The Digital Agenda Assembly: Open Standards and Interoperability as a Priority

The Digital Agenda Assembly, which was held last week in Brussels, was a great opportunity for me to meet up with people from industry, regulatory and policy environment who are actively engaged in the area of ICT in the European Union. Besides the European Commission’s officials, there were representatives of corporate businesses and non-for-profits who came to share their views on how the Digital Agenda has been implementing so far and which Actions require more attention and efforts to be put forth in future.

But lets start from the beginning:

1. What is the Digital Agenda?

The Digital Agenda is a European strategical action plan which aims to prosper the digital economy and spread the benefits of ICT to all citizens. It was adopted by the Commission in 2010, and provided actions to be fulfilled by 2020.
While waiting for my flight back to Berlin, I was having a conversation with a man who just finished business negotiations in Brussels and was heading back home. Surprisingly, his business is connected with ICT – his firm supplies networking solutions for large enterprises. But he told me he never heard about the Digital Agenda… I assume that the main reason for this is that the Digital Agenda addresses, mainly, the EC and the Member States’ national governments. Though, in my opinion, more ICT companies are aware on the governments’ actions int his area, more effective the implementation of the Digital Agenda will be.

2. What is the First Digital Agenda Assembly?

The Digital Agenda Assembly was advertised as a first meeting after the adoption of the Digital Agenda to report its progress, if any, and identify problems/challenges. Actually, when I arrived, I found out that it is not the first Digital Agenda event organized by the EC. The last year the Commission held workshops to analyse the starting points of the Digital Agenda. This year the Assembly was aimed to assess the progress of the delivery of the Digital Agenda’s goals and Actions to date. Also, that was important to identify the challenges ahead and the next steps to take. The Assembly offered a wide range of workshops (24 in total) to participants from industry, research institutions, non-for-profit organizations, EU institutions and Member States.

3. Interoperability and Standards: Making it happen?

That was a workshop I participated with Karsten Gerloff on the first day of the Assembly. This session was dedicated to the discussion of two different Digital Agenda Actions, related to standards and interoperability, and was aimed to find out the answers on the following questions: firstly, whether lock-in is a real problem, and secondly, whether there is a problem in obtaining licenses for interoperability information.
The workshop consisted of 3 panels, 2 of which addressed the procurement of Open Standards, namely the importance of procuring open ICT systems and the practical experience in some Member States (namely, the Netherlands, Italy and Czech Republic).

Among the speakers were Bjorn LUNDELL (University of Skövde, Informatics Research Centre, Sweden) on Experiences of standard document formats and office applications in the Swedish public sector; Trond Arne UNDHEIM (Oracle Corporation UK Ltd., Corporate Architecture Group, United Kingdom) on Procurement, IT and Standards: EU stakeholders experience; Jaap KORPEL (Programme Agency NOiV, Netherlands) on Open standards for government: Dutch experience; Flavia MARZANO (UnaRete, Italy) on From theory to practice: Italian experience.

I would only add that I expected to see more government officials from the EU institutions and Member States who are directly involved into the procurement process and who, therefore, may provide with the first-hand experience of procuring software, hardware and related services.

Moreover, almost every speaker mentioned a low level of awareness of Open Standards among public procurers, so that would be indeed useful for them to take part in such event as the Assembly and get to know best practices and common mistakes.

4. The Digital Agenda: building an open and global marketplace?

This workshop, held on Friday, attracted mostly businesses and policy-makers from Europe, China, USA, Latin America. The businesses’ main concern was the Europe’s fragmented market which requires global companies to be more flexible in adopting policies in different regions. Though most companies see this not as a problem, but an opportunity. Policy-makers expressed their concern that there are too many technologies coming up the same time that require new infrastructure. That makes quite difficult for government officials to make a choice for a long-term perspective.

5. Conclusions?

I want to conclude with a story that was told by the Japanese Minister who attended  one of the workshops. He mentioned the earthquake and tsunami happened in Japan earlier this year and thanked, among others, ICT companies that had helped a lot in the very first hours and days to report the Japanese people about the disaster, necessary actions to be done to survive, to connect lost people with their families, to restart the communication systems and energy supply. He said that all of these were quite effectively performed, thanks to the high level of interoperability and open platforms used by the companies in Japan. I think that shows how important (and in some situations even crucial for survival) to implement Open Standards and enhance interoperability in the European ICT area.

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