Closure of the C-SIG, new beginnings: will the European Commission rise to the challenge?

28 June 2017

Author: OpenForum Europe

Having followed the work of the Cloud Select Industry Group (C-SIG) for the past 3 years, it is with great interest that I am planning to attend the Net Futures 2017 conference, and the DSM cloud stakeholder meeting in particular.

In 2014, the European Commission published its European Cloud Strategy, built on three pillars: standards, safe and fair contract terms and conditions, and a European Cloud Partnership to drive innovation and growth from the public sector. Based on that strategy, several C-SIGs were created, and these various groups have delivered a variety of valuable outcomes: a cloud certification schemes list, a meta-framework for certification schemes, a set of service level agreements (SLAs) and model contracts, as well as a Code of Conduct for cloud computing (which was reviewed by the Article 29 Working Party and has recently been handed over from the Commission to an NGO which will manage it further).

This is all great work, on which the Commission now has to build further. However as things now stand, we can see there is some confusion in the policy landscape, as well as a lack of clarity when it comes to actual objectives for European cloud computing. If not addressed in due time, these could well undermine the progress achieved to date – but hopefully, the Net Futures kick-off meeting on 29 June will prove to be an opportunity to maintain and build on the progress achieved so far.

In April 2016, the Commission released its Communication on the “European Cloud Initiative – Building a competitive data and knowledge economy in Europe”, and in February 2017 the European Parliament adopted its “European Cloud initiative” report. For Europe, these are stepping stones, towards its ambition to create an enabling environment for data-intensive industries, research and innovation – of which cloud computing is the cornerstone.

What remains to be decided is how the different initiatives and tender studies are coming together. For example, the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) initiative was originally crafted as a high performance infrastructure to enable research in Europe. This soon showed the opportunity (or risk?) for the same infrastructure to be used for private cloud services, as well as – potentially – for e-Government services. Equally, the initiative raised concerns that it could create a Fortress Europe.

The ongoing EOSC pilot project is planned to publish its recommendations in December 2018, but until then there is an acute need for more detail and clarity about how EOSC’s developments stand in relation to the past and current work of the various C-SIGs.

It was hoped that the mid-term DSM review would bring more clarity into this confusion. However, the Communication appears entirely focused on developing the EOSC and a European Data Infrastructure. While developing such an infrastructure is indeed essential, focusing only on the EOSC in this milestone document, without referring to the C-SIGs in any way, fails to provide the much-needed guidance on the way forward for the cloud stakeholders platform.

It is planned that the the DSM cloud stakeholders kick-off meeting will provide this necessary guidance. In the EC’s own words, the meeting will provide an opportunity for the different participants to come together, share experiences and “discuss in an interactive manner the main workstreams needed to contribute to the development of a European cloud ecosystem and provide input for imminent EU policies in the context of the DSM”. While the intention to extend the stakeholders’ platform to include public authorities and SMEs is commendable, we consider that for the new platform to be a success – at least to the same extent as its predecessor C-SIG – an open and transparent process needs to be put in place, with clear objectives defined together with the stakeholders. The Commission should also take this opportunity to clarify the extent to which the EOSC deliverables are/will be interlinked with the ongoing work of the cloud stakeholders platform. As it stands, the cloud computing policy is rather patchy, and this could in turn lead to unintended fragmentation, discussions in closed fora, parallel developments and duplications. In turn, this could also lead to a huge loss of motivation for cloud stakeholders to participate in a mainstream debate that only the Commission can lead for now (i.e., until the platform becomes autonomous, which is expected in 2019, according to the C-SIG plenary minutes of February 2017).

We hope that the Commission will rise to this challenge, and will enable a reinvigorating frank discussion going beyond the presentation of past studies and findings, and moving on towards a vision of what European cloud policy should look like in order for companies, startups, researchers and citizens to feel supported in their digital future. We hope that the meeting will “brainstorm” the question of which concrete tools are needed to achieve such a vision, and will provide an opportunity for all cloud stakeholders to “own” the process and to feel equally engaged in this collaborative work.