  4. Everybody gets some time – e.g. something between four or six weeks – to provide comments when people believe that the specification under assessment does not comply with the criteria (NB: these are not technical comments!). These comments need to be considered by the parties executing the assessment and providing advice to the Commission.
  5. The assessment statement is made public.
I believe these are straight forward proposals regarding the implementation of the process which is proposed in Article 9 of the draft Regulation. And perhaps we can call this a public enquiry procedure in some way. It contains a national notification – or better: a general notification process – which is similar to what is practised today in the notification process for EU standards development. I have subscribed and get regular mails whenever a notification by a national body is made.

So let's clarify a bit about processes and terminology. What the draft Regulation proposes is a new process for including global, well-established and widely implemented ICT fora/consortia standards into the European standardisation system and making them available for direct referencing in public procurement and EU policies. Public Enquiry is a process that is practiced for the development of harmonised European Standards / European Norms. This process does not fit the purpose. What is needed is some form of National Notification ensuring openness and transparency. This needs to be combined with a process for comments on whether the criteria are met and for ensuring that all comments are taken adequately into account. In combination with the ICT multi-stakeholder advisory platform where all stakeholders including the European Standards Organisations (ESOs), SMEs, Consumers, Member States are present, will provide the necessary checks and balances for the new process.

Standardisation and Innovation - Conference in Berlin

Yesterday I gave a presentation at the 7th international conference on Standardisation and Innovation in Information Technologies (SIIT) which is held in Berlin this year, perfectly hosted by the Technical University of Berlin and Prof. Knut Blind. I was the fourth in a row of speakers from industry following speakers from Oracle on the Java Community Process, from Microsoft on defining open standards and from SAP on the economics of open innovation.

In my talk I tried to elaborate on the potential of innovation that lies in the implementation of standards and in technology integration. My slides are available on slideshare:

All in all it was a very inspiring afternoon session. The conference continues today with a broad discussion on the legal package on standardisation - which, you may imagine, I will also follow with high interest.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Communication matters

I just realised that my last blog post is already 6 weeks old. In between were some busy days and a lovely summer break. We spent a perfect beach holiday in the South of France – wonderful weather, wonderful people, wonderful landscape, wonderful food. I hope everyone else also had a nice summer and some relaxing days off.

Now I am back at work – and back to travelling today. I just changed trains at Cologne when I walked by the automatic ticket machines with huge queues in front of them. And I saw all the fellow-travellers with their online and electronic tickets. That triggered a thought.

Everyone in business – and actually anywhere else – knows how important communication is. On the other hand, we increasingly use electronic or automatic means for making our arrangements. We book online or at ticket machines, we do online banking at get our money out of cash machines, we make all kinds of arrangements in “do-it-youself” mode over the web – and, just to be clear, I like this because it saves you time and is efficient. However, it means that we don't interact with people at a counter anymore. We don't go there, tell the officer in charge what we want, get his advice, ask back, close the transaction by looking someone in the eye, giving a smile, getting a smile, saying “thank you” and “good bye”. In other words, we have got rid of a good deal of normal, daily conversation. And is a kind of business-style communication which gets lost, the communication you do for doing whatever kind of transaction.

In a way automisation and the web are only the current tip of a process that started decades ago. With big superstores where you walk yourselves along the shelves and load your trolley rather than going from one small shop to the next and telling the person behind the counter what you would like to have. In addition, we increasingly put children aside, e.g. by dropping them in a children's play corner before entering a shopping centre. They can enjoy themselves and we don't get bothered with bored kids who want to get out of the shop while we still want to try another pair of trousers or check for another item on our list. By the way, I recently read somewhere that big stores start to install also men's corners where women can drop their male companions before going shopping – LOL...

Now, as already mentioned above, I don't want to say that the good old days were fantastic and that technology, automisation and the web are bad and should not be used. Far from it. I love the web, I love doing transactions online, I appreciate superstores with their huge choice of goods, etc. But I wonder whether there is some consequence regarding daily practice of communication that we need to be more aware of and react to. And I could imagine that it mainly effects business communication. That it effects the way, the naturalness in communicating with customers and clients and also with colleagues. After all, we are spending huge amounts of money and effort on training of softskills etc. I wonder whether this has ever been addressed in some socio-linguistic study or experiment. Would be very interesting.

Anyway, I believe that we should pay some attention on this issue (if you agree that it is an issue) especially regarding our children. Let's not further put them aside of daily communication, let's not “store” them at neighbours or friends when you go shopping or deal with a craftsman or whatever. But expose them to such daily business. Encourage them to take some walks, go the baker's or the newspaper shop or whatever themselves. Make them order things and thus get prepared for clarifying questions from a clerk, for responding back, etc. And teach them to say hello to neighbours, to say “please” and “thank you”, etc.

I love the moment when the people in the queue before a ticket machine start talking to each other, for instance, because someone doesn't know how the machine works or doesn't get what he/she wants. And suddenly communication is back and people start dealing with each other – with a smile, looking someone in the eye, saying please and thank you ;-)

Monday, 1 August 2011

EU legal package on standardisation: some aspects discussed in depth (II): The need of referencing fora/consortia specifications in EU policies

The various discussions about the legal package on standardisation reveal that there seems to be a lot of uncertainty about what policies are – especially since the Commission proposes changes for ICT to enable direct referencing of ICT fora/consortia standards in EU policies. There is confusion with legislation, regulations and directives – and more.

In general, this might not be surprising because the term “policies” is hard to translate from English into several of the European languages. In German, for instance, we don't have a really equivalent expression. Sometimes we use “Politik” as in “Industriepolitik” (industrial policy) or in “Innovationspolitik” (innovation policy). Many times, however, we need work-arounds in the tranlsation which don't make a proper and clear understanding easier.

In the Communication “A strategic vision for European standards” (COM(2011)311), which is one of the two essential parts of the legal package, the Commission expresses at the very beginning that “European standards and standardisation are very effective policy tools for the EU” (1.1).

A bit further down, in section 3, the Commission elaborates that

“In areas of high political and economic importance, standards can be used strategically to accelerate the development of innovative solutions, including through the deployment of ICT. In the twenty-first century Europe faces a number of strategic challenges, in particular in areas where standards have particularly strong potential to support EU policy, such as consumer protection, accessibility, climate change, resource efficiency, security and civil protection, protection of personal data and individuals' privacy and the use of ICT for interoperability in the Digital Single Market. […]
“European standardisation can support legislation and policies on climate change, green growth and can promote the transition to a low carbon and resource efficient economy.”

Finally, in section 6 on ICT, the Commission announces that “In EU policies, the Commission will increasingly use selected ICT standards that comply with the same set of quality criteria, in particular when the interoperability between devices, applications, data repositories, services and networks must be further enhanced.” (Action 20)

In other words, a policy in this context is an instrument for promoting technologies and objectives of key public interest (like interoperability). Especially in innovation policy – as a sub-interest of industrial policy in general – do modern ICT technologies and interoperability play a key role. And especially there are ICT specifications from global fora/consortia critical because you cannot build a single ICT system without using these specifications. And the same is true for all systems that integrate ICT technologies like all of the e* and smart* areas, e.g. eHealth, smart energy, eMobility, intelligent transportation, etc.

I recently showed this slide below which helped to create an understanding why it is important to have ICT specifications from fora/consortia available for direct referencing in policies: 

Today global ICT specifications from fora/consortia are critical especially in those areas where a lot of potential for innovation is in the integration of technologies and thus in the combination of standards. If Europe wants to take leadership in innovation policy in such areas it needs to be able to directly reference the required standards and specifications in the respective policies. And this means the full set of all required standards and specifications – not just a subset produced by the ESOs or so.

Therefore, the Commission proposal for changes to ICT standardisation in Europe and the strategic directions as given in the Communication (as quoted above) entirely make sense. And more: they are an essential part of the legal package and deserve full support.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Hearty food

Now, did anyone ever get a pizza like this? It was a big laugh when it arrived for me the other day. The cook and the servant even wished to get a picture of it.

Have a good weekend everyone - and enjoy your pizzas ;-)

Friday, 22 July 2011

EU legal package on standardisation: some aspects discussed in depth (I): The global nature of fora/consortia

On June 1 the European Commission adopted its legal package on European Standardisation with two major documents: The Commission Communication “A strategic vision for European standards: Moving forward to enhance and accelerate the sustainable growth of the European economy by 2020” (COM(2011)311) and the draft Regulation on “European Standardisation” (COM(2011)315). I blogged about this right after the adoption when the documents were available.

Since then the documents have been widely read and public comments are made and the documents are debated. With this post I am starting a series on discussing some aspects a bit more in depth that are raised in public discourse – or at least add some thoughts to points that are raised and discussed. So here's part one – on

The global nature of fora/consortia

The draft Regulation adopted by the Commission introduces a process for allowing the recognition of ICT standards from fora/consortia so that they can be directly referenced in public procurement and in EU policies. They need, however, need to meet the condition of being assessed against a set of quality criteria listed in Annex II of the draft Regulation.

While the need for this complementary change to the European standardisation system is widely accepted because it takes into consideration the global realities in ICT standardisation, there are some who spread a good deal of FUD regarding fora/consortia. The strongest piece of bad mouthing is probably the claim that fora/consortia were US-based and US-dominated and would operate in competition to the European Standards Organisations (ESOs). Therefore, recognising the ICT standards from fora/consortia would solely benefit US interests, say those "spreaders of FUD".

To be very frank: this is total nonsense, and people who spread this either deliberately wish to create bad feelings against fora/consortia or at best simply repeat what others said without checking the facts. And they seem to be at a total loss to imagine what a global organisation is and how it works. Different from other sectors, standardisation in the ICT sector evolved on a global basis with new global organisations establishing as the leading ICT standards development organisations. Prominent examples are the IETF, W3C or OASIS. These bodies operate in very open and transparent ways with a broad membership from all geographies and encompassing all stakeholders including public authorities, academia, SMEs and large, multinational companies.

Europe has a strong voice in global industry fora and consortia regardless of where these organisations are registered legally. And Europe has all potential to further build on this strength. In the following I put together some facts taken from the information publicly available on the organisations' web sites:

W3C was founded in 1994 by an Englishman, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, in collaboration with CERN, the European research lab. In April 1995, INRIA (Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et Automatique) in France became the first European W3C host and in 2003, ERCIM (European Research Consortium in Informatics and Mathematics), also based in France, took over the role of European W3C host from INRIA. Today, W3C has 326 Members, 40% of which are European. Government participation is also strong, and it could be increased – a development that is very much desired by W3C and its members.

Or looking at OASIS, both, the current Director-General of OASIS and the current chair of the OASIS Board of Directors are of European origin. More Europeans are among the members of the Board of Directors. Regarding the representation of stakeholder groups in OASIS, roughly 32% are SMEs and 28% are administrations and academia. So the three combined are even a clear majority of organisational participants. In addition, OASIS allows individual membership and an individual's vote on OASIS standards is worth that of an organisation. As far as geographic distribution of OASIS members is concerned 30% are European, 15% are from Asia Pacific, the rest are from the Americas.

Furthermore, looking at the IETF (Interent Engineering Task Force), it's chair of the Architecture Board is European and also an SME. And looking at IEEE, by 2010 the organisation had over 395,000 members from 160 countries. These are just some examples that powerfully illustrate the global nature of fora/consortia and leadership role Europe is taking in some of the relevant global ICT fora and consortia.

So bottom line: these leading ICT fora/consortia have all rights to claim that they are genuinely global organisations with global membership as well as a broad scope of stakeholders amongst the members, including industry – both large, small and “micro” –, academia, governments, users, etc. Let's hope that such facts help to discredit the statements that are made against fora/consortia as what they actually are: attempts to put a negative flag on successful global organisations. 

And besides: the processes in place in these fora/consortia are exemplary in terms of openness and transparency - e.g. allowing everyone around the globe to follow the work and provide comments regardless of whether people are a member of the organisation or not. This is standards bodies governance at its best.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The impact of network effects on collaboration

As stated before, I believe in collaboration and collaborative efforts in developing positions and driving topics. In other words, I believe in the wisdom of crowds. For effective collaboration the appropriate tools are needed. What is, of course, embarrassing is when network effects lead to a severe impact on collaboration and exclude people from participating in the collaborative effort and from the information.

It happened to me again the other day when trying join a meeting. As mentioned several tims in my blog I run a Linux operating system. For this meeting a collaboration session had been set up, but when trying to join I got the following message:

This is a typical network effect due to a lack of interoperability. The collaboration tool is designed to work with certain OS and browsers. And people who happen to use these technologies don't actually reflect much about it. They take it for granted. So no blame on those who set up the meeting. That's the ugly thing about network effects.

What is needed is genuine interoperability, not just intra-operability. This will avoid effects that you can only use one tool if you have a specific OS or vice versa. Imagine a situation where you can participate in a telephone conference only if you use a phone from a specific company or have signed up with a specific phone network operator. Everybody would reject this - and rightly so. Network effects of that kind manifest lock-in situations and prevent fair and open competition and negatively impact business decisions on which OS or which SW to choose. In other words, software interoperability is critical the more me move into the age of networked economies and societies.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Blogging - transforming the public sphere

A while ago I posted a bit of an "academic text" ;-) titled "On Blogging or A New Era in the Transformation of the Public Sphere". My key thesis was (and still is) that blogging, web 2.0 technologies, social media in general will drive societies in to a new era of Enlightenment by facilitating a broad, public discourse. Therefore, they will have a key role in how public opinion is shaped. To quote from my old post:
"Blogging and social networking will change the way our societies work and how social systems are transforming. Blogging and social networking are on the forefront of eParticipation and eDemocracy. And these new forms of communication and networking break the traditional constellations of the public, the political sphere, the media, etc."
Yesterday I was travelling by train once again and got hold of the wonderful, highly enlightening and inspiring essay from Lina Ben Mhenni - one of the leading activists in Tunisia pushing the "Tunisian revolution" of this year. In the German translation her essay is called "Vernetzt Euch!" (Get Connected). BTW, the title and the booklet in German are styled similar to the publication of Stéphane Hessel's essay "Indignez-vous!" ("Empört Euch!") which still - and rightly - occupies a large part of the political discourse in Europe. In the French original, Lina Ben Mhenni's essay is titled "Tunisian girl, blogguese pour un printemps arabe".

 Lina Ben Mhenni's essay confirms the key role of blogging and social media in the transformation of the public sphere. It shows the strong influence bloggosphere had on creating a critical public opinion and mobilising people to finally overthrow the authoritarian Tunisian leadership in a peaceful revolution.

Her point is pretty straight forward: Blogging and social media is about freedom of speech and allowing people to participate in public discourse and make up their own mind. The cover text quotes her saying, "I want that the world changes. But it will only change if the truth will be spread, if we get connected." (My own translation).

I can only highly recommend reading this essay. Apart from giving great insights into the courageous activities of Lina Ben Mhenni and other Tunisian bloggers it points at how the future political discourse will look like and will be organised. Highly enlightening and thought provoking.

Friday, 3 June 2011

EU Commission presents legal package for revised European Standardisation System

On Wednesday this week the European Commission adopted the legal package on standardisation. It consists of a Communication outlining the strategic thinking and directions for European standardisation and of a Regulation that will lay down the legal principles and constitute the future European standardisation framework. Both texts plus some accompanying material like the Impact Assessment are available from the DG Enterprise website.

To begin with, the legal package is excellent – highest congratulations to the Commission. It addresses the urgent needs for European standardisation that had been identified in the studies and reports over the last years. Above all, it addresses the needs of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector which has developed different structures globally with well-established fora and consortia being in the lead of ICT standards development. The legal package, following the Digital Agenda, takes this up and provides well-thought-out and sophisticated solutions. They build on the current European standardisation system which proved to be effective and efficient, but complement it with important means taking into account the global realities in ICT.

The major points that are new are:

Advisory Platform for ICT standardisation policy: In 2011, the Commission will establish “a dedicated multi-stakeholder platform to advise the Commission on matters relating to the implementation of standardisation policy in the ICT field” (Communication, Action 21). This ICT platform will help to provide expert advice on ICT standardisation fast and and from all stakeholders, which will help to increase efficiency in a highly dynamic and global domain.

Process for direct referencing of ICT standards from fora/consortia: A process will be implemented to “recognise technical specifications which are not national, European or international standards” provided that they meet a set of openness criteria (Regulation, Articles 9 and 10; see also my next point). The Commission makes very clear that this is about “selected ICT standards that are widely accepted by the market” and “in areas where the ESOs are not active, where ESO standards have not gained market uptake” (Communication, Action 19) – so this is not about recognising more organisations, it is about complementing the current system on a by-need basis and where it makes sense.

And the Commission stresses that
  • direct referencing of these fora/consortia standards will be allowed for public procurement (Communication, Action 19);
  • fora/consortia standards will increasingly be used in EU policies, especially to foster interoperability (Communication, Action 20);
  • the Member States are encouraged to increase the use of fora/consortia standards in public procurement (Communication, Action 22).

Introduction of a set of “quality criteria”: Annex II of the Regulation lays down “Requirements for the recognition of technical specifications in the field of ICT” including a set of criteria that need to be met if fora/consortia standards are to be used in the public sector. These criteria basically follow the WTO Principles thus ensuring that a certain level of
openness, transparency etc. are given.

These new elements for ICT standardisation in Europe do not revolutionise the system. But they provide a necessary extension for Europe to be able to operate effectively in the ICT domain. The Commission rightly addresses 
(a) public procurement where public administrations need to be able to reference the relevant global standards in their tenders in order to purchase and build modern ICT infrastructures and to achieve genuine interoperability; and
(b) policy making where fora/consortia standards are essential for a full, end-to-end solution given, for instance, that ICT becomes more and more ubiquitous so that ICT standards are an important element in the integration of technologies in innovative areas. You could name a number of examples here, including smart grid, intelligent transportation, eGovernment, eHealth, e-mobility, etc. In other words: ICT standards have high relevance for an effective industrial and innovation policy. With the new Regulation policy makers have the instrument ready to pursue their objectives in a more conclusive and comprehensive way with up-to-date global technologies being available for use.

There is a large potential where Europe will benefit from these changes. Think about the boost of innovation and growth that the internet and the world wide web have triggered. Think about all the SMEs in Europe that took benefit alongside the big global technology providers from the internet technologies and the open standards available for used and implementation. This decade will see more such innovation and technology integration in many areas building on top of the internet and its technologies. ICT will provide intelligent layers on top of the current infrastructures and on top of physical layers in order to optimise processes and supply chains. This is where ICT standards play a major role and where they are needed in Europe for innovation and growth.

In this context I also welcome the high focus the Commission puts on interoperability: “ICT standards developed by leading Global ICT for a and Consortia can be used in public procurement to help avoid lock-in and encourage competition in the supply of interoperable ICT services, applications and products“ (Communication, chapter 6, p.16). And in the same way in the context of policy making the Commission points out the importance of fora/consortia standards “in particular when the interoperability between devices, applications, data repositories, services and networks must be further enhanced” (Communication, chapter 6, p.16).
All this shows the high level of sophistication underpinning the legal package. I have been following the topic and have been involved in expert group discussions about it for about 5 years. Sometimes I had the feeling that there were too many discussions and iterations. But I must say now that the Commission really made the best of all the investigations that were undertaken. This legal package shows a level of balance and deep understanding of the problems that is remarkable. And it is an excellent piece of input into the legislative process which will start soon now with the Parliament and the Council discussing the topic towards reaching the final agreement on the Regulation. 

There are for sure some groups who don't like the proposed changes. Some may be afraid of losing influence and power. Others may be concerned that not every detail of the new processes is laid down and addressed already in this legal package. Well, this is the same as with any changes that are introduced. Fact is, the legal package provides complementary processes, nothing is being taken away from anybody, but the work that is going on elsewhere is recognised. And the more detailed processes quite naturally will be worked out when the new instruments come into place. The platform will work out its procedures, processes for making sure that the fora/consortia specifications meet the requirements and criteria need to be set up, etc. But all of this is business as usual. And nothing that should be part of a legal document. 

No doubt, the Commission's legal package marks a milestone after the long and in depths discussions on the future of European standardisation. An excellent basis to build on.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

In the news: Oracle transfers OpenOffice to the Apache Foundation

As it was announced yesterday, OpenOffice goes to the Apache Foundation. It's in the press all over - see for instance the article by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols at ZDNet: "Oracle gives OpenOffice to Apache". This is an interesting move - after months of speculation what is going to happen with OpenOffice there is clarity now. This will certainly be good for customers as well as for the entire portfolio of implementations of the Open Document Format (ODF).

Monday, 23 May 2011

New OpenForum Europe monitoring report on EU public procurement available - 13% government IT tenders illegally specify brands

OpenForum Europe (OFE) today published a new monitoring report of public tenders. Similar to the results found in previous years there is still a high number of public tenders that illegally specifies brand names. According to OFE "13 % of a sample of tenders published in the Supplement to the Official Journal of the European Union made reference to specific trademarks or brand names".

Now, to be very clear, this figure does not accuse public procurers of following illegal practices. There is a lot of lack of knowledge prevailing as well as apparent lack of alternatives in case of lock-in situations. Yet, the report gives a good indication on issues where open and fair competition is impacted. There is only one remedy: a clear route for open procurement.

The full report is available on the OFE website. Definitely worth reading.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The UK Open Standards Survey - moving ahead with open standards for eGovernment

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the new UK procurement policy which mandates openness and open standards for public procurement. I made very clear that the UK policy should be more clear to express that this requirement is limited to software interoperability. It is the level of formats, protocols, APIs where full openness matters. Because you wish to integrate different technologies and promote interoperability by the use of open standards which in turn provides a base for innovation. We saw this – and are still seeing this – in the internet and world wide web where open standards significantly contributed in boosting innovation.
As was to be expected the UK government is broadly criticised for the leadership they took on openness. Earlier this week h-online gave a nice overview of some of the criticism. For sure, standards bodies that do not have an option for Royalty-free licensing in their IPR policies are worried that the standards they produce won't meet the UK government's requirements. Well, we've heard and seen all this before in the debate about the EIF.
This is clearly an issue for the formal standards organisations like the European standardisation organisations (ESOs) because they do not allow a clear option for Royalty-free licensing – yet. However, the more we come into areas where a large part of innovation is in the integration of technologies it may be important to the stakeholders to have standards available as open standards under terms and conditions that allow broad and unencumbered adoption and implementation. This includes the need for implementing a standard in open source. But it is also critical for all the companies – including the many SMEs – who work on providing innovative products, solutions, services on top of the current technologies or physical layers. In other words, being able to support different IPR regimes may well be a critical element for the competitiveness of the ESOs.
But back to the UK procurement policy. Following the publication of this policy the UK government launched a public survey on open standards. Deadline for submissions is tomorrow, Friday, May 20. And the open standards definition is part for the survey which probably is what actually makes it spicy.
Now, as ever so often, I believe there is too much FUD created about it all by those who don't like to see the term open standard. My 'five cents' – or should I say pence ;-) ? – on this are:
  1. The UK government needs to be congratulated for its leadership on openness and open standards for software interoperability in the public sector.
  2. As mentioned above, the UK government should clarify that the scope of its requirement for open standards is software interoperability. This is pretty obvious from the content of the standards survey, but it might be worth saying it clearly so that confusion and irritations are being prevented.
  3. An open standards policy for software interoperability will neither prevent nor impact the use of RAND-based standards and specifications in other areas where software interoperability is not at stake.
  4. It may be worth – and helpful in the heated debate – to consider areas where open standards are not (yet) available. In this case the fall-back solution should be to use standards or specifications that are less open. This is also what the EIF proposes, by the way.
  5. And it may be worth considering that a transition period is needed in areas where no open standards or no standards at all (because proprietary technologies prevail) are used today. In this case it could be made clear that a transition phase is needed. In other words: add some element of pragmatism to the overall policy. This is probably common sense anyway, but it might help if it is written down somewhere. And no doubt, any such exceptions process needs to be very clearly and transparently documented.
And most notably, the conditions defined are not totally new, nor absurd or far off. They are met in the marketplace already today – so what's the trouble all about?
I expect that this debate about open standards and the definition very much overshadows the actual survey with the long list of standards and specifications. This is a pity because this is the actual purpose of the exercise. And it is very important that governments think about the standards they wish to recommend and use.
In this context it is also advisable that the government classifies standards differently. While it is important in some areas to mandate the use of specific standards, e.g. for achieving interoperability and ensuring a level playing field for all technology providers, in other areas it may be sufficient to recommend them. And the classification should also contain a category like “under observation”, e.g. for standards and specifications that have not yet established on the market but address a new and innovative area.
In general, a public survey on these standards might be too big a task. For giving good and valid recommendations about the individual standards and specifications a thorough level of understanding and detailed knowledge is important. For sure the public survey can give a first indication on the standards and specifications, their relevance and classification. But further detailed work including the key stakeholders will be needed for a clear, transparent and well documented procedure in coming up with the final list and classifications.
What, however, should definitely be excluded from the final standards list are proprietary technologies and formats. These are not standards and create a barrier to interoperability as well as lock-in situations.
It will be interesting to see how this is proceeding and what the final result will be. But anyway, again congratulations to the UK government for the leadership they are taking.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Interesting blog on open data

As I was saying in my previous blog post the topic of open data is gaining increasing attention with incredible speed. There is a very interesting blog available in German on the site of the online portal from the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit. It covers the wide variety of topics around open data. Worth browsing through for all that understand some German.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Preparing the grounds for open data - an area that is moving with exceptional speed

Over the last two days I had the pleasure to attend a most interesting and inspiring workshop on open data. Opening up public sector information (PSI) has been identified by the European Commission as an important way to promote collaborative innovation. And since public data is stored in digital formats this is also a key action item in the Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE).

This workshop was organised jointly by ETSI and W3C within the Share-PSI initiative they both kicked off. IBM had submitted a position paper to the workshop which I had the honour to present. Both the paper and my presentation are available on the PSI website.

The workshop was impressive since it covered an unexpectedly broad spectrum on open data including a number of interesting use cases. There seems to be some focus on working with data in various contexts of urban life and on geographical data. But most notably, the speed with which PSI is gaining attendance and with which new entrepreneurs mushroom and jump on making use of public data in collaborative innovation and provide value-add offerings and services is enormous.

Governments, especially on the local level, seem sometimes to be struggling whether they should open up their data and whether this should be done without asking for fees. But the general tendency seems to be that opening up PSI needs to be seen as a kind of industrial or innovation policy which helps to promote innovation and which will lead to valuable new results beyond of what governments would normally produce. In other words: leveraging the community effect and collaborative innovation will pay back largely the cost that are required for providing the data.

Not surprisingly, my presentation was on the need of open standards and of interoperability for PSI. The internet can be prime example for PSI, as well, of how innovation can be triggered with open standards. Machine readable formats are essential so that the data can be used easily and without encumbrances. There are some standards and technologies available already today. As a next step an inventory should be produced on which standards and specifications are available, functional gaps should be identified and a requirements definition process for the standards and specifications that are to be used should be initiated.

Secondly, a coordinated, pan-European approach should be pursued including providing guidance to national and local governments so that they don't have to re-invent the wheel. Therefore I was very pleased that two speakers from the Commissions ISA programme were speaking at the workshop stressing the need for pan-European interoperability and illustrating how the SEMIC.EU platform works. In my opinion, what is needed for open data is something like a European PSI Framework that addresses all the issues at stake, be it the legal side, the technologies, the standards, etc. 
As a use case from which to draw some experience I mentioned City Forward which is about sharing data from cities and metropolitan areas and which was initiated by IBM. A number of cities world wide already contribute and a good number of results is available, as well.

In parallel to this Share-PSI initiative the Openforum Academy jointly with others initiated the Open Data Challenge which is still running. Another lighthouse initiative around open data.

The next milestone in the debate about open data / PSI is a workshop session at the upcoming Digital Agenda Assembly mid of June. The only point I missed in yesterday's workshop was developing some specific policy advice to be presented at the Digital Agenda Assembly. But perhaps this expectation might have been too high for this first broad workshop on the topic. And by the way, the winners of the Open Data Challenge will also be announced and honoured at the Digital Agenda Assembly.

And later on, in July, a large conference is organised in Marseille called the “Open Data Garage”.

All of this further illustrated the speed – and the enthusiasm – with which this relatively new area is progressing. Hey, there's something really new, important and innovative is going on here. And it's exciting to be involved and be part of it.

For those of you who wish to take a closer look at what was discussed in the Share PSI workshop - collaborative note taking was organised via Etherpad and the hashtag to look for in Twitter is #daa11psi

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Time to walk the talk? – New Study on procurement practice in Sweden regarding open standards and document formats

A very good and in depth study was recently launched on procurement practice in Sweden. It is worth reading – freely available on the ePractice web site.

The study to some extend focusses on the use of open standards and on document formats. This is done against the background that, as Commissioner Vice-President Neelie Kroes had expressed earlier,

“No citizen or company should be forced or encouraged to use a particular company’s technology to access government information.” (Neelie Kroes, 2008). Being Open About Standards. Brussels, June 10, SPEECH/08/317).

What Neelie Kroes had postulated as a basic direction for Europe has also been reconfirmed in the European Interoperability Framework (EIF), issued by DG DIGIT in December 2010. As one of the key recommendations made in the EIF, Recommendation 8 says:

“Public administrations should not impose any specific technological solution on citizens, businesses and other administrations when establishing European public services.” (EIF, Section 2.12)

This new study that was conducted in Sweden built on previous inquiries into the same topic area. These previous pieces of research had shown that there is a severe gap between such basic propositions and directions as listed above and the actual practice in governments in Sweden. This new study focussed on two key topic areas:

“In the first section, the municipalities were asked about document formats, specifically the format actually used by each municipality in their earlier communication with us. […] The second section related to software procurement, and in particular that related to software for
writing office documents.” (Study, p. 5).

The responses are very, very interesting. They show the full dilemma public authorities are in – especially regarding lock-in situations because of their continued use of proprietary office software that is not standards based. They show that the topics of interoperability and open standards are present in government considerations in Sweden. Clearly, awareness has increased a lot. Yet, actions and consequences are still missing.

All in all this study is very worth reading. My personal conclusion is that public administrations should start to be stronger on mandating open standards and requiring interoperability for the software used in eGovernment. It is time to walk the talk – and to push on making the objectives come reality.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

20 years of Linux - a great success story

For 2.5 years now I am completely on Linux. And I can honestly say I'm a happy customer. I am running a Linux operating system on my ThinkPad with all business relevant software running smoothly on it. IBM Lotus Notes runs perfectly on Linux, and so does IBM Lotus Symphony for office applications implementing the Open Document Format (ODF), and so do the IBM collaboration tools, e.g. for instant messaging, etc. I have a choice of web browsers, e.g. Firefox and Google Chrome. And a lot more business critical software runs without problems.

Linux is fast - the machine boots in next to no time - and extremely reliable. Updates are automatically provided and security is dealt with very elegantly. In other words: Linux really made it.

These days Linux celebrates its 20th anniversary. An operating system for everyone. Easy to get, easy to install, easy to use. A great success story.

The Linux Foundation has produced a lovely little clip on the story of Linux. It is available on their website as well as in youtube.

Take a look - it is good fun....

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Relevant link of today: ComputerWeekly article on procurement of the European Comission is featuring an interesting article today on the decision of the European Commission, DG DIGIT, to go into negotiations with Microsoft on buying Windows 7 operating system licences by the way of "proceeding under an exceptional clause of competition law that allows the commission to exclude other software vendors from a chance of winning the business". The article raises the questions in how far this is due to lock-in into proprietary single-vendor technology and in how far the Commission, with this decision, does act against its own principles as expressed in the Digital Agenda:

"Microsoft lock-in forces European Commission into Windows 7 upgrade talks

"Mark Ballard 
"Tuesday 05 April 2011 12:54

"The European Commission has been forced into extraordinary negotiations with Microsoft because it is locked in to using the vendor's software [...] "
And the author quotes Commissioner Kroes with a statement on lock-in made at an event last year:
"Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes cited vendor lock-in as one of the motives for the Digital Agenda when she was campaigning for it last year.

"'Many authorities have found themselves unintentionally locked in to proprietary technology for decades,' Kroes said in a speech in June 2010.

"'After a certain point, that original choice becomes so ingrained that alternatives risk being systematically ignored, no matter what the potential benefits. This is a waste of public money that most public bodies can no longer afford,' she said"

Read the full article online on See also a previous post on this topic when NYT had addressed the same issue.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Openforum Academy Report on "Achieving European Interoperability"

I have the honour of being a Fellow of the Openforum Academy. The Openforum Academy is an independent programme, you could call it a think tank, bringing together people from industry and academia in order to provide new input and insight into the key issues which impact the openness of the IT market.

A couple of week's ago I had the pleasure to share a roundtable debate which was part of the Openforum Academy's INSIGHTS programme. The basic idea behind this programme is to facilitate broad and open discussion on a key topic and derive a report on the topic based on the discussion held and contributions made.

This time the topic was "Achieving European Interoperability". More precisely, we discussed about the Commission Communication "Towards Interoperability for European Public Services" that was published shortly before Christmas with the European Interoperability Strategy (EIS) and the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) as annexes. And we worked out on what needs to come next in order to really achieve interoperability and make things real. Attendance in the roundtable event was outstanding. We had expert participants from the Commission, some Member States, as well as representatives from industry - both large and small, from academia and from overseas. Andy Updegrove had flown in to give the  introductory keynote.

The full report on the topic is now available for download from the Openforum Academy website. I am still astonished on the quality of the roundtable discussion and therefore on the actual "insights" this report provides. Above all, I was happy to get confirmation on the strong request for openness from all sides, be it the Commission or Member States. It is seen as a major pre-requisite for pan-European interoperability. But having chaired the discussion I am almost bound to like it. So best if you read yourselves....

Open Document Format for business - the right way to go

It is sometimes astonishing how things coincide. I was travelling once again last week and hence stayed in a hotel. Wednesday last week, March 30th, was Document Freedom Day 2011. Exactly that day I had been working on a document which I had to print out. When preparing for printing in the hotel's business corner I expected to see some office software that was not able to handle <<.odt>> format (the text format of Open Document Format (ODF)). Therefore, I uploaded my file on Google docs using the cloud this time - I really did not want to save it as <<.doc>> but stay a bit more modern.

Now, what a positive surprise when coming to the hotel's business corner. They were running Open Office. Open Document Format - THE standard for office software. I must admit, I was too pessimistic regarding the widespread use of ODF-based office software. Too often you see people use proprietary office technology that does not support the ODF standard.

But ok, I see that I must revert my preconceptions which are apparently too negative and outdated. Indeed, I saw some statistics the other day which found out that in 2010 in Germany about 22% of internet users had an ODF-based office software installed (see the survey done by Webmasterpro). So market share is increasing. And I had an important initiation experience in this respect just on Document Freedom Day 2011 - that deserves me right, I should say.

Friday, 4 March 2011

UK government issues modern procurement policy statement focussing on openness and interoperability

The UK government recently issued a procurement policy note available on the UK government website. It is a very clear and crisp policy document, only two pages long, taking a clear stance on openness and interoperability and requiring to reference open standards in public tenders whenever possible. This is what items 4 and 5 of the policy very clearly say:
“4. Government assets should be interoperable and open for re-use in order to maximise return on investment, avoid technological lock-in, reduce operational risk in ICT projects and provide responsive services for citizens and businesses.

5. For this reason, Government departments should ensure that they include open standards in their ICT procurement specifications unless there are clear business reasons why this is inappropriate.”
And the document continues to provide a similarly clear and straight forward open standards definition with four key elements. In essence – and in my own words – an open standard must be: (i) developed in an open standards development process; (ii) approved by a well established standards development organisation; (iii) thoroughly documented and publicly available at zero or low cost; and (iv) available for implementation under IPR Royalty-free licensing terms.

In this way the UK procurement policy exactly prescribes what is needed in the area of eGovernment services and software interoperability where Open Source software plays an important role. The open standards policy allows the integration of Open Source on equal footing with proprietary offerings.

But more: open standards are also a key element for service orientation and promoting innovation and choice and fostering competition. Open Standards provide a level basis on which to innovate. They allow everyone to compete fairly and on equal terms with new or better products and offerings. And they allow the seamless integration of technologies into an open architecture thus providing the space for innovative technologies and products to be made available to and driven by public authorities.

There is only one element on which this UK procurement policy could be more clear: that is the focus on software interoperability. While this is obvious from the context it is not entirely clear in the text.

Nonetheless, this procurement policy is a major step forward in a leading Member State of the EU. The UK government shows strong leadership with this. I am sure this will create an impressive drive for eGovernment and government transformation in the UK and far beyond.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Relevant link of today: NYT article on public procurement in Europe

Interesting article in the New York Times on recent discussions in Europe on public procurement:

"European Commission of Two Minds on Software Purchases?
"Published: January 26, 2011

"BERLIN — The European Commission, which last month urged governments across the Continent to develop computer systems that communicate better with one another, is itself considering extending its use of Microsoft software products that the company’s critics say are incompatible with other systems. [...] "

The full article is available online on the NYT website. An interesting and thought provoking aspect on which the article touches is that exit cost need to be calculated into the total cost whenever a decision about software is made.

Friday, 21 January 2011

100 years of IBM - nice clip on IBM's centennial

IBM celebrates its centennial this year. The clip below nicely shows IBM's remarkable history of innovation and success - and bridges the achievements into the future with new challenges ahead to build a smarter planet. After all, that's what's important in such a year where a company like IBM gets 100 years old: build on the past, but work towards the future and towards continued innovation that matters for making things better.  Enjoy ....

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Smarter work means effective collaboration – but mind you: interoperability matters

I had an interesting experience the other day. A colleague from some other organisation proposed to me to use some collaboration space they set up. For sure I agreed – great, I believe in collaboration and think that collaborative and open development of documents and sharing information makes our life easier and drives innovation.

What I did not know when agreeing, though, was that these guys had implemented Microsoft Sharepoint. The look and feel of it is not bad, that's true, but the stuff lacks interoperability in key aspects. This means it “works best” if you use Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer etc. Or more precisely: it is designed to lock-in people into Microsoft technology.

Well, I use a Linux desktop – an open client that is not only very powerful, but also very fast and reliable and does not get slower and bigger every day I use it but stays efficient and fast. And I use Lotus Symphony as office suit – the IBM implementation of the Open Document Format (ODF) standard.

The result was that Sharepoint failed to provide the required interoperability and I could not use some of the key functions for collaboration. I could, for instance, not simply check out a document and edit it but had to save it locally first, then it automatically added some version tracking number so that the document name changed; moreover the formatting change marks and highlighting could not reliably be shared; document formatting got screwed up; etc. 

When struggling with the tool the following dialogue box popped up saying "'Edit document' requires a Windows SharePoint-services compatible application and Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher."

In other words, this is very much lock-in and far from reliable and efficient collaboration. It makes your life more complicated. It only seems to work fine if you use the full stack of proprietary software offered by one single vendor and does deprive you of flexibility and choice.

For sure, there are more cleverly designed collaboration tools around to use. Ones that allow openness and that provide interoperability to the utmost level. When I collaborate I want to be able to do so with anyone regardless of the technology they chose to use. It is like using the telephone – when I want to talk on the phone I want to be able to speak to anybody regardless of which phone provider or which hand-set supplier they chose. 

To me this is yet another example of the high importance of interoperability and of using open standards for software interoperability. It is key for collaboration - and for promoting innovation.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Relevant link of today: NYT report on study that sees Firefox as leading browser in Europe

There is an interesting article in yesterday's New York Times about Firefox having become the leading browser in Europe:
"For the first time in a decade, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is no longer the leading Web browser in Europe, ceding the position to Mozilla’s Firefox, an Irish research company that tracks Web use said on Tuesday.

"While three research companies also active in the field disputed the finding, StatCounter, a company in Dublin, said Firefox surpassed Internet Explorer as the top European browser in December, with a 38.1 percent share, compared with Explorer’s 37.5 percent."

See the full article in the online edition of the NYT.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The new European Interoperability Framework (EIF) – the attempt of an interpretation

It is a typical phenomenon of political and societal revolutions that they are followed by some period of restoration. This was the case with the English Civil War and Revolution of the 1640s leading to the assassination of Charles I. in 1649; the Restoration brought Charles II. and James II. into place – until again the Stuarts were kicked out in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. It was the case with the French Revolution of 1789 which eventually evolved into the Napoleonic Empire and later on into the Bourbon Restoration. And it can also be seen by the 1968 revolution of young people everywhere in the Western world that was followed by some restoration and consolidation in the 1980s up until recently. Sometimes the restoration is more radical and drastical. Sometimes it is more kind of a consolidation and conciliation. Yet, the basic mentalities and ideas that had led to the revolutionary actions always prevailed and on the long run led to drastic changes of states, governments and societies.

Don't worry, I'm not going to write a history of the world here. Yet, the analogy stroke me and I was wondering in how far it applies when reading the new version of the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) which was published by the European Commission shortly before Christmas as annex 2 to the Communication “Towards interoperability for European public services” (COM(2010) 744). Annex 1 is the higher level European Interoperability Strategy document (EIS).

The EIF v1 as published by the Commission in 2004 was revolutionary. I said so before in various blog entries. It courageously pushed for openness for pan-European eGovernment services taking a strong stance on open standards and promoting open source to be treated on equal footing with proprietary offerings. It had enormous impact within Europe and beyond, inspiring a lot of national interoperability frameworks and policy making worldwide. In other words: it set the scene of what modern requirements on eGovernment infrastructures and on software interoperability in general need to be.

Naturally, EIF v1 also caught a good many players by surprise, most of all those who were not yet ready to operate within the new general paradigm of openness, who were not yet ready to transform and adapt some new equilibrium between openness and proprietary. And for half a dozen years a heavy, sometimes battle-like debate followed – including a lot of nonsense and FUD that were spread.

Now the new EIF in combination with the Communication and the EIS is a clever and an extremely  balanced document. It is certainly not revolutionary at all. It does not attempt to pursue new horizons, nor move to the next level of interoperability and openness. But it is not a manifestation of a tough restoration, either. It is more a conciliation. For sure, it makes a lot of concessions to those who did attack the EIF v1 and thus moves a step back from the former revolutionary spirit. Yet, it provides a basis to move on effectively with the implementation and realization of interoperability in the area of eGovernment services after all these years of battling and debate. Thus it has the potential to prevent a period of restoration, to prevent the risk of turning back time and of lost years. It has the potential to manoeuvre the issue of eGovernment interoperability into more settled waters, yet keep the momentum and eventually drive the technical implementation.

Looking at the new EIF in a bit more detail I'd like to follow on three aspects:

The new EIF makes a good many concessions in this respect. The strong stance on openness that characterised EIF v1 has been attenuated. The term open standard, so widely used by industry and governments worldwide, is no longer used in the EIF. Instead it now talks about “formalised specifications”. And the strong requirement for Royalty-free licensing has been changed and also FRAND is now mentioned as being appropriate provided that the implementation in open source is possible. But there is no explicit chapter on Open Source and its use and benefit for eGovernment and the public sector in general.

At the same time, however, the notion of openness is reinforced. It is seen as a very broad basic principle for public services. There is the clear recommendation for public services to “aim for openness” (Recommendation 6 of the EIF). And very correctly the EIF mentions the example of the internet and world wide web and the positive effect open specifications (in other words: open standards) have had in this context. Hence recommendation 22 continues along the lines of openness stressing that “when establishing European public services, public administrations should prefer open specifications, taking due account of the coverage of functional needs, maturity and market support”. And the EIF proposes that public authorities should apply objective criteria including openness when selecting specifications and standards and cooperate with the respective communities in case of standardisation gaps.

A further aspect of openness is technology, or better: product neutrality. Here also the EIF is very strong in requiring that “Public administrations should not impose any specific technological solution on citizens, businesses and other administrations when establishing European public services” (Recommendation 7).

The new EIF puts very strong emphasis on interoperability. Compared to EIF v1 it has extended the scope of interoperability to further levels like legal and organisational interoperability. It stresses the importance of standards and specifications for interoperability and puts that in a clear context. Even though it makes some concessions when talking about exceptional support of competing specifications (section 5.1) and about “interoperability facilitators” (section But it leaves no doubt that “Public administrations, when establishing European public services, should base interoperability agreements on existing formalised specifications, or, if they do not exist, cooperate with communities working in the same areas” (Recommendation 20).

This, by the way, also emphasises the need for European public authorities to use specifications from fora/consortia and to cooperate with such bodies developing global open standards. In this respect the EIF supports the general strategy as expressed in the Commission Communication (and in the EU Digital Agenda) regarding “the rules on implementation of ICT standards in Europe to allow use of certain ICT fora and consortia standards […] and on providing guidance to the link between ICT standardisation and public procurement to help public authorities to use standards to promote efficiency and reduce lock-in” (Communication – section 3.1).

Service orientation:
The new EIF takes a major step forward in requiring “a component-based service model” for European public services (Recommendation 9). SOAs are state-of-the-art technology that benefits from interoperability and the use of open standards, promotes fair competition as well as the possibility for continuous improvement and extension and thus fosters competitiveness and innovation. Therefore, the new EIF puts a strong focus on open infrastructures and architectures as a base requirement for eGovernment implementations. Again, this is made very clear in the Commission Communication where it is said that the EIF lays down “the concept of interoperability agreements, based on standards and open platforms” (Communication – section 3.1).

In my opinion, these three aspects above show that the new EIF together with the Commission Communication and the EIS provide a round framework for moving ahead with eGovernment public services in Europe. No doubt, they provide some level of consolidation. But this might exactly be what is needed after the years of debate.

The new EIF is certainly not a manifestation of some turn-around restoration – to take up my starting point again. Far from it. It is very clever by conceding that there might be exceptional cases where full openness or genuine interoperability might not be able to achieve straight away. But it is firm in sticking to the key original “revolutionary” principle of openness – which is even extended. And the new EIF complements this basic principle with relevant new aspects, most notably in the areas of interoperability and of service orientation.

What is important now is the implementation of the new EIF European-wide, to walk to talk. In my opinion, and in addition to the actions listed in the documents, this means the establishment and execution of some key actions. Here's an initial list of four that come to my mind:

1. Drive the development and implementation of open infrastructures for public services which may require the necessary re-engineering of processes.

2. Ensure that the legal framework in Europe is modernised for ICT by allowing the direct use and referencing of fora and consortia standards provided that they meet a certain set of openness criteria. 

3. In the context of the EIF and public services, include interoperability, or even better: demonstrated interoperability, as a key requirement in EU policy making and public procurement.

4. In the context of the EIF and public services, foster the implementation of open specifications with multiple implementations on the market place by referencing them in public procurement and in EU policies.

This new EIF provides the proper framework for a boost of public services. Some national interoperability frameworks are already available to complement the higher level EIF with concrete national actions. In 2011 the time has come now to take a quantum leap and move on to more and better public services in Europe.