CEN/CENELEC Lacks Perspective

Over the last few months, two of the European Standardization Organizations (ESOs), CEN and CENELEC have circulated an unfortunate position statement distorting the facts around fora and consortia.

For the benefit of outsiders to this debate, let's just say that this debate regards whether and how the EU should recognize standards and specifications from certain fora and consortia based on a process evaluating the openness and transparency of such deliverables. The topic is complex, and somewhat confusing even to insiders, but nevertheless crucial to the European economy.

As far as I can judge, their positions are not based on facts. This is unfortunate.

For the benefit of clarity, here are some of the observations they make:

a)"Most consortia are in essence driven by technology companies making hardware and software solutions, by definition very few of the largest ones are European-based".

b) "Most consortia lack a European presence, relevant Committees, even those that are often cited as having stronger links with Europe, seem to lack an overall, inclusive set of participants".

c) "Recognising specific consortia specifications will not resolve any concrete problems of interoperability for public authorities; interoperability depends on stringing together a range of specifications (from formal global bodies or consortia alike)".

d) "Consortia already have the option to have their specifications adopted by the international formal standards bodies and many more exercise this than the two that seem to be campaigning for European recognition. Such specifications can then also be adopted as European standards."

e) "Consortium specifications completely lack any process to take due and balanced account of requirements at national level - this is not important for technologies but can be a critical issue when discussing cross-border issues within the EU such as eGovernment, eHealth and so on".

f) "The proposed recognition will not lead to standstill on national or European activities, nor to the adoption of the specifications as national standards in the CEN and CENELEC members (usually in their official national languages), nor to withdrawal of conflicting national standards. A big asset of the European standardization system is its coherence and lack of fragmentation."

g) "We always miss concrete and specific examples of where consortia referencing are supposed to be helpful."

First of all, note that ETSI, the third ESO, did not join the position. The reason is, of course, that ETSI beyond being an ESO, also has a global perspective and, moreover, does consider reality.

Secondly, having produced arguments a) to g), CEN/CENELEC has the audacity to call a meeting on Friday 25 February entitled "ICT standardization - improving collaboration in Europe". This sounds very nice, but they have not set the stage for constructive debate. Rather, they demonstrate a striking lack of vision and lack of perspective. I will back this up by three facts, and leave it there.

1. Since the 1980s, global industry fora and consortia, such as IETF, W3C and OASIS have emerged as world-leading ICT standards development organizations with excellent procedures for openness and transparency in all phases of standards development, ex post and ex ante.

- Practically no ICT system can be built without using fora and consortia standards (FCS).
- Without using FCS, neither the Internet, upon which the EU economy depends, nor EU institutions would operate.
- FCS are of high relevance for achieving and promoting interoperability and driving innovation.

2. FCS are complementary to the formally recognized standards organizations including the ESOs.

- No work will be taken away from the ESOs should the EU recognize certain FCS.
- Each FCS would be evaluated on its merit and on the openness of the process that produced it. ESOs would, with other stakeholders, have a say.
- ESOs could potentially educate and assist European stakeholders to engage more actively and constructively with FCS.
- ETSI, also an ESO, seems to clearly recognize these facts.

3. Europe and its Member States have a strong voice in several of the most relevant global industry fora and consortia.

- W3C: 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. Current members of the W3C Advisory Board includes Ora Lassila (Nokia) and Charles McCathie Nevile (Opera). Nokia is Finnish company, Opera is a Norwegian company. SAP's Claus von Riegen is an alumni of the same Advisory Board.

- OASIS: its membership - 30% of which is European - represents the marketplace, reflecting a balance of providers, user companies, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. In particular, about 15% of OASIS members are governments or universities. Frederick Hirsch from Nokia, Claus von Riegen from SAP AG and Charles-H. Schulz from Ars Aperta are on the Board of Directors. Nokia is a Finnish company, SAP is a German company and Ars Aperta is a French company. The Chairman of the Board is Peter Brown, who is an Independent Consultant, an Austrian citizen AND an official of the European Parliament currently on long-term leave.

- IETF: The oversight of its activities is by the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), since 2007 chaired by Olaf Kolkman, a Dutch national who lives in Uithoorn, NL. Kolkman is director of NLnet Labs, a foundation chartered to develop open source software and open source standards for the Internet. Other IAB members include Marcelo Bagnulo whose affiliation is the University Carlos III of Madrid, Spain as well as Hannes Tschofenig from Nokia Siemens Networks. Nokia is a Finnish company. Siemens is a German company. Nokia Siemens is a European joint venture.

- Member States: At least 17 European Member States have developed Interoperability Frameworks that include FCS, according to the EU-funded National Interoperability Framework Observatory (see list and NIFO web site on IDABC). This also means they actively procure solutions using FCS, reference FCS in their policies and even in laws. Member State reps are free to engage in FCS, and many do. It would be nice if the EU adjusted to this reality.

- A huge number of European nationals work in the global IT industry, on European soil or elsewhere, whether in EU registered companies or not.

CEN/CENELEC lacks perspective and has engaged in an effort to twist facts that is quite striking from a publicly funded organization. I wish them all possible success with Friday's meeting but I fear all of the most important stakeholders will not be at the table. Not because they do not wish to collaborate, but because they just have been insulted. If they do show up, it would be a gracious move, almost beyond comprehension.

While I do not expect CEN/CENELEC to line up perfectly in favor of fora and consortia, I think it would be to their benefit to stick to more palatable observations. Actually, I would suggest an apology, straightening out the facts. This works among friends and it works in an organizational context. Then, we can all move on.

Standardization is important. Too important to ignore. Too important to distort. The European economy depends on it. We need CEN/CENELEC. It is an important organization. But CEN/CENELEC needs fora and consortia, too.


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Trond Undheim, Ph.D, Director of Standards Strategy and Policy at the Oracle Corporation, speaker, entrepreneur, blogger, and author, is one of the world’s leading experts on technology and society. LinkedIn profile


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