Standardisation is the process by which specifications are set. The majority of ICT specifications help ensure that devices, systems and services retain the ability to connect and interoperate with each other, boosting innovation, and keeping ICT markets open and competitive.

A specification is a document that outlines the agreed properties for a particular product, service, or procedure. In ICT, specifications are primarily used to maximise interoperability – the ability for systems to work together –, which is essential to ensure that markets remain open. This allows consumers to have the widest choice of products possible and gives manufacturers the benefit of economies of scale. ICT standards are a cornerstone of the Digital Single Market.

The Commission has adopted on 19th April 2016 a Communication setting up ICT standardisation priorities for the Digital Single Market as part of the package on "Digitising European Industry".

The Communication proposes a two-pillar plan to prioritise and deliver an efficient and sustainable ICT standard-setting for the DSM, to address the challenges of the digitisation of the economy.

  • Firstly, it identifies a list of priority building blocks for the Digital Single Market where improved ICT standardisation is most urgent, proposing actions with concrete deliverables and a timeline in those domains (5G, IoT, Cybersecurity, Cloud and Big Data).
  • Secondly, the Commission proposes a high-level political process, to deliver and ensure leadership through standards, fostering a high-level commitment from a broad stakeholder base, including from industry, standard-setting organisations, and the research community, as well as from EU institutions and national administrations.

Why is interoperability so important in ICT?

In modern ICT the service value of a device relies on the ability to communicate with other devices. This is known as the network effect. It is important in almost all areas of ICT. Specifications ensure that products made by different manufacturers are able to interoperate, and that users are offered the chance to pick and mix between different suppliers, products or services.

What is the EU's role in standardisation?

The EU supports an effective and coherent standardisation framework, which ensures that high quality standards are developed in a timely manner. The European Commission issues standardisation requests and supports financially the work of European Standardisation Organisations: European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), European Committee for Standardisation (CEN), European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC), but does not interfere with the standardisation setting conducted by industry or National Standardisation Organisations. EU funded research and innovation projects also make their results available to the standardisation work of several standards-setting organisations. Besides, consultations on general standardisation issues are launched on a periodic basis. The EU Rolling Plan for ICT Standardisation provides an overview of the activities to be undertaken in support of EU policies.

As part of the ICT standardisation policy, a European Multi Stakeholders Platform (MSP) on ICT standardisation was setup in 2011. The MSP plays the role of advisor and guide on matters relating to ICT standardisation policy and to priority-setting in support of legislation and policies. Furthermore, it advises on identification of ICT technical specifications for use in public procurement elaborated by Global ICT Fora and Consortia, and stimulates a better cooperation between the actors.

A Communication with the Guidelines for avoiding technology lock-in by using open standards in public procurement was published on 25th June 2013.