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Europe’s New Push for Interoperability and Collaborative Data Ecosystems

Gianfranco Cecconi
9 Jun 2023
capgemini-invent

Capgemini Invent at the 2023 Data Spaces Symposium

Think back fifteen years to the launch of the very first iPhone: that sleek design, that 3.5-inch touchscreen, that first mobile web browsing experience. None of us had any idea how much this one device would transform our way of life. Now, hold on to that feeling because I am going to make a prediction. After having attended the 2023 Data Spaces Symposium in the Netherlands a few months ago, and the MyData Conference from May 31 to June 1, I believe this same scenario is playing out with data spaces.

Data Sharing Vs. Data Spaces

For many of you, data sharing will be a familiar expression. It often gains headlines, unfortunately, when it’s nefarious, typically when companies share your personal data with third parties without your permission. But today, there is a growing trend to rediscover the authentic opportunities that come from willingly sharing data. So, why the turnaround?

The reason is simple: we now recognize the value of sharing data. Today, the challenges facing our global community are unparalleled. To overcome them, we all need to find new ways to collaborate. Organizations worldwide are now increasingly coming to the same conclusion.

Data sharing is not a new concept, though. Traditionally, every organization collaborating along a supply chain, for example, has been sharing information along the chain to streamline the manufacturing of goods. But today we aim at data sharing that is decentralized, flexible, and heavily reliant on standards and automation. We call this new environment a “data space.” In a data space, participants’ data does not need to be stored in one central location and managed by some super-powerful intermediary. Rather, it is stored and managed on the individual participants’ systems. The figure below is a high-level representation of the evolution we are observing in the data-sharing models, moving towards data spaces.

Interoperability and Collaborative Data Ecosystems
Figure 1 – From traditional data sharing to data spaces

Data Spaces Gather Pace

The momentum of this trend to data space adoption was evidenced by the success of this year’s Data Spaces Symposium, a new yearly conference at which the sharpest minds in the field meet to share knowledge and discuss the paradigm shift in data sharing that is accelerating the development of collaborative data ecosystems.

Additionally, data spaces are also getting a push from regulatory bodies. The European Union’s push is particularly noteworthy. Back in 2020, its Data Strategy recognized the value data spaces can bring to the economy of its Member States. The EU has been supporting the Data Strategy through dedicated legislation (the Data Governance Act, the Data Act, and more in the pipeline…). Moreover, it continues to support progressive initiatives, such as the “Data Spaces Support Centre” (DSSC) project, of which Capgemini is a partner.

The truth is that a lot of people have been waiting a long time for this day to arrive. Certainly, I am delighted to see decades of work finally becoming a reality. As Capgemini Invent’s Lead for Collaborative Data Ecosystems, the Data Spaces Symposium was the highlight of 2023 so far.

Capgemini Invent and the DSSC

The work of my colleague, Marta was the main reason I was especially excited to attend the event. Marta Pont is one of our senior managers working for EU Institutions. Her team leads the activities within the Data Spaces Support Center aimed at evaluating the impact of data space initiatives on the European economy and society, building on the experience of Capgemini in conducting similar research and assessments. The DSSC is a research and coordination project that brings together 12 partners and aims at supporting the development of European data spaces by engaging with the data space communities and identifying and making available to them relevant resources to support interoperability. At the Symposium, Marta presented our methodology for pursuing the evaluation of data spaces that is – to the best of my knowledge – pioneering work, a first in its genre on this matter.

But why do we need such evaluations? Let’s give the floor to Marta:

“The first purpose of our evaluation is to check if data spaces are value for money, as the European Commission is investing money into their development. But the evaluation will also be a useful exercise for data spaces themselves, to see where they stand in their development, in their ability to deliver socio-economic benefits for the society, and to identify pain points or improvement areas where they can learn from peers and improve their performance in the coming years.

In particular, the evaluation of data space performance takes into account three dimensions and various indicators that serve to understand 1) the regulatory, financial, business and societal ecosystem in which each data space operates, 2) the stage of development of data spaces, and 3) the individual outcomes that are being yielded by data spaces.

Interoperability and Collaborative Data Ecosystems
Figure 2: Dimensions and high-level indicators considered in the evaluation

It is easy to understand why we need accurate evaluations of these innovative initiatives, but you might be wondering why Capgemini was on stage to talk about it. Marta has the answer:

“This exercise is important to Capgemini because our organization has been involved for years now in performing similar assessments as part of the European Data Portal [data.europa.eu] to measure the socioeconomic impact of open data policies and the re-use of open data in the EU. […] And, also, Capgemini Invent was running the predecessor of this project, the Support Center for Data Sharing, so this is a continuation of the work we have done thus far.”

You Can’t Manage What You Don’t Measure: Our Methodology for Data Spaces Evaluation

By the time Marta took to the stage, the Postillion Convention Centre in The Haag was filled to capacity. She was part of a six-strong panel discussing How to Bring Data Spaces to Life, which was the overarching subject of a suite of pitches showcasing the Assets and Services of the DSSC. Marta began her presentation by referring to the rationale and the scope of this evaluation exercise and the reason for the DSSC to pursue it.

Interoperability and Collaborative Data Ecosystems

She was part of a research team who back in 2017 already conducted a study for the Commission to understand the extent to which the lack of access to data hindered the European economy in terms of missed business opportunities.  The data spaces program supported by the Commission aims at addressing this gap and the evaluation conducted by the DSSC should ultimately show whether data spaces are actually successful towards this goal. In her presentation, Marta outlined the various inputs that are used in the evaluation.

These inputs feed into a five-phase process involving an analysis of the ecosystem surrounding each data space, their level of maturity, and their socioeconomic outcomes, and eventually result in three reports which will be produced at three different moments in the project’s duration, enabling a comparison of the evolution of data spaces’ performance over time. For a summary of our methodology, take a look at the graphic below:

Interoperability and Collaborative Data Ecosystems
Figure 3: The Data Spaces Support Center’s methodology for evaluating the impact of data space initiatives

While the European Commission aims to foster collaboration and synergies among data spaces and avoid data silos, we need to acknowledge that there are differences between data spaces in different sectors and even within them. This is due to a number of factors, such as their funding scheme (procurement vs. grants), their business rationale (commercial vs. non-commercial initiatives), or the pursuit of their individual goals. To cater for these specificities, the evaluation methodology proposed by Capgemini envisages the possibility to consider specific sectorial indicators that might be only applicable to some data spaces, allowing for a differentiated approach.

Of course, as with any innovation, the rate of adoption varies from sector to sector. But slow movers risk missing out on many opportunities and the chance to be known as a pioneer in the space. Perhaps they will see the light after our data space evaluations influence European policymaking. This is one of the key aspects of Marta’s work.

The proposed methodology has already been tested with 17 EU-supported data space initiatives, mainly through funding from the European Commission’s Digital Europe Programme (DIGITAL), and from the EU’s research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020 (currently named Horizon Europe). The first evaluation report providing information on the performance of such data space initiatives is due to be submitted to the European Commission in June and will become available over the summer on the DSSC’s website.

After the Symposium

It’s encouraging to know so many experts are actively developing data spaces. But we need to ensure we do not fall into the outmoded way of working. There has been a tendency for passionate and independent parties to work separately in silos. But as a result, they each risk developing competing standards, leaving blind spots, and causing misalignment. We must strive for open collaboration that will ensure data spaces go from strength to strength.

Within the next few years, “data space” will become a household term. We’ll all be direct or indirect participants in multiple data spaces. And soon, we will use these next-generation collaboration spaces to make unprecedented progress where it matters most.

Interested in learning more?

Visit our collaborative data ecosystems homepage for a wide variety of resources and insights.

Author

Gianfranco Cecconi