Shaping Europe’s digital future, part I – Data Strategy

Written by Arttu Huhtiniemi

The European Commission has released a Data Strategy document and a white paper on AI strategy. We have collected below the highlights and impact of the Data Strategy. The Whitepaper on AI strategy will be covered in a subsequent article.

European strategy for data

The EU commission data strategy was released on February 19th, 2020. It is positive to read how seriously the commission sees the data economy, the possibilities of artificial intelligence, and the emphasis that is needed in the whole EU to develop data reuse, so that we don’t fall back behind other regions. The big worry from European perspective is that China and the USA file 85 percent of all AI-related patents, and manage a significant amount of global public cloud infrastructure. Today only 18 percent of larger European companies use AI methods at scale. 

The strategy underlines that Europe has the opportunity to become a leading role model for a society empowered by data to make better decisions – in business and organisations. For example personalized healthcare and developing digital agriculture against climate change, are application areas where data will have a significant role.

Europe is globally a top player in many industries like mobility, healthcare and manufacturing. These industries also collect and use a lot of data, but too little of the data is available for reuse which means less data is available for training machine-learning algorithms. One of the reasons for the lack of data reuse is the lack of data sharing within and between private and public sectors, and across national borders.

Additional challenges with data reuse are more related to data and technology, which are similar to what many organizations struggle with at the microlevel; poor data quality, data governance is non-existent, skills are not available and the data infrastructure is not in place.

The strategic plan of the Commission

A Improving data sharing

To address the concerns related to data sharing the commission plans to release legislation for the creation of common sector and domain-specific data spaces. These data spaces support decisions on what data can be used in which situations, facilitate cross-border data use, and prioritise interoperability requirements and standards within and across sectors. To address the lack of public data sharing, the Commission plans to release public data with an Open Data Directive using APIs. Further the Commission plans to address legislation to clarify data sharing legislation with a Data Act in 2021.

All actions that help accelerate data sharing with the EU is welcome. The immediate benefits can be seen if the public data, which is largely already available, can be opened for public use. Clarification of the legislation will certainly be appreciated by everyone in the data economy. The common, industry-specific data spaces are a novel idea, but the benefits will be visible only if and when the industries adopt the idea in practice. 

B Investing into enablers

The commission plans to invest €4-6 billion in the data spaces, in particular data sharing architectures, governance frameworks and cloud infrastructures. The commission plans also to create a common cloud rulebook and a cloud marketspace for listing and selecting cloud providers with various criteria such as energy efficiency, data security and data portability.

The investments into the enablers will certainly enable building European cloud capabilities and data economy in general. However, the commercial, non-european public cloud providers have a long advantage, and it may be impossible to catch them even with these investments. Having a common rulebook and transparency to the offerings will certainly be appreciated by everyone that source cloud service

C Skills and competencies

The third cornerstone of the European data strategy is skills and development of competencies. This section starts from individuals in Europe that should be trained in understanding better what individual data means, rights to the individual data according to the GDPR, and principles of MyData like the portability of data. To enable the data economy, the Commission plans to invest into people skills needed for the data economy, such as data scientists and data engineers. And finally the strategy points the special needs of SME and start-ups that are currently falling behind in making use of data.

What next

The European data strategy has many valid points, and maybe the best point is that the strategy is now officially released and it states the importance of data to Europe and its economy. The next important step is to see how the strategy will translate to actions. Worth to note also that the data strategy is a high-level European strategy, which works only if the private sectors buys in and starts to work towards the common goals together. 

 

Arttu Huhtiniemi is a Senior Data Strategist at DAIN Studios Helsinki.

 

Photos by Patrick Freyer and Donna Elliot