February 2, 2023

The first testbed for students

They are critical in the development of IDS software components and provide a controlled environment for evaluating functionality and performance: IDS testbeds. One of these testbeds is located at the VTT Technical Research Center in Finland, where it is frequently used by students at Oulu University – the first university in the world to teach students how to develop IDS components for data spaces.

The testbed is a part of the research and technology company VTT’s Data Space Innovation Lab. Its function is to test data sharing technology, to make sure it is working correctly. The university course uses the lab to train its software engineers.

We spoke with two people responsible for the pioneering collaboration: Minna Isomursu, professor for digital health and data-driven services at the University of Oulu and Tuomo Tuikka, lead for data space solutions at VTT. Why are data ecosystems, why is data management so important for future software engineers?

A new mindset for the data economy

“We in Europe are creating and investing in technical infrastructures to be adopted by industry, so people – who will work there – should have the skills to use them,” explains Minna Isomursu. It is important to train students, so that they develop a mindset of how to work in these emerging environments. Tuomo Tuikka says, “We are laying the foundation for new ways to share data and new kinds of services and the data economy altogether”.

The topics of data sharing in data spaces and entire data ecosystems are new to the software engineering curriculum. The University of Oulu is now even establishing collaborative relationship with many universities in Europe – under the Digital Europe and other frameworks – to scale up.

The focus of the course is not on teaching specific technical implementations and solutions – because technology is constantly developing and changing. The technical elements organizations use today might not exist any more by the time the students graduate. So more importantly, they are taught ways of thinking, an understanding on the conceptual level.

Getting your hands dirty!

“It’s also about being very concrete. To have your hands in the dirt, so to speak!” Tuomo Tuikka states. The practical experimentation in the test environment gives the students the opportunity to play around with the components in the testbed and to run interoperability tests. Truly sharing data and seeing how it works makes the learning more contextualized and more impactful for the students. Learning by doing. And it is mutual beneficial: The students learn about testbeds, data spaces and ecosystems, giving VTT feedback how these testbeds work in practice.

The students are very enthusiastic to learn what the possibilities of data sharing mean for the European economy and what positive societal effects data sharing can have. The generation now being educated is already quite experienced in its use of data. They are innovative, creating concepts and ideas based on what they learn at the university. In addition to the degree program, there’s a huge need in upskilling people who are already in the workforce. A very important aspect for Europe to tackle.

VTT and IDSA are in it together

IDS is an approach to sovereign data sharing and a good example of the European value-based principles for data sharing. It is an example of how the European way of data sharing, which recognizes the rights of all participants and emphasizes security, can be put into practice. IDS has already developed much knowledge around data spaces. While building and further developing the testbed, VTT is also an applicant for the IDS Certification. And VTT engineers have the skills to support this effort. So, in a way this is a co-creation of VTT and IDSA.

VTT not only offers the testbed to students but also to industry and anyone else who’s interested in data sharing. In fact, we’re talking about the data space implementation – even though it is called a testbed – it’s actual a data space which can be used anywhere for many purposes. It is also conveying to others: OK you can do it this way!

Since in a testbed any connector can be tested, anybody who makes their own connector, can test it there too. The whole point is to be interoperable no matter which connector is used.

VTT is the Finnish IDSA hub facilitator. Visit the website for more information: Home – IDSA Hub Finland (idsa-finland.fi)

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