In everyday life, at work, at play, at rest, we routinely use products, tools, techniques, processes and systems that are designed, tested, deployed, maintained and evolved using agreed global best practice. This agreed global best practice is the core of standardisation. It is what citizens look for when trying to determine product quality, safety, durability and interoperability. If one views standardisation as a critical input to products, services and tools, then quality and confidence are the tangible outputs.
Standards are everywhere and make it possible to carry out everyday activities as they impact our services such as communications, technology, media, healthcare, food, transport, construction and energy. Some standards have stood the test of time, being around for hundreds if not thousands of years (Through History with Standards 2020). The Sumerians in the Tigris/Euphrates valley devised a calendar, not very dissimilar to our modern calendar, 5000 years ago. They divided the year into 30-day months and the days into 12 h and each hour into 30 min.
Adopting standards helps ensure regularity, safety, reliability and environmental care. Standardised products and services are perceived as more dependable, raising user confidence, sales and new technology adoption. Standards are used by regulators and legislators for protecting consumer interests and to support government policies. They play a central role in the European Union’s policy for a single market. Standards-compliant products and services enable devices to work together, and standardisation provides a solid foundation upon which to develop new technologies and to enhance existing practices. Standards open up market access, provide economies of scale, encourage innovation and increase awareness of technical developments and initiatives.
Standards provide the foundation for a greater variety of new products with new features and options. In a world without standards, products may be dangerous, of inferior quality, incompatible with others, lock in customers to one supplier and lead to manufacturers devising their own standards for every application or product.
The need for international standardisation in the provision of goods and services to consumers should be evident from the above and is also supported by many factual examples of success based on standards development.
The GSM™ mobile communication technology and its successors (3G, 4G) which were led by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) are good examples of standardisation. GSM was originally envisaged as a telecom solution for Europe, but the technologies were quickly adopted and have been deployed worldwide. Thanks to standardisation, international travellers can communicate and use common services anywhere in the world.
2.1 ICT Standardisation and the European Union
The EU supports an effective and coherent standardisation framework, which ensures that standards are developed in a way that supports EU policies and competitiveness in the global market.
Regulations on European standardisation set the legal framework in which the different actors in the standardisation system can operate. These actors are the European Commission, the European Standardization Organizations, industry, small and medium-sized industries (SMEs) and societal stakeholders.
The Commission is empowered to identify information and communications technology (ICT) technical specifications (European Commission 2020a) to be eligible for referencing in public procurement. Public authorities can therefore make use of the full range of specifications when buying IT hardware, software and services, allowing for greater competition and reducing the risk of lock-in to proprietary systems.
The Commission financially supports the work of the three European Standardization Organizations: ETSI, CEN and CENELEC.
2.1.1 ETSI: The European Telecommunications Standards Institute
ETSI, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, produces globally applicable standards (Dahmen-Lhuissier 2020) for information and communications technologies (ICT), including fixed, mobile, radio, converged, broadcast and Internet technologies. These standards enable the technologies on which business and society rely. The ETSI standards for GSM™, DECT™, smart cards and electronic signatures have helped to revolutionise modern life all over the world.
ETSI is one of the three European Standardization Organizations officially recognised by the European Union and is a not-for-profit organisation with more than 800 member organisations worldwide, drawn from 66 countries and 5 continents. Members include the world’s leading companies and innovative R&D organisations.
ETSI is at the forefront of emerging technologies, addressing the technical issues which will drive the economy of the future and improve life for the next generation.
2.1.2 CEN: The European Committee for Standardization
CEN, the European Committee for Standardization (CEN 2020), is an association that brings together the national standardisation bodies of 33 European countries. CEN is also one of three European Standardization Organizations (together with CENELEC and ETSI) that have been officially recognised by the European Union and by the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) as being responsible for developing and defining voluntary standards at European level.
CEN provides a platform for the development of European standards and other technical documents in relation to various kinds of products, materials, services and processes. It supports standardisation activities in relation to a wide range of fields and sectors including air and space, chemicals, construction, consumer products, defence and security, energy, the environment, food and feed, health and safety, healthcare, ICT, machinery, materials, pressure equipment, services, smart living, transport and packaging.
2.1.3 CENELEC: The European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization
CENELEC is the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC 2020) and is responsible for standardisation in the electrotechnical engineering field. It prepares voluntary standards which help facilitate trade between countries, create new markets, cut compliance costs and support the development of a single European market. It creates market access at European level but also at international level, adopting international standards wherever possible, through its close collaboration with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) (CENELEC n.d.), under the Dresden Agreement.
In the global economy, CENELEC fosters innovation and competitiveness, making technology available industry-wide through the production of voluntary standards. Its members, its experts, the industry federations and consumers help create European standards to encourage technological development, to ensure interoperability and to guarantee the safety and health of consumers and provide environmental protection. Designated as a European Standardization Organization by the European Commission, CENELEC is a non-profit technical organisation set up under Belgian law. It was created in 1973 as a result of the merger of two previous European organisations: CENELCOM and CENEL.
EU-funded research and innovation projects also make their results available to the standardisation work of several standards-setting organisations.
2.1.4 The European Multi Stakeholder Platform on ICT Standardisation
The European Multi Stakeholder Platform (MSP) (European Commission 2013a) on ICT standardisation was established in 2011. It advises the Commission on ICT standardisation policy implementation issues, including priority-setting in support of legislation and policies, and the identification of specifications developed by global ICT standards development organisations. The Multi Stakeholder Platform addresses:
Potential future ICT standardisation needs
Technical specifications for public procurements
Cooperation between ICT standards-setting organisations
A multi-annual overview of the needs for preliminary or complementary ICT standardisation activities in support of the EU policy activities (the Rolling Plan (European Commission 2013b))
The MSP is composed of representatives of national authorities from EU member states and EFTA countries, of the European and international ICT standardisation bodies, and of stakeholder organisations that represent industry, small and medium-sized enterprises and consumers. It meets four times per year and is co-chaired by the European Commission Directorate-General for Internal Market (European Commission 2016), Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs and CONNECT (Communications Networks, Content and Technology, 2015).
The Platform also Advises on the Elaboration and Implementation of the Rolling Plan on ICT Standardisation (European Commission 2020a)
The Rolling Plan (RP) provides a multi-annual overview of the needs for preliminary or complementary ICT standardisation activities in support of the EU policy activities. It is aimed at the broader ICT community stakeholders and outlines how practically support will be provided. It contains a distinct view of the landscape of standardisation activities in a given policy area.
The Rolling Plan puts standardisation in the policy context, identifies EU policy priorities where standardisation activities are needed, and covers ICT infrastructures and ICT standardisation horizontals. It references legal documents, available standards and technical specifications, as well as ongoing activities in ICT standardisation. The addenda to the Rolling Plan may be published alongside the Rolling Plan in order to keep current with new developments in the rapidly changing ICT sector.
Mission of the Multi Stakeholder Platform on ICT Standardisation (European Commission 2020d)
The Platform is an Advisory Expert Group on all matters related to European ICT standardisation and its effective implementation:
Advise the Commission on its ICT standardisation work programme.
Identify potential future ICT standardisation needs.
Advise the Commission on possible standardisation mandates.
Advise the Commission on technical specifications in the field of ICT with regard to its referencing in public procurement and policies.
Advise the Commission on cooperation between standards developing organisations.
The 2016 Rolling Plan on ICT standardisation (European Commission 2020b)  covers all activities that can support standardisation and prioritises actions for ICT adoption and interoperability.
The Plan Offers Details on the International Contexts for each Policy
Societal challenges: e-health, accessibility of ICT products and services, web accessibility, e-skills and e-learning, emergency communications and e-call
Innovation for the Digital Single Market: e-procurement, e-invoicing, card/Internet and mobile payments, eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) and Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)
Sustainable growth: smart grids and smart metering, smart cities, ICT environmental impact, European Electronic Toll Service (EETS) and Intelligent Transport System (ITS)
Key enablers and security: cloud computing, (open) data, e-government, electronic identification and trust services including e-signatures, radio-frequency identification (RFID), Internet of things (IoT), network and information security (cybersecurity) and e-privacy
This latest Rolling Plan describes all the standardisation activities undertaken by Standard Setting Organizations (SSOs). This ensures an improved coherence between standardisation activities in the EU. This is the first time that the European Standardization Organizations and other stakeholders were involved in drafting the RP, and this improved process is a stronger guarantee that activities of standardisation-supporting EU policies in the ICT domain will be aligned.