The ICT Industry, Small and Micro-Enterprises and International Standards – The ISO/IEC 29110 standard series targeted at Very Small Entities will help filling the “SME Standardisation Gap”

  • The ICT producing sector is one of the most dynamic sectors across Europe. 95% of its SMEs have 25 or less employees

  • SMEs lack of adequate access to ICT standards hinders their ability to innovate and enhance quality of ICT products/services

  • The ISO/IEC 29110 standard series can support SMEs and very small entities to become competitive and provide high quality ICT products and services


In 2016, the European ICT sector had a value of €591 billion, employed 6 million people and spent €31 billion on research and development (R&D).
The ICT producing sector is one of the most dynamic sectors of the European economy, standing out for its high R&D intensity and for a productivity that is higher than that of the whole economy. Moreover, the digital sector’s importance extends far beyond its own productivity or contribution to the GDP. It is an enabling tool for all other economic sectors and the current pandemic has strongly highlighted its strategic value.
ICT products and services are made by people. People design and implement ICT systems, people code software, and they provide digital services. People work together and are organised in teams and companies, the overwhelming majority of which consist of fewer than 25 people. 95% of ICT SMEs have less than 25 employees and even in large companies, individual teams and working groups also often have fewer than 25 members.

Standards are key to unlock the innovative power of SMEs—but they have too little access

Since the beginning of the ICT industry, one of the most important pillars supporting its development was the use of standards. Standards are the base requirement for building and integrating ICT systems, creating software, and promoting interoperability of ICT components. Unfortunately, international standards within the digital area have a great handicap: they are developed by large enterprises for large enterprises which have the strength and resources to create and maintain these standards.

SMEs in particular have little knowledge of and even less use for international standards, which are often unsuited for their size. Many studies and surveys suggest that the majority of international standards do not address the needs of SMEs. But SMEs need international ICT standards to produce software, implement ICT systems and services, improve their quality, reduce costs, and qualify themselves on the market.

Another very important area where certifications based on international standards are used is the tendering procedure of national and European public administrations. It is a common practice to require one or more quality certifications in a public tender, but SMEs have very limited means to be recognised as entities that produce quality digital systems. This means that SMEs are excluded from some important economic activities because in most of the cases the requirements of tendering procedures prevent them from applying for the tenders.

ISO/IEC 29110: A new standard tailored to Very Small Entities

To solve this contradiction and address the difficulties listed above, the ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee/SC7 WG24 created the ISO/IEC 29110 series. This new standards series targets Very Small Entities (VSEs) which include enterprises, organisations, departments or projects of up to 25 people that are involved in the development or maintenance of software, digital systems and services.

The different parts of ISO/IEC 29110 have different target audiences:

  Title Target audience
Part 1 Overview VSEs, assessors, standards producers, tool vendors and methodology vendors.
Part 2 Framework and taxonomy Standards producers, tool vendors and methodology vendors. Not intended for VSEs.
Part 3 Assessment guide Assessors and VSEs and their customers
Part 4 Profile specifications Standards producers, tool vendors and methodology vendors. Not intended for VSEs.
Part 5 Management and engineering guide VSEs and their customers


ISO 29110 is therefore a complete “ecosystem” that supports and guides every actor of the market: the ICT SME, the customer, the team of a big company, the assessor, the certification vendor, and so on. Moreover, ISO/IEC 29110 is intended to be used with different life cycle models such as waterfall, iterative, incremental, evolutionary or agile.

Everything is integrated into a single coherent, well-defined, agile and ready-to-use instrument with the guarantee of an international standard published by ISO/IEC, already adopted and used in many parts of the world.

The main documents of the ISO/IEC 29110 series are available at no cost in English here, while some documents are available in French, Spanish and Portuguese. You can also view a short promotional video in English, French, and Spanish.

If Europe and its member States want to be protagonists in the digital era, and if they want to remain independent from the US, China, India, Japan and multinational companies, the European ICT industry must be recognised and supported. We should also be reminded that SMEs make up the biggest part of the European digital industry!

That means that, in order for European ICT SMEs to be well organised and produce good ICT products and services at competitive costs, ICT SMEs should be pushed and helped to learn and use the ISO/IEC 29110 series. At the same time,  the European and national authorities should be urged to bring out and enhance the European reality of digital SMEs and to support the adoption of international standards by digital SMEs and  public administrations.

The adoption of ISO 29110 should be urged in all public tenders in the digital area. This would not be an obstacle for large companies, but it would allow SMEs to participate.

Opening up public ICT-related tenders to SMEs would enable Europe’s industry to become stronger and more competitive vis-a-vis large international players.