Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Leading on innovation policy with specifications from global ICT fora/consortia

The ICT Standardisation Steering Committee which had been set up by the European Commission to advise on the ICT standardisation policy reform recently issued a detailed and interesting document on the importance of ICT specifications from fora/consortia for effective policy making in Europe. The ICT Steering Committee consists of a large number of relevant stakeholders in European ICT standardisation including Member States, ESOs, SMEs, consumers and industry. The paper was agreed to be available for public distribution.

The paper is a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate on the EU legal package on standardisation and the draft Regulation. It is definitely worth a read – and the good news: it contains an executive summary – for those who have got too many documents to read and enjoy getting things in a nutshell ;-)

Friday, 13 January 2012

EU Draft Regulation on Standardisation – another glimpse into the ongoing debate

This is a follow-on from the post I published yesterday. As mentioned yesterday, in the context of the discussions on the EU draft Regulation on standardisation the ICT part (i.e. Chapter IV, Articles 9 and 10) has got high visibility.

I also mentioned yesterday that the proposal is discussed that Articles 9 and 10 should be merged and that for every single recognition of an ICT forum/consortium standards Article 18 (3) of the draft Regulation should apply. This was, for instance, proposed by CEN/CENELEC, not sure why. And it found its ways into the current draft positions.

As I was stating this would be far to complicated and would run the risk of totally killing the procedure. This is because Article 18 (3) points back to other rules and regulations and to a detailed voting procedure of the Member States.

To further illustrate this I took the effort to dive into the respective legal documents and list the legal rules. The picture below gives a brief overview:
In my opinion such a decision making process is far too complicated for the given purpose and objectives. After all, the recognition of ICT fora/consortia specifications as proposed by the Commission does not lead to any legally binding situation to implement and use these specifications. Far from it. A positive recognition only means that the respective standards may be referenced in policies or procurement. In the end it remains the decision of the policy maker or the procurer whether to actually reference the standard.

With the ICT Platform where all stakeholders are members (including the Member States and the ESOs) there will be a high level of openness and transparency ensuring that the Commission gets proper advice for the decision making on whether to recognise a forum/consortium specification. In my opinion, the proposal to apply Article 18(3) would turn a lean process into a very formal and complicated procedure with the risk that is will not lead to results.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

EU Draft Regulation on Standardisation – a glimpse into the ongoing debate in the European Parliament

Entering into the new year the discussions and decision making in the European Parliament on the EU draft regulation on standardisation continues at full speed. I am trying to follow it from the outside as good as I can. And I must say the high level of the debate is impressive. The discussions are very informed and going into a level of detail that reflects the fact that the Parliament has been dealing with the topic for a long time recognising the high importance of standardisation for the economy and for innovation and growth in Europe. And I very much appreciate the high level of transparency in the work of the parliamentary committees where work is regularly documented.
Just before Christmas the committees involved completed their draft reports and opinions. Naturally enough, the passages in the draft regulation on ICT, in particular Chapter IV consisting of Articles 9 and 10, are always part of the debate. After all, ICT is of major importance for innovation, and the draft Regulation takes notice of that by proposing some changes to European standardisation in order to make global ICT specifications available for use in Europe in order to promote interoperability. And a good number of people are afraid of these changes and heavily lobby against them. But the good news here is that apparently everybody in Parliament agrees that it is necessary to have ICT fora/consortia specifications available for Europe and that, therefore, a process to recognise them – as proposed by the Commission – is urgently needed.
Looking at the draft report from ITRE (Committee on Industry, Technology and Research) – which is available on the ITRE website – I have the following comments on the amendments proposed therein:
  1. Amendment 23 (on Article 9 of the draft Regulation)
    This is where I have the strongest concern. The amendment proposes that for every single act of recognising an ICT specification from a forum/consortium an “examination procedure referred to in Article 18(3)” should be applied. In fact, this is a rather complicated procedure since Article 18(3) points back to Regulation 182/2011, Article 5, which, in turn, points back to the Treaty on European Union, Article 16(4) and (5). I did not check with any legal person, but what I understand is that the procedure would mean that for every single ICT recognition of a fora/consortia specification a formal voting process amongst Member States is required including some weighted voting and a blocking minority.
    I believe this is far too heavy a process for the actual objective to be achieved. The issue to be solved is that the global ICT specifications which are anyway used everywhere are available for public procurement and for including in policy making – not in regulation (i.e. in New Approach directives). In other words: public authorities need to be able to say that they need TCP/IP, HTML, XML, UBL etc. in their tenders. And public authorities need to be able to include such specifications in innovation policy, e.g. when wishing to push new technologies like smart grid, eHealth, eMobility, etc. There is no way to avoid such specifications, anyway. But there is a need for clear guidance regarding their recognition for use in the public sector.
    What the Commission proposes is that the new ICT Platform will provide advice to the Commission regarding the assessment of the fora/consortia specifications in question against the criteria listed in Annex II of the draft Regulation. Via this process it will ensured that all stakeholders are in involved in the consultation because they are all part of the ICT Platform – including Member States, industry, ESOs, SMEs, users. This should be sufficient to ensure an informed decision by the Commission regarding the fulfilment of the criteria of Annex II. There are enough checks and balances so that, in my opinion, an examination procedure according to Article 18(3) is not needed. I hope that ITRE will review this and reach the same conclusion. What Europe needs to be successful in ICT is a clear and lean process that will successfully be used to the benefit of Europe and of innovation.
  2. General comment: too much weight on the European Standards Bodies (ESOs):
    I highly value the ESOs and their role and work. And, no doubt, the ESOs should play a key role in consulting the Commission regarding the development of EU policy priorities and the impact and requirements on standardisation. However, the ESOs are not a government agency or a formal government institution – yet, my impression is that this is the way they are considered in a number of suggested amendments.
    The ESOs are platforms for industry and other stakeholders for developing standards and specifications in support of the harmonised common European market. And standardisation is voluntary, which is a further key principle. Therefore, in my opinion, the currently proposed amendments should be reviewed avoiding that the ESOs are pushed into a quasi-governmental role in controlling policy making. That's not what they are there for. And for consultation it should primarily be the actual stakeholders in standardisation that are considered alongside using the expertise present in the ESOs.
The discussion will definitely continue. It will be interesting to see the next steps. After all, this is an important legal proposal that needs to last for the next one to two decades. It needs to be strong enough to ensure an efficient and effective standardisation system for Europe, and innovative enough for coping with the challenges of a more integrated and global standardisation ecosystem.

See also my previous posts on the topic of the EU legal package:

Monday, 2 January 2012

EU legal reform on European Standardisation – broad support from ICT stakeholders for the ICT paragraph in the draft Regulation

Just before Christmas ten stakeholder organisations in ICT standardisation joined forces for a joint submission on the passages on ICT standardisation in the draft Regulation that was presented by the European Commission and is currently under discussion in the European Parliament and the European Council. The joint submission makes a clear statement in favour of the approach proposed by the Commission. I uploaded the joint submission on slide share:

Essentially, the approach proposed by the Commission with Articles 9 and 10 in the draft Regulation
  • is lean but contains the necessary checks and balances and accommodates all needs of public authorities;
  • is widely supported by relevant stakeholders and ensures transparency and broad stakeholder involvement;
  • has all potential to promote interoperability in ICT in Europe which will have positive effects on competitiveness, innovation and growth;
  • is necessary for effective policy making in Europe where ICT are involved;
  • is necessary for public authorities to purchase state-of-the-art technologies.

There is a debate whether to merge articles 9 and 10 into one, whether to focus on procurement only and whether to introduce a lengthy and detailed process of approval by Member States before a specification from a forum/consortium can be used in EU policy making or procurement. Frankly speaking, such changes would kill the entire process. And I wonder whether they are not, in fact, off reality. I believe nobody ever asked the approval of the Member States when public authorities introduced WLAN or the internet as such – all based on open standards from fora/consortia. On the other hand, Europe needs to be able to reference fora/consortia standards in policies if Europe wants to take global leadership, e.g. in new innovative areas like smart grid, eEnergy, eMobility, eHealth – just to name a few. So whoever wishes to make the process more complicated (and unusable) or reduce it to procurement only plays with Europe's ability to be future ready and to lead.

I remain optimistic that the European Parliament and the Competitiveness Council do see the realities and will recognise the need for the ICT chapter in the draft Regulation (Chapter IV). There are a number of “fonctionnaires” around who argue against these changes to the European standardisation system, mainly for reasons to protect some monopolies. The actual stakeholders in standardisation, i.e. industry and technology providers, both large and small, however see the real world and the actual necessities – and have broad consensus on the need for change as proposed by the Commission. This joint submission is a major manifestation in this respect.

See also my previous posts on the topic of the EU legal package: