my take on post-i2010

Yesterday I attended the last EU conference that I had planned to attend for 2009, a public consultation on what should happen after i2010

Or: what the should European institutions (and their funding) consider a priority in using ICT to generate benefits for citizens in EU and beyond (private and corporate).

I shared my detailed “idea” draft minutes online, using the xMind.net community: you can download both my file and the software (free OpenSource) needed to “navigate” through the minutes.

If you want, re-use it: let me know if you have any questions.

This short article (less than 1000 words) contains my own commentary on both the event and the questions presented by the participants.

As usual: my comments are my own position, but anything reported inside the minutes is how I perceived the position of each speaker.

I did not know any of the participants, and often they did not clearly state who they were (because almost everybody in the room knew them- it is a small world).

Therefore, I clearly marked when I was unable to read the name of the institution (private or public) represented by the speaker.

My first comment is simple and direct: few speakers were actually discussing- most were just reading (and re-reading or paraphrasing) a written statement, not necessarily relevant to the point that was discussed during the session.

But, despite the obvious “Cicero pro domo sua”-effect, some interesting ideas were discussed.

I still do not consider an interesting idea to have structural funds open for generic “innovation”- as this would divert funds intended for investment toward expenditure.

I do understand the software industry position- but, except for tax planning reasons, it would be unusual to ask CEOs to divert investment funding to expenditure (a 2 year “obsolescence”/”replacement” cycle is an expenditure, not an investment).

At the same time, I found puzzling when written statements from various associations or “industry umbrellas” wrap themselves with the mantle of the defender of the weak and the consumer, asking for a regulatory enforcement of their property rights, while at the same time asking to deregulate.

Anyway, as you will see inside the minutes, it was a unique opportunity to see different parts of the ICT and media industry reciprocate attacks on their one-sided views.

The side-effect? The occasional exchange of ideas generated some interesting proposals.

The minutes clearly state who said what.

As you would expect from a technology-oriented audience, most interventions focused on technology and infrastructure.

Again, I was puzzled when the only really relevant contribution to the “ICT for growth and job creation” actually talked about how to use ICT to deliver the same services with less people.

Overall, few interesting “threads” here and there, but almost no discussion on how to foster innovation, despite few interesting hints on opening the research databases to allow Mr Public to use the accumulated wealth of knowledge, and contribute.

If you read “crowdsourcing” or “wikinomics”, you already read not ideas, but the description of working examples.

But there was a point that could not be read in any of the “new economy” books, too focused on US examples, and this was the unique contribution of the meeting.

Ignore the requests for further regulation, labelling, centralized levies for IPR- each proponent was obviously representing a specific interest group, and it would be just icing on the cake.

Instead: a common consensus was that one single item is damaging the competitiveness of European Union.

What I call the “regulatory patchwork”.

Some of the examples that you will find in the minutes:

  • regional differences in development, with different types of legal framework
  • the Nordic countries are used as the reference to choose the next generation technology, but the average EU country is struggling to use not the current one, but the previous technology
  • also within the EU Commission, DGs have different approaches to contracts, etc

If you want: a request to identify a common, shared framework- with local and regional differences, but within a common regulatory framework.

It is interesting, from a change management perspective. And, politically, as I was in a Federalist organization as a teenager.

Any large organization has the same issue: and, frankly, a “multiple speed” approach is simply a surrender- I rather prefer a “multiple speed with convergence”.

In my experience, when you want to change a “regulatory” mindset within a diverse organization, a common set of rules can and must be identified.

Then, each part will have a “transition path”, but a monitored transition path.

And this is my final comment: beside the Chair, and a couple of speakers, almost nobody talked about transitions.

Almost everybody, also when ignoring their own written statements, focused on change imposed from the top, through a regulatory or “restricted workgroup” approach.

As the few representing regional and local authorities scattered around Europe said: there is already a regulatory overload, as the end receiver of all these changes, rules, etc is always the same- and has a democratic accountability issue to cope with.

It is the same situation that I saw when I had to prepare a study to offer a new service to local authorities in Italy, circa 2003: too many specialized providers of regulatory frameworks from both the Central Government and European Institutions, with just one receiving end: the city manager or “segretario comunale”.

With nobody considering writing documents for the audience, not for the working group.

At the same time, Italy was increasingly becoming “Federal”.

As far as I remember, the local authorities had the princely sum of less than 40 EUR per citizen to deliver e-government services.

Whatever the path to innovation and increased EU competitiveness will be, it should take into account the cultural and organizational transformations required to implement the strategy.

And provision the resources required to implement, in collaboration with the local authorities and, why not, industry (at last, a Public-Private-Initiative that does not deliver just public costs and private benefits).

Of course, under a strict monitoring- as it would be done in the private sector.

Otherwise- creative accounting will be the only path to report increased innovation and competitiveness.

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