July 8, 2021

“Data Spaces Are Universal”

Isabel Matranga is R&D Chief Communication Officer at Engineering. She talks about the importance of data spaces in the development of digital ecosystems.

Can you give us a definition of data spaces, explaining their benefits and applications?

One of the key factors driving the development of the digital economy is data and the possibility of accessing data and using it to maintain high levels of innovation and competitiveness. The data economy requires rules and technologies to ensure that all stakeholders can face the new challenges presented by the Digital Transformation process in a reliable and sustainable way. It is in this context that the concept of “data spaces” was born. This term refers to interconnected digital ecosystems that are capable of guaranteeing an increasing availability of data, access to data, and the secure and reliable sharing of data through digital platforms and the application of clear and shared standards and rules in terms of governance.

In data spaces the principle of the so-called “data sovereignty” applies, according to which data can be used in line with rules set by the data owner. This makes it possible to use data in a shared manner, in accordance with strictly defined rules, providing players, in productive ecosystems, the possibility to develop families of innovative applications that make new business models possible. Data spaces, therefore, enable the creation of value networks that are characterized by a data-driven and cross-sector approach, without geographical boundaries, for the benefit of all stakeholders (e.g. companies, public administrations, research bodies, and associations).

Engineering and IDSA participated in the identification of design principles for the creation of data spaces: can you tell us about them?

Technically speaking, the characteristics of data spaces can be defined as “universal”, and are therefore independent of the specific application sectors. The creation of data spaces thus becomes mainly a coordination challenge between different industries.

This is the context in which the H2020 OPEN DEI project was born, a Coordination and Support Action (CSA) in which Engineering is a partner. As part of this project, the Digital Transformation Data Sharing Spaces taskforce, led by IDSA, was established with the objective of developing a common approach to data spaces in the four sectors addressed by the project (Manufacturing, Health & Care, Agrifood and Energy), based on the recommendations provided by the EU Data Strategy, published on 19 February 2020.

Between the end of 2020 and early 2021, the taskforce saw active collaboration between more than 40 experts from more than 25 organisations and 13 projects. The main result of the task force was the recent publication of a position paper on design principles for the creation of data spaces. The document provides guidelines on building blocks for the creation of a soft infrastructure and governance for data spaces, guidelines which are applicable in all vertical markets from industry to agriculture, and from health to mobility.

How can data spaces facilitate the (inclusive) development of digital ecosystems based on the interoperability of data?

Data spaces are at the centre of an integrated journey that the European Commission is defining towards the development of the digital economy of the future. This is a decisive challenge for European competitiveness. The main objective is the definition of a common and shared approach to ensure that Europe plays a leading role in the data economy.

The goal of the Commission is the realisation of a single data market, the Common European Data Spaces, which can be accessed by public administrations, companies and citizens, allowing them to use available data in a secure and fair manner for the common good. These ecosystems offer and will offer equal opportunities and equal conditions in the exchange of data based on principles agreed upon by all participants, relying on a federated design and on open standards.

These aspects translate into the need to agree upon and implement mechanisms of interoperability. For this reason, initiatives like IDSA and Gaia-X are fundamental for the implementation and sustainability of data spaces. These initiatives bring about concrete cooperation between players from the main industrial sectors.

How do you see the future of data spaces, and how can they become the route to the creation of new business services?

Data sovereignty and data sharing are considered to be some of the most important drivers of economic growth in the near future. Precisely because of this, in Engineering’s vision, data spaces play a fundamental role. These are the real enablers of economic growth, supporting the creation and expansion of data-driven markets and the emergence of new business opportunities for enterprises in all sectors and of all sizes. Europe has a very diversified business landscape, unlike other continents where the landscape is dominated by giants, and it also has a very mature regulatory framework on data protection and ethical values.

These two elements represent our strengths. If properly exploited, they will help to position Europe at the forefront of innovation with regard to data and Artificial Intelligence, creating new business opportunities (“the European way”).

In essence, through data spaces, it will be possible to achieve a single data market, from which all companies will be able to benefit, regardless of their size and the sector in which they operate. It will also be possible to increase the availability of data and its heterogeneity, for further development and use of solutions based on artificial intelligence, and to improve and increase innovative data-driven business models to support new ecosystems with added value.

This interview was originally published by Engineering.

Isabel Matranga is R&D Chief Communication Officer at Engineering supporting the Research & Development labs teams in the communication and dissemination of project results.

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