The European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) plans to announce a "middle way" for setting IT standards, designed to combine the speed of consortia with the consistency of formal standards bodies.
This will focus on CEN Workshop Agreements (CWAs) - pre-standard agreements reached via a relatively rapid consensus process.
The move is in response to heavy criticism of the way the EU body oversees the standards setting process for the information and communications technology (ICT) sector.
Speaking at a conference here this week, CEN president Alain Perroy said the Information Society Standardisation System (ISSS) will combine the best elements of both the informal and formal standards procedures.
"For a long time, the performance of standardisation in the ICT sector has been criticised by industry, users and public authorities alike as being too slow and bureaucratic, and not meeting market needs," Perroy said.
"Now CEN is bridging the gap between the informal world of consortia - which provides rapid solutions - and more formal standardisation with its guarantees of openness and fairness," he said.
Perroy said ISSS will bring coherence to the "chaos" in ICT standards, by offering a coordinated one-stop shop, with several different work methods and activities.
The major new component of ISSS is the workshop concept, embodied in the CWAs. Perroy said the workshops will work on an open access basis, without restriction, and will come to decisions by consensus.
A CWA will not have the same stringent requirements as a formal standard, and will be either a publicly available specification, pre-standard or guidance. It should then be ratified as a full standard by a full blown formal process, at a later stage, said CEN.
"CWAs can deal with subjects not suitable for formal standardisation, and could contain alternative technical solutions where the market is not yet mature," Perroy explained.
Magnus Lemmel, a senior EC official, said CEN's initiative could provide the necessary mix of speed and accessibility.
"The specific added value that ISSS can provide is that it offers a more independent forum than many of the industrial fora which might be influenced by vested interests," he said.
"If ISSS has the potential to offer the necessary service on a neutral and objective basis, it will find a market in response to these concerns."
The organisation of ISSS must be "lean, efficient and unbureaucratic", so that industry will feel inclined to use this route rather than the numerous informal consortia available, he urged.
Lemmel said the current trend towards the use of proprietary rather than formal standards in the ICT sector risked "digital anarchy".
"ISSS has been established as an open platform supporting consensus building between economic actors in the ICT domain. The Commission has long emphasised the need for such industry-led platforms," he said.
However, Lemmel said that since the work of ISSS will be more focused on (and beneficial to) industry, the level of financial support from the EC will be less than in the past.
Perroy responded: "The infrastructure we are providing has to be paid for. In those limited cases of an obvious public policy interest, the Commission can provide help. Otherwise, the users of the service should pay."
Areas in which CEN has been working on standards recently include barcode reading, geographical information systems and traffic control systems.
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