Digital Single Market
Digital Economy & Society

Interoperability and Standards: making it happen!


— Posted by Rainer Zimmermann, DG INFSO, Head of unit: Software & Service Architectures and Infrastructures

Interoperable ICT systems allow for creativity and competition of ideas. Innovation and more choice and better products for IT consumers are the target. We believe that interoperability-standards are key and the public authorities can play a role in their development and deployment. Therefore Action 23 of the Digital Agenda  proposes to use standards during public procurement of ICT systems.

This is easier said than done. ICT is changing so quickly, how do public authorities know which standards are most suitable for their ICT system that they want to procure? If the new system needs to interact with already existing (proprietary) systems, how can they get out of the locked-in situation? How can they specify the requirements for the selected standards in their procurement specification in such a way that a fair and open competition is ensured? At the Digital Agenda Assembly, during the workshop dedicated to interoperability and standards, we will listen to the experience of policy makers and public procurers on procuring standards-based ICT systems. We will discuss about whether these singular experiences can be extrapolated to a European-wide scale.

Pushing this even further we look at how to make interoperability happen, even when no standards are available. This is about  Action 25 of the Digital Agenda. This panel is inspired by the work of Prof. Annabelle Gawer from Imperial College Business School.

We have heard for the first time of her work when we  attended a seminar by IBBT, the Interdisciplinary Institute for Broadband Technology, on platforms for the Future Internet. Prof. Gawer talked about how companies develop industry platforms, and the strategic thinking behind this. An industry platform is a building block (product, technology, or service) upon which an ecosystem of firms can develop complementary products or services. A typical example of an industry platform plus accompanying ecosystem today is the iPhone and App Store. In order to create such ecosystem around an industry platform, third parties need to be able to develop complementary and interoperable products on top of an industry platform. This requires the platform owner to make interoperability information available for others to build complementary products.

Her views will be complemented by the  legal and industry view on measures for making interoperability information available.

Action 23 and 25 are put at the scrutiny of the public eye!


Interesting link: ICT Public procurement practice in Sweden


You can take part in the debate before the Digital Agenda Assembly (#daa11eu) sharing your ideas about interoperability and standards on Twitter with the #daa11standards hashtag!

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Published in DSM blog


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Please be aware that interoperability standards are about interfaces between systems, not about standards used within those systems. So, even with iPhones, search for the technical and semantic formats to exchange information and no-one worries about Steve Jobs' own creations. The Gartner Interoperability Framework (I will send it to Rainer Zimmermann) shows the levels of interoperability and possible current standards.
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First of all you have to understand that vendors and procurement agencies sit on different sides of the same table. When you use a consultancy agency as Gartner they would usually would sell you a "procurement strategy" from a sales perspective with smart proposals how to undermine your negotiations. Or think of the horrible Com paper SEC (2007) 280 that gets almost everything wrong. The Gartner EIF 2 proposal and SEC (2007) 280 are great documents to study and find out what mistakes you should not make and how to compromise your buying center. Secondly, it all boils down to FRAND or RF. FRAND means the regulators lost. There can't be perfect competition under FRAND. Thirdly, I wonder why the Commission does not focus on key communication standards such as open document exchange formats where public procurement pressure is known to pay off and the relevance for European market access is crucial.