Navigating IoT regulations in the EU

Photo by Guillaume Périgois on Unsplash

Most companies see public decision processes — law and norms — as a black box for read-only. Although organising a huge and long lobbying campaign is likely to be both uncertain and expensive, it doesn’t mean you have to be disconnected from this world. The sooner you become aware of a future law or norm that may affect your business (positively or negatively), the more possibilities you have to adapt your strategy accordingly or to even impact the decision-making.

To understand the subject better, we need to explain the different layers of regulating the law, the norm, and the standard:

  • the law is decided by the government, parliament, any elected or representative institution (e.g. establishing the distance a 5G antenna can be installed from a house or a school)
  • the norm is decided by a public, international (ISO) or national entity (e.g. establishing the wind speed a 5G antenna should be at before breaking)
  • the standard is decided by any other private entity, generally a group of companies, in order to assure interoperability.

(e.g. establishing the communication protocol an antenna should operate on to be usable by the terminals)

This is dramatically important when it comes to IoT because it touches personal data regulations, security concerns, health, and the like. Each IoT needs to fit in those criteria, and navigating in the jungle of laws, norms, and standards is particularly complex. So, below you’ll find the three types of actions you can set up in your IoT company to avoid surprises.

1/ Be informed and updated

The deployment of 5G network, personal data regulations, security concerns (the use of drones, self-driven cars) among others are the topics discussed in the process of being regulated everywhere (and differently) in the world.

The decisions adopted in the EU will have a huge impact on the ways IoTs are — and will be — commercialized in the upcoming years. Definitely, you need to be up-to-date with new regulations, or the consequences for your business may be devastating.

First, you need to understand who the decision-makers are. We can divide them into the lawmakers (the frame) called legislators and norm-makers (technical aspects, ISO certification requirements).

For the European market, the lawmakers are by order of apparition (in the very simplistic way):

  • the European Commission (which proposes a directive)
  • the European Parliament and European Council (which votes it)
  • A national parliament (which implements it in the country, with some adaptations).

You need to bear in mind that this entire process takes years, is extremely organised, and the decisions are published and accessible online. At each step, the content is being modified. Thus, there’s a long way between an initial provision prepared by the European Commission and its final version adopted in each European country. That’s why you need to keep your finger on the pulse all along the process.

Then there are so-called “norm makers”, appointed by the industry actors:

  • ISO
  • CEN (European Committee for Standardization)
  • all the national certified entities (norms adopted nationally can’t be less demanding but can be stricter)

Standards makers, appointed by the industry actors:

To follow actions taken by those different entities, there are several ways (from the cheapest to the most expensive ) :

  • on your own: set up the Google alerts with the chosen keywords, review their agenda, reports, publications
  • hire a monitoring agency who is going to do it for you and send you a monthly report
  • hire a dedicated public affairs specialist in your team or outsource one

2/ Don’t just be a spectator

Be represented by a professional

A lot of organisations are created to protect interests of their clients and ensure system interoperability in Europe, for example, among others :

Each IoT company should join at least one of these professional federations and organisations.

The membership fees are affordable and you can participate in their numerous events, where you can follow the evolution of your sector and meet the people exhibiting common interests. Once you find yourself inside these organisations, you can actively participate in the deliverable recommendations then transmitted to the European officers (who actually read them). The European Commission bases a lot of its decisions on those circles of experts, you should be a part of .

Make your voice heard

Media always look for experts, especially with the recent multiplication of news channels and web TVs. Write a blog or run the social media channels, publish content in which you can explain your position (videos, blog posts, comments in a news article, petition, asking a question at a public conference). Contact the specialised media (web TV, bloggers, journalists, magazines) to refer yourself as an expert in your field.

Moreover, thousands of events (conferences, web conferences, panel discussions, startup pitch contests …) are organized by startup incubators, accelerators, coworking spaces, public organisations every year. For each of them, the event organisers are reaching out for speakers, so you get a microphone and the audience.

3/ Being a part of the process

On the law level

The sooner you become aware of a European Directive project that can impact your business, the better chances you get to make a tangible impact. Very often, a Directive project is preceded by a public consultation. You can participate by giving your point of view (like here), or even meet in person with the European officials responsible for preparing the legal content.

If the provision you care about is already at the Parliament, you need to reach to someone who can act on your behalf. Contact a parliamentarian attached to your district and ask him/her for support.

If he or she’s not a specialist in new tech issues, he/she can refer you to someone who is (a member of his /her political party). It will be the same for the Mayor and his/her deputies.

You can also contact the influencer groups in your district (Rotary or Lions club, the Chamber of Commerce); and local media. The concept is to find the allies to bring your voice to the next decision-making level.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to other companies in the same situation as yours. Forget the competition during lobbying campaigns.

On the norm and standard level

When it comes to norms and standards, you first need to be a member of one of the abovementioned organisations. The fact that you are a member guarantees you a vote in plenary sessions and in the subgroups you are sitting in. Successively you have a direct influence on the decisions adopted.

Choose carefully who will represent your company in these organisations, you need someone trustworthy, with both technical and public relations skills, who will be with you long-term. These are deeply strategic jobs.

In conclusion, there are several aspects to consider when a new regulation will finally impact your business. When it comes to IoT, we are concerned every single day by a considerable number of aspects discussed nowadays (5G, data, environment …).

First, you need to identify a new regulation impacting your business as soon as possible (years before it is effective), in order to blend this information into your strategy. Strategic monitoring is essential.

Secondly, be a part of IoT professional organisations that are better informed and can speak out in your interest.

Thirdly, don’t be intimidated by politicians and reach out to them too. European officers are demanding expertise when preparing new regulations, local MPs or Mayors are representing you and your activity. Start by meeting your district public decision-makers and move up the ladder unless you can directly meet someone who has the real decision-making power.

About me // French Marketer who specialises in B2B tech and IoT. With the background of lobbying and over 10 years experience as creative director, I help IoT start-ups achieving stable growth, meaningful branding and long-lasting demand generation. More on www.dxm-agency.com

French Marketer specialised in tech and IoT / Malmö and Warsaw / dxm-agency.com