ICT Standardization in Europe and Globally – CEN/ISSS’s Role

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Helsinki, 5 May, 2003 — It has been often said that standardization is the very foundation on which the Information Society is and, indeed, can be built. As such it also has a very wide impact, embracing different interest groups which, however, don't necessarily always see the entire picture, rather preferring to concentrate on their own areas of interest.

European Committee for Standardization CEN, having analyzed the fragmentation of the field, came to the conclusion that the market needs of the Information Society could not be met through traditional standardization methods alone. The realization that a new solution was required led to the establishment of Information Society Standardization System (ISSS) in 1997 with the mission to provide market players with a comprehensive and integrated range of standardization-oriented services and products and, in so doing, to contribute to the success of the Information Society in Europe.

Given that ICT standardization is one of the key areas also within Tieke's operations, we were delighted with the opportunity to extend a few standardization related questions on behalf of our publication EDISTY (e.Finland.fi) to Mr. John Ketchell who, as the Director of ISSS, has a good picture of the overall ICT standards environment. As far as ICT standardization as a whole, Mr. Ketchell sees it as a vast field with far too many different groups playing a role, with different interests in mind. Yet, he reminds, that "regardless of the still prevailing fragmentation, there has been good, though gradual, advancement in this respect especially in Europe, and a growing understanding of the end-users' needs particularly among IT companies, the providers of ICT solutions and equipment". Yet, at times there are also setbacks when commercial interests are not ready to join a consensus effort to find a single standard solution.

But there is more good news than bad. "Oddly enough, the recession and the hardships lately experienced by the dot.coms, have resulted in a growing dialogue which, in turn, is beginning to diminish the previous isolation of different parties. This is clearly leading to better coordination of the overall work and to the understanding that coherence is a must, at least in Europe", reminds Mr. Ketchell. Another positive sign in the global sense, according to Mr. Ketchell, is the interest in providing more coherent information on who are the different standards groups and what they are doing. For example, the CEN/ISSS list of around 250 ICT standards consortia, available on the CEN web site, has been mentioned in a US Congressional Committee as being a valuable resource.

Today's Hot Topics in Standardization - Where Are We Now?

Concerning today's hot topics in ICT standardization, Mr. Ketchell thought first and foremost in terms of e-business, particularly to take account of the needs of the “end users” of the standards. "What is clearly needed is rigorous eBusiness standardization with a subdivision of topics, such as accelerated development of application oriented solutions and XML transaction messages, as well as product classifications and cataloging. And naturally better IT security."

The situation with end-users concerns Mr. Ketchell. "The end-user environment is only now beginning to get attention. Especially small end-users need very basic help, such as localization of global solutions in the simplest ways, one of them being translating information into native languages. Even though progress has been made, still many IT companies, such as software producers, tend to work in isolation, not fully understanding the actual needs of the end users and, in so doing, they slow down the development of electronic trade. Sure, some end-users are big and powerful enough to take on stardardization activities on their own, such as the RosettaNet consortium or the chemical industry's CIDX group, but this is not the right answer to all."

Secure Transactions the Key to Consumer Trust

Data security and data protection as well as digital rights management are subjects of growing interest, and instrumental in gaining consumer trust in electronic trade. Can we, indeed, in the foreseeable future see the realization of the desired state of affairs where standards in these fields would be globally harmonized, with compliant privacy-enhancing and DRM technologies available and in use worldwide?

"There is also a lot of ongoing activity concerning security and related issues, especially as regards with electronic signature (the European Standards Organizations’ EESSI initiative), network and information security, and e-invoicing. We are presently in a process of preparing a report with recommendations concerning network and information security, on what should be the main focus in this area of standardization. This is necessary as IT security presently involves far too many standards, with end users unaware of what mighr be the most effective best practices. A similar report is being prepared concerning the standards implications of the recent EU Directive on electronic invoicing. Within digital rights management, we currently count around 25 separate standards initiatives, with not too much cohesion.." In many of these areas, according to Mr. Ketchell, the objective should be to reach consensus on best practice that facilitates the implementation of legal obligations by business, and enable them to use the available technologies effectively. "This approach is supported by regulators and some conventional businesses. On the other hand, companies selling the software are not yet convinced."

Much has been achieved to reach e-synergy - still much remains to be done. How to evaluate the accomplished results? "That is a difficult question to answer precisely in any standards environment. A positive sign is the growing interest in the CEN Workshop Agreements, with those related to eEurope available on the ISSS web site, the copies of which are retrieved by the thousands. There is, without doubt, a clear and growing public interest to accomplish not only in the topics described above, but in other areas on which CEN/ISSS is working, including design-for-all solutions, learning technologies, e-skills and knowledge management, and better interfaces between standardization and research."

Thank you, Mr. Ketchell, on behalf of the Finnish Information Society development Centre TIEKE.

Helena Roine-Taylor
Tieke Finnish Information Society Development Centre

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