SBS Forum on ICT standardisation: Open standards in ICT procurement

European SMEs are the major contributors to the European economy and a well of innovation potential. Yet, they struggle to compete with larger suppliers in procurement processes. Therefore, SBS Forum on ICT standardisation has focused on the open standards and ICT hubs as tools towards SMEs’ successful participation in procurement procedures.

SBS Forum on ICT standardisation took place on the 23rd of January, 2019 in Brussels. It was led by the European DIGITAL SME Alliance and attracted participants from the European Commission and other European decision making bodies, standards developing organisations, municipal governments, industry.

While opening the event Sebastiano Toffaletti, Secretary General of the European DIGITAL SME Alliance, and Christel Davidson, Director of Small Business Standards, both highlighted the upcoming increase in standards concerning ICT procurement. They stressed that SMEs should be prepared for such future developments.

The European Commission, represented by Antonio Conte from DG GROW, emphasized the central role standards have and will continue to have in the development of procurement across the European Single Market. One of the main support tools that the Commission is considering to embrace has been presented – a European Catalogue of Standards in ICT procurement, prototype of which was launched in 2017.

Commision’s presentation was followed by practical examples from organisations already supporting SME participation in public procurement: BrambleHub from the UK (presented by Sachiko Muto), Open Forum Europe and Kompetenzzentrum IT-Wirtschaft from Germany (presented by Norman Röhner). Speakers presented tools and services that these organisations offer in order to foster successful collaboration of SMEs in procurement efforts. Their presentations revealed the need for interoperability standards in order to unlock the innovation potential among European SME ICT providers and to enable the digitisation of European industry.

The benefits of a stronger engagement between public procurers and European ICT SMEs were highlighted by Aleksandra Olejnik of EUROCITIES’. Her presentation concentrated on local and municipal governments’ efforts to sustainably tackle challenges such as urban mobility and energy transition. ICT solutions appeared to be the key in these efforts, providing outstanding opportunities for innovative digital SMEs.

Finally, a case study presented by Cable Europe representative Paulo Valente showed how standards facilitate local service providers strengthening local communities, while also maintaining global interconnectivity and limiting fragmentation.

Interactive discussions followed all the presentations, and participants concluded that the use of standards can have positive effects on SMEs and therefore on overall economic and social welfare. Special attention was given to the fact that not all standards impact SMEs in the same way, given their diverse nature, such as interoperability protocols, product safety compliance specifications or management system standards, among others. In some instances, there is a danger of the excessive use of certain certification standards as eligibility requirements can constitute a barrier to SMEs.

Forum concluded with a wide consensus that public procurers would benefit from more articulated and clarified policies on the use of standards in public procurement. However, in order to achieve the best benefit for both public procurers and SMEs, one need to perform an accurate analysis on the socio-economic effects of different types of standards used in public procurement, while particularly taking into account the positive and negative effects on SMEs

A summary of the events and its conclusions is available here