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

The proliferation of data is transforming businesses and public administrations, and changing consumer experiences and society. The European Union has responded to the challenge with the ambitious European Strategy for Data (2020). One of the pillars of the strategy is the creation of common European data spaces in strategic economic sectors and domains of public interest.

Europe’s strategic data spaces vision is the next stage of evolution of data sharing. Rather than happening only within the boundaries of one organisation or through bilateral contractual agreements that are costly to manage and not conducive to innovation, data sharing must scale to multilateral exchanges, including beyond industry boundaries.

Building on the experience of the European research community with the European Open Science Cloud, the European Strategy for Data proposes an additional nine data spaces. Since the EU Strategy for Data also left the door open for other data spaces to emerge, other EU preparatory actions are planting the seeds for the development of data spaces in adjacent domains, such as cultural heritage, language, media, smart cities and tourism.

The key features of data spaces are:

  • Federated technology capabilities that dynamically match data demand and supply in a trustworthy and energy-efficient manner
  • Governance policies and processes for secure, transparent, non-discriminatory and fair participation of every data user and data provider
  • The ability to make good quality, interoperable data available within and across industries, for non-profit/altruistic purposes, for-profit purposes or both, in compliance with EU regulation

Accelerating Data Sharing

The bold vision for European data spaces still has some way to go. IDC’s research on the future of industry ecosystems (subscription required) found that over 90% of public and private sector organisations globally share data with external partners, but only 30% do it in a consistent and strategic manner, instead of only when strictly necessary and mandated by law. Among European governments, only 22% of organisations have established public-private collaborations to share data for the public interest. There are many digital sovereignty, governance, semantic and technical interoperability challenges to overcome to fully achieve the European data spaces vision. Nonetheless, many actions are accelerating the realisation of the vision:

  • European Union grants funding for coordination and support actions, such as DATES
  • Implementation of new regulation, such as the Data Governance Act
  • Implementation of industry-specific European regulations, such as the Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/1926 regarding the provision of multimodal travel information services
  • Multilateral initiatives, such as GAIA-X
  • Individual country platforms that could then be federated across Europe, such as the smart tourism data platforms being developed by the Italian and Spanish governments
  • Individual countries’ investments in digital sovereign computing infrastructure that can support data spaces

We expect data spaces to be realised through different architectural and operating models. For example, some of them could consist of a set of common standards maintained by a non-profit association, while others could be based on a federation of national data platforms operated by member states’ governments that build ad hoc integrations for cross-border data exchange. They could also be centred on a joint platform, owned by one or multiple large private sector enterprises that operate as the anchor for a data space.

The Role of European Government in Data Spaces

As these architectural road maps and operating models evolve, it’s important that European governments take an active role in influencing the trajectory. Governments can play five roles in shaping the future of data spaces:

  • Regulator. Governments act as policymakers to set the rules (laws, policies, standards, etc.) for deploying, operating and participating in data spaces.
  • Operator. Governments provide the core data space platform services such as onboarding, identity management, data aggregation, data catalogues, data access and billing.
  • Enabler. Governments fund and/or provide data space platform infrastructure such as connectivity, cloud and edge computing.
  • Data providers. Governments supply data to the data spaces.
  • Data users. Governments consume data from the data spaces.

Senior government leaders should not just wait and see for EU-wide regulations and programmes to define the European data spaces road map. They should take a proactive approach to realise the benefits of data sharing by:

  • Evaluating what role they want to play to maximise the benefits for the public sector and to incentivise private sector contribution, while setting the example in terms of protecting personal data, intellectual property and digital sovereignty
  • Working with the private sector to identify priority use cases, business models, governance models and technical blueprints that accelerate deployment in a secure manner
  • Collaborating with technology suppliers and academia to accelerate development of technologies that enable trusted data sharing in federated, heterogeneous environments
  • Collaborating with enterprises and industry associations to prioritise the data space in which it makes sense for governments to take an operator or enabler role
  • Nurturing organisational competencies and culture that foster data spaces

If you want to learn more about the role governments can play and the capabilities they need for data spaces, read our new study (subscription required) and join us at the IDC Government Xchange.

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