miércoles, 31 de mayo de 2017

Europe and the battle for digital standards

In our globalised world, the ability to communicate with each other underpin every process. The value of devices and applications depends it is capacity to conect with other devices and applications, creating complex global value chains. Standards are the critical element for enabling these communications, which are defined in the EU Regulation 1025/2012 as "a technical   specification,   adopted   by   a   recognised standardisation body, for repeated or continuous   application,   with which compliance is not compulsory".

It is easy to recognise the value of ICT standards in our interconnected world. The exponential growth on Internet adoption is based on the existence of a group of communication protocols, visualisation tools and personal computer platforms that have been adopted by a vibrant industry and allow consumers and companies to seamlessly enjoy a growing rank of digital services.

The value of ICT standards for policy making of any sector has been long recognised by the European Union. In 2011, the ICT Multi Stakeholder Platform (ICT MSP) was established. The central mission of the ICT MSP is the yearly development of "The Rolling Plan for ICT Standardsation", which provides an overview of the needs for preliminary or complementary ICT standardisation activities to be undertaken in support of EU policy activities. For each policy area, the rolling plan takes stock of the legislation and policy framework, the ongoing standarisation activities in standarisation activities and proposed new actions to be developed. 

The attention pays to ICT standards in the European Union has been strengthened since the launch of the strategy for a Digital Single Market in Europe. On one hand, we need standards to support the exchange of digital services and products within the internal market. On the other hand, there is a need to have a common European voice in the global ICT standarisation arena in order to reinforce the EU position in the digital sector.

On April 2016, the European Commission presented the communication "ICT standardisation priorities for the Digital Single Market". The document identifies five priority areas where improved ICT standardisation is most urgent to create a Digital Single Market: 5G, the internet of things, cloud computing, cybersecurity and data technologies. Besides the identification of these areas, the European Commision commits to monitor the works in the standarisation bodies and ensure that their roadmap and activities takes into account the growing need of ICT standards in the economy and society.

The importance of  ICT standards far from diminish will increased in the next years. Many more devices will be connected in the medium term with the rise of the Internet of the Things. It is expected that the IoT market will grow from an installed base of 15.4 billion devices in 2015 to 30.7 billion devices in 2020 and 75.4 billion in 2025. And these devices will be in use in almost every economic sector and social scenario: Manufacturing, health, cities, energy, ... Standards are needed to avoid vendor lock-in and guarantee consumer choice. Without ICT open standards there will not be open markets and trade barriers will flourish.  OMC agreements looks to avoid this situation.

The growing importance of ICT standards for keeping open the digital world has been recognised in recent international summits. For instance, on April 6 the digital ministers G20 countries highlights the importance of the creation of similar international norms and standards worldwide as far as possible, to enable the different systems to interact with each other and new value-generating networks,  across the borders of countries and companies. 

Could Europe be absent of the battle for the standardisation of the digital world? It would be the same as desisting of having a role in the future of the world.

miércoles, 24 de mayo de 2017

Digital transformation of sectors (II): Farming

Human beings and societies depend on agriculture for its survival. Without this rural activity, we would not have the nourishment needed for our subsistence. Nevertheless, the rural population is decreased year by year puting in risk having the needed workers at hand. The World Bank estimates that while rural population was 2/3 of the world population at the begining of the 60´s in 2015 was less than half of world population.  At the same time, estimates that the global population will rise to more than 9.7 billion in 2050 and exceed 11.2 billion by 2100, which demands and increase in agriculture production.

The dramatic decrease of population in the rural areas while we need more production calls for an automation of the farming activity. It also calls for it the diminishing public budgets dedicated to promote and support agriculural activity, so needed in developed countries due to its excessive costs. For instance, in Europe the agricultural budget has decreased from 70% to 40% since 1980.

The benefits of the application of digital technologies to farming activities was analysed in the report "Precision agriculture and the future of farming in Europe". It contributes both to food security and safety and promote more sustainable  ways of farming. Precision agriculture may also help to completely reshape the social profile of the rural areas, as it eases the working conditions and paves the way to new business models.

However, the barriers to overcome to achieve the automatisation of agriculture are similar but bigger than in urban areas. On one hand, the adoption of broadband is smaller in rural areas. From the 300 million EU citizens living in rural areas, only 25% are covered by fast or ultra-fast broadband, compared to around 70% coverage in urban areas. On the other hand, the lack of digital skills is more acute.  

To sum up, while farming looks an ideal scenario for showcasing the main virtue of computer technologies (enabling doing more with less), there are structural burdens to overcome before unleashing digital transformation in rural areas.

miércoles, 17 de mayo de 2017

The weakest link

The new normal is an insecure digital world. We should better get used to it. The global attack suffered last friday by many companies is just the last piece of new on the issue. But along the last month we have also witnessed other cybersecurity incidents, like the hacking of computer resources related with the French President two days before his election. Both attacks look for the disruption of our normal life in its political or economical face.

While companies are spending more budget in cibersecurity, incidents are on the rise. In spite of the $75 Billion spent in  2015​ ​and the expectations of reaching a market size of  $170 Billion By 2020, all the technological solutions deployed look incapable of stoping cybercrime, which it is in its own a buoyant business that will reach $2 Trillion by 2019.

We should look to other points if we want to be effective in fighting cybercrime. To begin with, everything points that we have a great problem with the digital skills of people. The scale of last friday attack would have been lesser if a suspicious e-mail had not been open by so many people. But 44% of the Europeans probably do not have enough digital skills to distinguish between an economic proposition received by e-mail and a scam.

It is frequently said that a chain is as weak as the weakest of its links. The security chain is the best example of it, we can´t expect to live in a secure digital world without providing all the basic capabilities to walk safely on its virtual streets.

miércoles, 10 de mayo de 2017

#NetNeutrality : back to the trenches

Here we go again. As it was foreseen during the last US presidential election campaign and confirmed by media close to Trump just after the election day, the time is ripe for a review of the US net neutrality legal framework. Little more than two years after the last review, the Federal Commission of Communications (FCC) has published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and asked for public comments on the issue.  

It is the story of a revenge. The open internet order was approved on February 2015 with a vote clearly divide along party lines, 3 to 2. One of the commissioners who voted against that order was the current President of the FCC, Ajit Pai. In his dissenting statement after 2015 vote, he clearly stated that there were no evidence for that decission. Furthermore, he hoped that the days of the open internet order were numbered and "the plan would  be vacated by a court, reversed by Congress, or overturned by a future Commission".  

The main rationale behind the new review is the lack of evidence of the 2015 open internet order, but also the harming effect of the order for the development of the broadband society in USA. In his speech announcing the NPRM, Ajit Pai underlined the success of the Internet growth since 1996 to 2014 and put on the table data about the decrease of investment in network infrastructure since 2014 (he said that among the 12 largest US Internet service providers, domestic broadband capital expenditures decreased by 5.6% percent, or $3.6 billion).

The efforts to prove the above two arguments are to avoid future court complaints to the forthcoming review based on the US 1946 Administrative Procedure Act that bans federal agencies making “capricious” decisions. The review of the net neutrality legal framework could be seen as a flip-flop movement based on political rationale, and therefore susceptible of anullment. We should remember that Internet giants stated their position about the review even before it was announced.

The actions towards a review of the net neutrality legal framework could be detected even in Europe. Although the European Electronic Communications Code proposed by the European Commission does not include any article related with net neutraility, we can not discard future legislative projects on the matter in Europe. Net neutrality has been included among the topics of the consultation on the future of the Internet launched by the European Commission

Without any doubt, the next months we will see announcements and press releases from both sides of the net neutrality battle camp. The fragile peace of the war between digital platforms and telecom operators for the dominance of the Internet has been broken again.

miércoles, 3 de mayo de 2017

"El monarca de las sombras" - Javier Cercas

El monarca de las sombrasEl monarca de las sombras by Javier Cercas
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sigo los libros de Javier Cercas desde su primera novela, "Soldados de Salamina". Tras aquella obra maestra, no creo haya alcanzado la misma capacidad de emocionar al lector excepto en "Anatomía de un instante". No obstante, su habitual fórmula de la descripción aséptica de una historia combinada con mostrar sentimientos del autor hacia los personajes centrales ha producido otras obras interesantes, como "El impostor". En "El monarca de las sombras" intenta repetir el modelo, pero queda a mitad de recorrido en el camino de causar sobresaltos en los sentimientos.

El fracaso de "El monarca de las sombras" radica de una parte en la desgana. Cercas confiensa sus dudas iniciales en contar la historia, y no parece que las dudas se disipen en ningún momento. Se mantiene desde comienzo a fin un sentimiento de verguenza hacia una historia familiar que repudia, conteniendo al autor de volcar sus emociones, probablemente por temor a causar daño a los familiares vivos que consideraron un héroe al monarca de las sombras. Hay demasiada contradicción entre los valores del autor y el protagonista del libro y un exceso de relación con él que le impide ser sincero.

De otro lado, "El monarca de las sombras" no deja de ser un historia demasiado cercana a muchos como para llegar a interesarnos. Las grandes novelas son historias que nos enriquecen mediante la sorpresa, a través del descubrimiento de situaciones en su mayor parte alejada de la cotidianeidad. Sin embargo, el monarca es un personaje demasiado conocido, al menos para una parte importante de los lectores de Cercas, de aquellos que rondamos los cincuenta años. Aquella guerra nos dejó a todos historias cercanas de fantasmas cosanguineos de los que se huye.

Quizás el tiempo haga que "El monarca de las sombras" una obra más apreciada.

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