How to Select Standards and Specifications for Europe

Who knew that convergence would be a European strength? A draft Common Assessment Method for Standards and Specification (CAMSS), produced by Clementine Valayer from the Belgian consultant firm Trasys for the IDABC programme of the European Commission is now out for public consultation until 15 September 2008. The document is good. Great job!

Trying to find the common denominators across Europe, CAMSS builds on four principles. European governments are to asses suitability, potential, openness and market conditions. They are free to weigh the principles as they like. Fine. Emphasizing flexibility is a smart move. We don't want a blueprint. Guidance is the operative word.

CAMSS is a step in the right direction. It takes a pragmatic approach without selling out to large, non-open standards compliant software vendors. It doesn't give in to hardware vendors who try to impose their business models upon the software space. In fact, CAMSS distinguishes nicely between four important criteria that go way beyond the obvious one which is openness.

What will it do? I think it will streamline the principles behind otherwise quite complex and disjointed national interoperability frameworks. CAMSS is indeed a straightforward way for public officials to assess, choose, and endorse standards.

What can be improved? Well, I do think you make the selection process overly complex. The Roadmap for Open ICT Ecosystems (Harvard, 2005) clearly demonstrates that five considerations suffice:
- Transparent process open to all interested parties
- Platform independent, vendor neutral, usable for multiple implementations
- Openly published specifications
- Available to implement royalty free or at minimal cost
- Approved by due process and rough consensus

In the spirit of collaboration, here is some free advice to the European Commission:
1. Make the method shorter and simpler. Why not make it more like a seven step guide?
2. The initial concept for each criterion should be short, succinct and clear. Then, use brief one-sentence examples from Member States of how each criterion has been applied. Slim down the questions for each criteria. Three points are enough. All questions should be yes/no questions. Why complicate people's life too much?
3. Justify each of the four criteria in a footnote. Geeks or policy wonks may want more context.
4. Strengthen the practical guidance. Suggest Member States, regions, and cities re-apply the method when conditions change.
5. Impose the method on all who claim to know best practice in e-government (practice.eu)
6. Re-think your target audience. I think you should reach higher. Think CIOs and top policymakers, but whatever you do, let non-engineers read it. Tighten up the document. Proofread. Put it on shiny paper. Advertise it as strategy not tactical choice of technology.
7. Adapt the method to assess standards organizations as a whole. Wouldn't that be very efficient? It would also challenge the ones that were left out. Introduce a six month “warning” so they can fix it if they want to be included.

The key to success of a method is its simplicity. The key to adoption of a method is to have credible spokespersons. Who has committed to use CAMSS? Advertise this on the front page!

The premise of CAMSS seems to be that governments only select standards and do not themselves set standards. This is wrong. Governments do set standards and cannot escape that role. In any case, governments should take a proactive role in shaping standards, initiating standards work, and stimulating other stakeholders to engage in the standards setting process.

CAMSS (I learned to love these meaningless EU project abbreviations while I worked there myself) will assist not only assist Member States in their development of Interoperability Frameworks and Architectures, but will also align them, which is key. Despite some shortcomings which can be easily fixed, CAMSS is an important step forward for European interoperability compliance. Go Europe!


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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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