But does it have to be this way? What if there was a single electronic platform accommodating all our personal data for the salesclerk to easily retrieve? Of course, this platform would have to be secure and protected against unauthorized access. At the same time, it should be possible for us to access the platform ourselves, and get a transparent and reliable overview of who is actually storing and using our personal data, and for what purpose.
Such a platform is not science fiction. In a joint effort, Fraunhofer Institute for Software and Systems Engineering (Fraunhofer ISST), Deutsche Telekom, and orbiter.de, three member organizations of the International Data Spaces Association (IDSA), have developed a demonstrator named “Digital Life Journey“, aiming at giving data sovereignty back to consumers. “Data sovereignty has been a big topic for business for quite some time. With Digital Life Journey, we now want to empower each individual to retain control over their personal data“, says Sven Meister of Fraunhofer ISST.
We do not know how often German Chancellor Angela Merkel happens to rent a car at a desk inside an international airport. What we do know is that Mrs. Merkel stopped by IDSA’s booth at the 2019 Digital Summit, which was hosted by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy last October in Dortmund. “We need to improve the mechanisms for tracing back who had access to our personal information in the past, and who has so now“, said Mrs. Merkel, after getting an impression of how Digital Life Journey works. Lawmakers have recognized the growing importance of the platform economy, which is why digital platforms were in the focus of the 2019 Digital Summit. In line with this megatrend, Peter Altmaier, Germany’s Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, introduced “Gaia-X“, a cloud project aiming at establishing a European network for data exchange, for which the International Data Spaces (IDS) family provides the fundament. “In Gaia-X, the IDS initiative is responsible for ensuring data sovereignty when data is exchanged and used“, said Boris Otto, head of Fraunhofer ISST. “Gaia-X and the IDS standard will merge to create and establish a networked data infrastructure that covers the entire data value chain on the basis of the principles of data sovereignty. ”
Secure and trustworthy data marketplaces – thanks to IDS
The IDS standard creates secure and trustworthy data spaces to which companies, public agencies, and individuals can upload data and manage it. It is particularly important for industries in which it is necessary to have access to large data inventories coming from various sources (to create AI applications, for example). Participating in an Industrial Data Space allows organizations to share their data with other organizations on the basis of self-defined data usage policies, which is a necessary precondition to keep control over one’s data.
With the IDS standard, Fraunhofer ISST and IDSA aim at facilitating secure and trustworthy data exchange at an international level. IDSA meanwhile counts over one-hundred member organizations (i.e. companies and research institutes) pressing ahead the development of the IDS technology. To sustainably establish digital platforms, the IDS architecture is essential. This is why Digital Life Journey also builds upon the IDS standard. “IDS makes sure that personal data is used responsibly“, Sven Meister says. In the above example of renting a car, this means that the rental company and the customer save a lot of time, as the salesclerk gets fast and secure access to the data she requires – but only for the specific purpose and situation. “IDS makes the interaction between the supplier or service provider and the customer becomes much more transparent“, Sven Meister adds. “We suppose that a responsible way of dealing with customers‘ personal data will become a crucial component of sustainable supplier-customer relationships.“
Data privacy and protection plays a key role
Digital Life Journey can be viewed as a direct outcome of GDPR, the European Union‘s General Data Protection Regulation, which has been effective since May 2018. GDPR grants every citizen the right to request and obtain information from data collectors on the storage and use of their personal data. While this was a difficult endeavor in the past, as every single data collector had to be contacted separately to get the information, Digital Life Journey now allows retrieving this information via a central platform.
IDS is not just relevant when it comes to the interaction between a supplier or service provider and a customer. “International Data Spaces connect companies across different industries throughout Europe already today“, said Anja Karliczek, Federal Minister of Education and Research, at the 2019 Digital Summit. How this is facilitated by the IDS standard was demonstrated by another solution presented in Dortmund, named “Open and Federal Platforms in Logistics“. The logistics industry is characterized by multiple, diverse service providers collaborating across the data value chain. There is the forwarding company and its data; and there is the customer, which needs the product data and transport data for its production processes. Each player involved in the overall logistics process possesses data that would be of great help to the other players involved – if they had access to it. With the help of IDS, data can be shared and exchanged on a secure and trustworthy basis. But IDS allows much more: As such a setting sees not just two, but several partners concluding a contractual agreement, also contract management can be facilitated over IDS. “All partners involved are connected via IDS“, says Jens Leveling of Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (Fraunhofer IML), a co-developer of the demonstrator. “Take the picking up of trash containers, for example. In this scenario, each container measures its fill level itself and passes on the data to the collector company, which uses the information to optimize route planning and save costs by avoiding empty runs.“
Digital business models based on collaboration
In the process of sustainably establishing digital platforms, one of the biggest challenges is the development and establishment of suitable, digital business models. If these business models are beneficial, companies are willing to participate in the exchange of data over digital platforms, thereby creating win-win situations. Take the car industry, for example: Unlike auto repair shops that are contractually approved by the insurer of the car, independent repair shops have no access to the car manufacturer’s original product data; using a digital platform as a mediator, however, independent repair shops can retrieve the data and order the spare parts required directly at the manufacturer.
For IDS based digital platforms to become a success story, a high-performance digital infrastructure (e.g. 5G) is mission-critical. “Without realtime communication, there will be no Industry 4.0“, says Friedhelm Loh, chairman of Friedhelm Loh Group, whose largest subsidiary is Rittal, one of IDSA’s member organizations. And Jörg Hofmann, chairman of IG Metall, Germany’s leading union of metalworkers, adds: “Today, innovation is mostly data-driven. IDS is perfectly suited to establish data sovereignty across Europe, so that European values and standards make our companies stay competitive in the future.”