May 11, 2023

A turning point

As data continues to transform industries and economies worldwide, International Data Spaces (IDS) have emerged as a crucial component of secure and efficient data sharing. Sebastian Steinbuss, IDSA's CTO, and Silvia Castellvi, Senior Consultant for Stakeholder Engagement, sat down to discuss the crucial role of standardization for IDSA.

What is the challenge here? With IDS maturing at a rapid pace, it’s essential to ratify the current de facto standard supported by IDSA at an international level. This article sheds light on the significance of standardization in IDS and how it can bolster trust among stakeholders and industry players looking to leverage the power of shared data.

Standardization is a must

Simply put, we are at an inflection point in the evolution and adoption of IDS. At this scale, standardization is no longer an option, it’s a must. The other international standards that we are familiar with, for example IEEE, ISO, and W3C, are fundamental to enabling us to work together. Whether it’s USB-C, HTML, Wi-Fi, electrical plug sockets – these standards are at the core of international interoperability and trade. They are what ensure best practice and collaboration. It’s no different with the communication between data connectors.

While the evolution of data spaces thus far constitutes a major achievement, standardization is what will take the trust which organizations feel able to invest in data spaces to the next level. What’s more, it will democratize data spaces by making them truly accessible. As Sebastian Steinbuss explained:

In Europe, we have legislation such as the Data Governance Act (DGA). Organizations need to be able to show that they are compliant to the Act. Now, they can spend valuable resources on writing reports explaining that they are behaving as they should. But compliance becomes much easier to demonstrate if there is some kind of measure. This is what European standards provide.

From this we can deduce that the barriers to standardization have to be accessible, yet rigorous. It’s a fine balance, but one which the internationally recognized standards we are all familiar with achieve. The process is straightforward: An organization adopts a standard; they then provide evidence of how they are implementing the legislation in their organization; they then undergo external evaluation.

Road map to standardization

While the specific bodies that will provide IDS standards have not yet been decided, the road map to standardization is rapidly taking shape. The first step is to understand where in data spaces is a need for internationally recognized standardization. This will take around six months. “Following this,” Sebastian explained, “we’ll begin a project to delve into what’s already known, what we can further specify, and what we need to investigate. We predict a time frame of one to two years for this. We will then define and ratify a standard with the scope of the ISO. This may take a further year.”

At the European level, progress is already well underway. An IDSA activity-asset – the Data Space Radar – maps what’s happening in the field and the DGA in relation to European Standardization. Another workshop is in progress at the level of the IEEE. This covers the Data Trading System (i.e., data trading within data spaces). The challenge is to align the scopes of these different endeavours. Silvia, IDSA’s standardization project manager, outlined the complexity of the task:

You can think of us as aggregation-experts. We are collecting use-cases and reference implementations of data space across different domains and sectors. We’re then structuring this data as documentation, which our working groups can use as input for standardization. While we have a lot of content from our technical documentation, such as the communication guide, papers on semantic interoperability, the reference architecture, and so on, these only provide guidelines for implementing data spaces. They don’t constitute a standard. These can only be created by standardization bodies.

It’s a feat of collaboration, involving experts working within the standardization bodies, more than 30 research projects within IDSA, as well as the industrial enterprises building data spaces along with their content, requirements, and the technologies that they are using. IDSA’s role is to gather all this data and communicate it via key documents, such as the Reference Architecture Model, which are then handed over to the experts in the standardization bodies who then determine what’s needed to make standardization possible.

As we move closer to the goal, laying the foundation of the European data economy along the way, it’s becoming more and more vital to impress on all stakeholders the importance of standardization. International Data Spaces is currently a European idea; international standardization will incorporate North and South America, African, Australia, and Asia, each of whose national committees will have their own definitions and requirements regarding standardization. As progress quickens, the time these partners to get on board is now.

A clear ROI

The benefits of standardization hardly need repeating. That said, it’s worth emphasizing that when standards are defined, the go-to-market becomes extremely fast, since organizations will know exactly what to adopt and implement in order to participate in a data space.

In such a rapidly evolving technological context, time becomes a key constraint. In this climate, it can be tempting to compromise on security and trust, or worse, to altogether reject opportunities for data sharing and collaboration. The call to action on standardization is therefore clear.

IDSA is already carving out this space by leveraging the results of the projects. But the drive isn’t coming just from IDSA. In addition to the standardization bodies that have already recognized the need for standardization – a major achievement in its own right – the European Commission has also backed the need for action in this space.

Industrial associations like IDSA can drive standardization activities with support from the research projects funded by the European Commission. The innovations delivered by the projects and the broad support from the involved organizations are an effort from the European Commission to make sure that standardization happens. Sebastian pointed out:

“This is our chance for European standards to be driven by European companies.”

IDSA will serve as a hub for stakeholders who are interested in the standardization of their data space connectors and want to stay updated on the latest developments in the field. Through this hub, stakeholders can learn how to contribute to the standardization process and initiate the adoption and implementation of IDS. The time to get involved is now. This is the tipping point when International Data Spaces evolve from a de facto standard to one recognized world-wide as ensuring trust, sovereignty, and interoperability in data-sharing.

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