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About the process that produces good standards: There are quite a few institutions that produce standards. Not all of them are good. For example, have a look at the International Telecommunication Union technical committee work. Those are mostly unreadable, very slow to progress and sometimes even ambiguious.

In contrast, take a look at the way internet standards are developed in the IETF, the Internet Engineering Task Force. They are written by volunteers, and with an eye to openness and running code. Here is a short overview.


Now what ?

by pi (etrib@opsec.eu) on Sun Jun 9th, 2013 at 04:53:32 PM EST
One part of my day job is to prepare a software system for the Single European Payment Area (SEPA), a standard based on another standard (ISO 20022). The EU deemed it wise to standardize financial transactions across Europe and before that industry&government types went about creating a new standard in the heydays of XML.

Sepa is supposed to save billions every year but the way forward has been difficult. Every country has its own cavalcade of systems or no real electronic payment system at all. E.g. in Germani there is something called DTAUS to initiate direct debits, which works reasonably well. You send a file to the bank and they pull the money for you as soon they can. Sepa direct debits are another animal entirely. You need a creditor id, issued by the good folks of the Bundesbank, every debitor needs a unique mandate id. Every debitor needs to be prenotified at least x days before any transaction. The changeover to Sepa itself requires notification to the debitor. At first an entirely new agreement (with signature) was required but because of some legal changes the old ones are still valid. Then, depending on whether it's the first or a recurring transaction for that debitor, the file needs to be sent 5 or 2 TARGET/bank days before the actual transaction. If you mess up, the transaction can be rolled back by the debitor for more than a year not just the usual six or eight weeks.

This is painful and potentially disastrous stuff because come February the old system is verboten. Currently, less than 0.2 percent of direct debits are issued using Sepa [in Germany]. Insolvency looms for a lot of people. After a lot of haggling a new intra-German "local instrument type" called COR1 will be introduced in November. Which basically means trying to do something similar to DTAUS in the confines of Sepa: you only need to send the file one TARGET day before the transaction.

Meanwhile, Sepa also introduces the common citizen to the pleasures of the International Bank Account Number (IBAN). It consists of 16 to 30 characters, in most countries it's more than 20 (why do the Palestinians need 29?). Problem: there has only recently been movement towards a somewhat reliable conversion of old account numbers to IBANs. Because some banks have their own special subaccount numbers. And of course every bank has its own implementation of the 'standard' of which there are numerous official versions. This goes on and on and reminds me of the ETCS chaos.

So a lot of blabla. In total: data integration is hard. Standardization is anything but. Standards go one way and reality goes another way. If a standard finally becomes workable it's also close to irrelevance.

This is the kind of infrastructure that necessarily involves government because a lot of law making is involved. But government should not be counted upon to deliver the technical side of it. It is unsafe to regard yourself as the only reliable player.

Schengen is toast!

by epochepoque on Thu Jun 13th, 2013 at 06:47:34 PM EST
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