Massimiliano Claps
Max Claps (Research Director, IDC Government Insights)

From Digital Sovereignty to Data Spaces

Digital and data have transformed enterprises and changed consumer experiences and society. According to the European Political Strategy Centre, “In the 21st century, those who control digital technologies are increasingly able to influence economic, societal and political outcomes. In this context, the growing ‘geopoliticisation’ of technology implies a paradigm change for the notion of strategic autonomy … the EU’s ability to defend and promote its interests — as well as its credibility as a strong foreign policy actor — is ever more a function of its cyber resilience and technology leadership.”

The European Union has responded to the challenge with the ambitious Digital Decade plan to “pursue a human-centric, sustainable vision for digital society” and increase the EU’s “strategic autonomy in tech and develop new rules and technologies to protect citizens from counterfeit products, cybertheft and disinformation.” One of the eight objectives of the 2030 Policy Programme Path to the Digital Decade is to “ensure digital sovereignty notably by a secure and accessible digital infrastructure capable of processing vast volumes of data that enables other technological developments, supporting the competitiveness of the Union’s industry.”

The programme also proposes to establish multicountry projects to develop “European common data infrastructure and services”. In combination with regulations such as GDPR, the upcoming Digital Operational Resilience Act and Data Act, the Digital Decade programmes and projects aim to put Europe at the forefront of reshaping the global data economy along two closely intertwined axes: digital sovereignty and data spaces.

How Are Digital Sovereignty and Data Spaces Paving the Way for the Data Economy in Europe and Beyond?

IDC defines digital sovereignty as the capacity for self-determination by nations, companies and individuals. Digital sovereignty is more than just data sovereignty or data localisation. It entails cloud platforms, workload software, datacentre assets, communications infrastructure, processes, and operations used to control and manage digital infrastructure, services, and access and identity.

It underpins a digital-first Europe where governments, enterprises and individuals have genuine choice to control their data and digital destinies. But digital sovereignty alone is not enough. It’s a means to achieve outcomes, such as realising the value of data and data spaces through interoperable, innovative, easy to operate and control, secure, energy efficient, regulatory compliant and resilient next-generation infrastructure and platforms.

The European Union’s European Strategy for Data sets a bold vision “to create a single European data space — a genuine single market for data, open to data from across the world — where personal as well as non-personal data, including sensitive business data, is secure and businesses also have easy access to an almost infinite amount of high-quality industrial data, boosting growth and creating value, while minimising the human carbon and environmental footprint.” That bold vision is far from accomplished. IDC’s research shows that a unified data space for Europe, let alone the globe, will not exist in the near future. There are too many digital sovereignty, governance, semantic and technical interoperability challenges to overcome. Nonetheless Europe is setting a direction of travel that other regions and countries are watching.

Private and public sector entities understand that data sharing is a critical success factor to accelerate their success in the data-driven economy. And they understand that to realise the benefits, data sharing needs to happen not only within each organisation, but also with external partners, including beyond one’s industry.

In fact, our research on the future of industry ecosystems found that over 90% of public and private sector organisations globally share data with external partners, although around 60% do it only in a limited fashion or when strictly necessary. Europe’s strategic data spaces vision is the next stage of evolution, where data sharing can happen at a greater scale and beyond industry boundaries, thanks to:

  1. Federated architectures that dynamically match data demand and supply
  2. Governance policies and processes where matching of demand and supply takes place thanks to trusted rules and intermediaries that enable secure, transparent and fair participation of both data users and data providers
  3. The ability to provide and use data to and from the common space, either for non-profit/altruistic purposes or for-profit purposes, or both

What Can European Public Sector Leaders do to Benefit from the Digital Sovereignty-Data Spaces Twin Transition?

As for the rest of the economy, public sector organisations are trying to figure out how to leverage data to improve policymaking, service delivery and operational efficiency. Beyond EU-wide initiatives, public sector leaders across the region have a role to play to:

  • Incentivise the private sector to help achieve both for profit and non-profit outcomes, while protecting personal data, intellectual property and trade secrets
  • Work with the tech industry to promote the use of semantic and technical interoperability standards
  • Collaborate with the tech industry and academia to foster R&D to accelerate adoption of technologies, such as secure hardware architectures, probabilistic computing and homomorphic encryption, which in the future will enable trusted data sharing even on non-trusted systems
  • Invest in digital sovereign infrastructures and services, for the data spaces where digital self-determination can accelerate value realisation
  • Initiate data spaces that have immediate societal benefits, such as digital citizen wallets that ensure citizens have to provide data to public administration once only, and contribute critical data that they own, to data spaces that encompass a public-private ecosystems, such as health, mobility and the built environment

Join IDC experts and public sector leaders from around Europe at the IDC Government Summit to learn more about digital sovereignty and data spaces, and to share your experiences.

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