We will publish a series of articles by Marleen Hartmann and Nienke Korsten outlining how the adoption of the European e-Competence Framework (e-CF) could be supported and possibly accelerated. As the e-CF may be used by different user groups, each with their own focus, direction, timetable and motivation, these articles will investigate these different circumstances at different stages of use. In this first article in the series, Marleen Hartmann and Nienke Korsten present an overview of the field, consisting of the practice of standardization, the emerging e-CF process and a differentiation of the user groups involved, with an emphasis on their respective expectations with regard to standards.
In the following editions, we will publish a series of articles, outlining how a wide adoption of the e-CF in practice could be supported and possibly speeded up. There has been an increased interest in standardization over the past two decades. Discussions on this topic have been covered by publications in the International Journal of IT Standards and Standardization Research and by a number of text books. In this article, we rely heavily on these publications in our pursuit of developing a working implementation strategy for e-CF.
This series is not intended as a PR statement for adopting the standard. We do hope, however, that sharing an academic approach of e-CF implementation will lead to an increase in strategic understanding of the framework and its adoption, thus stimulating the use of the framework in practice.
In adopting a standard, some basic factual knowledge on standards in general is required on the phases involved in using a standard, different types of standards and their benefits to different users in different settings. ‘Use’, as a process, may be divided into the following stages: no awareness, interest, first time use, regular/passionate use.
As e-CF may be used by different user groups with their own focus, direction, timetable and motivation, we will look into these different circumstances at the different stages of use.
In this first article in the series, we present an overview of the field, consisting of the practice of standardization, the emerging e-CF process and a differentiation of the user groups involved, with an emphasis on their expectation of standards.
The practice of standardization
Standardization is about reaching an agreement, be it on an international or national level, or within an organization. Standards can strongly influence markets in political, legal, technical or financial ways. Many standards originate from either a patented invention or from an industry having a strong need for the development of a standard, but they can also stem from the urge of an organization for their product or service to dominate the market. A process of voluntary consensus was introduced, in order for relevant consumers and production parties to be consulted when cross industry standards are required. In the past few decades, standards have often been introduced by professional organizations, and the government has increasingly taken a leading role in their management through legislation and national bodies of standardization. Standardization has been influenced by globalization in general, and by the European regional governance structure. The IT market in particular is known for the prolific development of standards. These are generally complex and detailed, including parties of widely differing backgrounds, but with a very short lifecycle.
As the online community has grown, with its characteristic openness, user groups and consortia have emerged. The process of development of a standard changed as standards became more open and less expensive or free to use. User groups could often be joined by anyone, without a controlled process for proceedings or review in place, creating a lack of stability. Standards were sometimes accepted solely on the basis of a nice looking demo, and competition between different approaches was rife. Standardization in the ICT field was largely taking place without interference of central control structures. In 2012, OpenStand was founded to solve this problem and develop new regulations for open development of standards. Some argue that OpenStand is more market driven and internationally focused than formal standardization through national bodies, and that the formal process is too slow to keep pace with the rapid developments in the market. However, the formal process allows for more structured standard management and maintenance.
e-CF in the making
In this arena, e-CF was developed by an open workshop over the past decade. Contributors may freely join the workshop and the framework can be adopted on a voluntary basis. The workshop was initiated by CEPIS, Cedefop and the former Career Space Consortium as a joint initiative of the industry, the professionals and providers of training.
The Career Space Consortium was a consortium of eleven (ICT) companies; (BT, Cisco Systems, IBM Europe, Intel, Microsoft Europe, Nokia, Nortel Networks, Philips Semiconductors, Siemens AG, Telefónica S.A. and Thales, plus EICTA, the European Information, Communications and Consumer Electronics Industry Technology Association) to encourage and enable more people to join and benefit from a dynamic and e-Europe and to narrow the threatening skills gap in Europe.
Cedefop is one of the network of specialist EU agencies, set up by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union to carry out specific tasks. Cedefop is stationed in Greece and supports the development of European vocational education and training (VET) policies and contributes to their implementation.
CEPIS is the Council of European Professional Informatics Societies. It is a non-profit organization seeking to improve and promote a high standard among informatics professionals in recognition of the impact that Informatics has on employment, business and society.
The workshop is registered under the wings of the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) with the goal of defining profiles of IT practitioners and curriculum development guidelines for higher education, on a professional level. The workshop produces and publishes CEN Workshop Agreements (CWA’s). This process is meant to keep as many parties involved as possible. An effect of this is that in order to get consensus, definitions and descriptions are often not outlined as sharply as they could be. To give the e-CF the status of a norm, the Technical Commission CEN/TC 428: Digital competences and ICT Professionalism, has taken over, and will maintain, mature and develop the standard, once it has been approved by the member countries.
The process to date has been a combination of the modern ‘open’ approach and a formal review process. As is common knowledge, in development, a focus on the understanding and input of a wider audience often goes at the expense of usability, interoperability, extensibility and security.
How companies emphasize standards
Organizing is about standardization. Its very nature is to control human behavior in order to pursue the goal of the organization. As such, organizations are generally familiar with standards, as they make frequent and intensive use of them. All internal policies are in fact a type of standardization of an internal process or product. The intensity of the use of standards can vary; organizations may develop internal standards or just refer to an external one, or part of it. They may or may not modify their own process, dictate that their suppliers adhere to the same or have dedicated standardization departments or roles. What they have in common is that they all choose standards that are as closely aligned to their business goals as possible, for reasons unrelated to a the understanding of a wide audience.
The industry works with several types of standards that we will outline here. We follow the types presented in the “Textbook for Higher Education: A World Built on Standards”: terminology standards, test standards, compatibility standards, performance standards and management standards.
Terminology standards creates a common language and is utilized in a new innovative area, to establish clarity about terms and definitions. A compatibility standard is specifying the requirements, a performance standard is specifying the requirements for the quality
Measurement and test standards make it possible to test services in a uniform manner and to establish confidence. These type of standards simply allow demonstrations of the quality and determine consistent measurements. If legal consequences are involved these consistency in measurements are necessary to avoid legal claims. Management standards constitute a tool for organizations to effectively manage their efforts for improvement with respect to the diverse parameters of quality aspects. Management standards generally provide a means to systematic planning, monitoring and follow-up action.
The table below shows the effects and values of the different types of standards.
Table: Effect and value in relation to types of standards. (source: A World Built on Standards – A Textbook for Higher Education. Danish Standards Foundation 2015)
|Type of standard||Technical effect and value||Economic effect and value|
|Terminology||Clarity of concepts and definitions||Reduced transaction costs|
|Creation of a common language||Networking benefits|
|Compatibility||Coherent systems||Networking benefits|
|Reduced number of variants||Scaling opportunity|
|Performance||Safe services||Open markets|
|Reduced risk||Easier market penetration|
|Known requirements||Reduced transaction costs|
|Level playing field||Dissemination of knowledge|
|Sharing of best practices|
|Measurement and test||Demonstration (and documentation) of product and/or service properties||Open markets|
|Higher precision||Easier market penetration|
|Comparable measurements||Reduced transaction costs|
|Dissemination of knowledge|
|Management||Management improvement||Reduced costs|
|Optimization of processes||Economic and business growth|
Organizations take financial circumstances into account, and will only adopt a standard if this either solves a persistent problem, or they see a direct (financial) gain in the short to mid-term.
User groups, types and values of e-CF
We are interested specifically in users of e-CF rather than the community of stakeholders in general. The users can be divided into three groups or levels: personal (1), organizational (2) and institutional (3) users. These are the three groups we want to provide for in the strategy to adopt e-CF. We will now outline how these user groups are currently involved with the standard, in relation to the types of standards shown in the tables above, and their types and values.
The European Commission is leading a multi-stakeholder partnership, the “Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs”, to prevent the expected lack of digital skills in Europe resulting in thousands of unfilled ICT-related vacancies. E-CF was developed to narrow this expected skills gap and regarded as a valuable asset in the definition and categorization of e-competences, in the macroeconomic sense of enforcing mobility in the European labor market and other policy decisions. On this third level, e-CF was accepted and institutionalized as a norm in the beginning of this year (2016). These users focus on the long term, with management and compatibility as their main goal. They are therefore best served with a standard of that type (Management and Compatibility), where the correct terminology is also in place. In Italy, where e-CF is enforced by law, there will soon be an increased need for precision and consistency, and therefore a need for the standard to be of the measurement type. Future policy decisions also demand a more granular precision, but this is better suited to a compatibility type standard.
On the second level, the organizations, we first look at organizations that focus on realizing a long term institutional vision, such as institutions of higher education that integrate the e-CF terminology in their learning goals and curricula. Mostly first time users of the standard are involved for whom a standard of the performance type is sufficient. As their use of the standard matures, they will develop further needs. Organizations that operate internationally and are focused on the European labor market, such as Philips, use the e-CF in a similar manner. Their main purpose in using the standard is to attract new employees throughout Europe. This is a short term view on the standard, with a narrow focus. This narrow focus on the selection process makes that for these users, a standard of the compatibility type suffices. Other large organizations have been working on a ‘mapping’ of the e-CF onto their own quality standards (the Dutch Civil Service Organization) or exploring their educational needs (Dutch Ministry of Defense). For this mapping, the terminology type of standard is sufficient. Addressing educational requirements of the work force constitutes use with a narrow focus and a short to medium length time span. A compatibility type standard was required for this type of procedure. Performance analysis and modelling was done by employees of the ministry; the actual mapping on educational outcomes was performed by their supplier of ICT training. In this process, implicit internal conventions are made explicit through workshops. When performed well, one could argue that this is the internal application of the external e-CF standard.
On the first level, the users have yet another orientation towards the field, being the carriers of the competences central to the e-CF. To them, it is personal. Their use of the e-CF norm should provide them with a trustworthy, confidential assessment of their current professional position, and their potential and direction for growth and development. They have both short, mid and long term goals in this respect, and precision and detail in the measurements are essential. The type of standard require to ensure this, is the measurement type.
In this first article in the series, we gave some basic information on the phases in the use of standards, on types of standards and their potential value to different users in different settings. We showed that user groups have different needs in terms of effect and value in adopting a standard in general and the e-CF in particular. Promotion of the e-CF constitutes just one small part of the first phase of its use. Differentiation and typing of both the standard and the users is necessary for large scale adoption of the e-CF, and the development of an adoption strategy will guide the users through the different stages. In following articles, we will present different scenarios for the different user groups. For e-CF to be embraced by the IT community, it is essential to choose the right approach for the right group at the right stage.
A World Built on Standards – A Textbook for Higher Education. Danish Standards Foundation 2015
Florens J.C. Slob and Henk J. de Vries (2015) Best Practice In Company Standardization.
Kai Jakobs (red 2015) Standardization Research in Information Technology: New Perspectives. (RWTH Aachen University, Germany).
Kai Jakobs (red. 2016) Effective Standardization Management in Corporate Settings (Advances in it Standards and Standardization Research).
Projects of the Delft Institute for Research on Standardization (DIRoS) (founded in 2012) scientific research on standardization-related issues for public and private organizations.
Schneiderman, R. (2015). Modern Standardization: Case Studies at the Crossroads of Technology, Economics, and Politics. John Wiley & Sons.