It is a great pleasure for me to join you here today. It is just the beginning of day two of the European Data Forum – and I am convinced that there will be important conclusions after all the discussions which will help to drive the data economy further.

 

In the midst of the next digital revolution

We are in the middle of a true revolution — the fourth industrial revolution. It will change our industries, it will change our economy. And it will have a profound impact on our lives.

At the third industrial revolution, sometimes referred to as 'the digital revolution', information held on paper turned digital. Data was no longer handled on cardboard files stored in large filing cabinets. IT systems were created for customer relation management, for warehouse management, for accounting. Assembly lines were automated.

But all of this happened separately. Different vendors of software or hardware supplied different solutions, not always compatible. This resulted in a situation where many different IT systems, still in use today, do not talk to one another.

We are now in the midst of the next digital revolution which is precisely based on interconnection and communication: Any object, any machine, are now starting to be equipped with sensors in this "internet of things" - sensors able to communicate and to feed in real time into processes.

The potential of the 'internet of things' becomes obvious when looking at the sheer figures: The US technology consultancy Gartner forecasts that 4.9 billion connected things will be in use in 2015, a number that will reach 25 billion by 2020. The number of connected objects will thus multiply by 5 in just five years!

In this interconnected digital world, particularly data analytics become the key technologies to be mastered. Data analytics can be used for predictive maintenance, to understand customer feedback, to simulate processes and many other things.

This is at the heart of the revolution of what some call 'industry 4.0'. Industry is a key pillar of the European economy – the EU manufacturing sector accounts for 2 million companies and 33 million jobs. Our challenge is to ensure that all industrial sectors make the best use of new technologies and manage their transition towards higher value digitised products and processes.

Moving 'traditional' industries into the interconnected future is a tremendous challenge. That is not only true for manufacturing. It holds also true for service industries such as banks or retailers. There is a risk that European companies that are the global leaders of today will lose out tomorrow as they are unable to turn the new digital opportunities into a strategic advantage.

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What is needed above all today is the creation of "value chains" based on data. This is the way in which different actors use the same basic data as input, but add value to them all along a value chain. This allows a maximum exploitation of the information contained in the data for the benefit of businesses and consumers.

Let me give you some examples: The connected car of the future is not only a consumer of data, but also a producer of data, e.g. on weather and road conditions. The raw data collected by the car can be used in order to enhance weather prediction, ever more granular and in real-time.

The same goes for airplane engines, wind turbines and smart meters. In the near future, an increasing number of intelligent devices and components that are part of our daily lives will be data users and data producers.

This creation of value chains is key to keep Europe competitive as it will be crucial to deliver seamless solutions that integrate data, provide personalised services and tailored immersive products.

Yet, much more needs to be done:

  • First, we need to facilitate access to digital computing infrastructures: for industry, especially for SMEs, and for research centres.

  • Second, we need to ensure access to good quality data.

  • Third, to have regulatory approaches supporting the emerging data economy.

  • Fourth, we need a skilled workforce able to contribute to and benefit from the digital transformation.

  • Finally, we need to catalyse and manage the transformation process.

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Let me elaborate a bit on these five challenges:

 

1) Access to digital computing infrastructures

The availability of and access to high-performance or supercomputing infrastructures is an essential for the digitisation process of industry and for the research community. Yet, there is already an issue of availability of such infrastructures in the EU. Only 1 in 10 most important supercomputing infrastructures in the world is inside the EU. It is based in Jülich which I shall be visiting later in the day.

Fragmentation of such infrastructures (by geography, by user-communities) leads to inefficient investments due to lack of critical mass. There is a clear need to catch up.

Our ambition is that every research centre, every research project and every researcher has access to world-class supercomputing, storage and data facilities on the European territory. This will not only allow our scientific community to regain world leading positions but will also support our research-driven innovation ecosystem.

Europe needs not only to tackle access to world-class computing, it also needs to reach the next level of computing capacity.

But the efforts to reach such a goal should be shared. They should not come from the European Commission alone. Our ambition is thus to coordinate and focus investment – public and private in the coming years. No Member State, even the largest, can successfully compete with the US and China on its own.

As a stimulus we created the Public-Private Partnership on High Performance Computing to which the EC contributes € 700m from the Horizon2020 programme. But much more investment is needed.

In order to step up the effort, the Commission will launch an ambitious European Open Science Cloud initiative to reduce fragmentation, optimise and rationalise investments on digital infrastructures and services. The details of this initiative shall be explained in more detail in a Communication to be published early 2016.

 

In this respect, I welcome and applaud the initiative of the government of Luxembourg together with other partners on an "Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI) on the High Performance Computing value chain" announced here at this conference. Luxembourg is thus taking the lead among several Member States, namely Italy and France. The Project has three components:

  • building a strong European ecosystem, comprising the whole value chain – from hardware to architecture and software development.

  • the establishment of Large Scale Pan-European Pilots that will enable and accelerate the deployment of high-performance computing by European industry and Big data enabled applications.

  • Europe-wide deployment and commercialization.

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2) Access to good quality data

The second challenge "Access to good quality data" is crucial. I will highlight two key aspects:

  • Focus on the Open Data principle as a driver for innovation and growth and

  • setting up the right infrastructures to make data available for experimentation where data cannot be made publicly available.

    Opening up information for re-use has been a long-standing Commission priority. Europe was at the forefront of opening up public sector resources for re-use with the adoption of the "'Public Sector Information Directive'" in 2003. The importance of Open Data is now universally recognised – see the G8 Open Data Charter.

    The Commission does a lot to opening up government-held information for re-use.

     

    We revised the Public Sector Information Directive in 2013 - due to be transposed into Member State legislation by mid July 2015 - with new rules on the right to re-use. But we notice as well a number of interesting developments in Member States and in industry:

  • Austria has a web portal to which private actors can contribute data they want to make openly available;

  • A draft French law may require certain private actors to make data available as Open Data [Loi Lemaire];

  • Commercial transportation companies such as Transport for London or Lufthansa are opening up their data for app developers; you will hear more at the end of this conference.

  • In the pharma industry, the EU-funded OpenPhacts platform encourages sharing of pre-commercial data among pharmaceutical industries so as to speed up innovation.

    Finding relevant open data published by public sector bodies is not easy for developers of applications, in particular smaller companies and individual developers.

    Therefore, Open data policies are accompanied by the setting up of dedicated web portals ("Open Data Portals"). There are more than 300 of them in Europe today, but mostly just in the national language.

    The pan-European open data portal launched at this conference, will provide new solutions for:

  • (1) Aggregating information about all "open data" published by public authorities in Europe in one single web portal;

  • (2) provide a multilingual search inter-face

    and most importantly:

  • (3) make the metadata descriptions of the datasets available in all EU languages.

    This shall stimulate the creation of applications using data from around Europe and make available interesting data to a much broader audience of apps developers. It is thus creating a genuine Single Market for Open Data.

    Accelerating innovation on the basis of Open Data is the third important element of our activities in the field of Open Data. The Commission in this context provides support to SMEs and start-ups through small grants. At this conference you have seen already the most promising winners of the first round of funding.

    Our policy on opening up information in order to stimulate re-use and innovation goes beyond information held by the public sector. It needs also to encompass the results of scientific research – funded by public money.

    In this regard, the European Commission now applies the "Open Access" principle for all publications in scientific journals building on research that the Commission funds under the Horizon 2020 framework programme.

    Opening access to research is important also for improving text- and data-mining possibilities which can be an important driver for innovation and research.

    Allow me to make one remark on text- and data-mining in the context of the upcoming copyright reform. My objective is to come to a balanced proposal that takes into account the needs of the researchers as well as those who make substantial investment in the publication of copyright-protected content. I want to emphasise that it is important to take due account of the interests of those publishing copyright-protected content as it is for those seeking access to this type of content.

    By the end of the year, I intend to present a Communication which will set the scene and put forward the commission work plan on copyright for the rest of the mandate of this College.

     

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3) The need for new regulatory approaches so as to provide legal certainty in the emerging data economy and ensure a true Single Market for data

As with any new technological trend, regulation needs to keep pace with market development. Businesses need legal certainty to build viable business models. A number of elements are being examined by the Commission under the free flow of data initiative which is the cornerstone of our action in favour of a data economy. I am sure this was underscored by Vice President Ansip in his intervention yesterday.

Let me highlight that the key objective is to address legal and technical barriers to the free flow of data in the EU and to provide industry with the legal certainty it needs so that data can be exchanged and traded as any other commercial good.

That is why we are reflecting on appropriate measures in respect of:

  • potential difficulties resulting from civil law rules on data as a commercial object – or from the absence of such rules;

  • questions of liability;

  • restrictions on intra-EU data transfers;

  • other unjustified restrictions on access to data and its usability.

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4) Skills

Let me come to the forth main element of the data economy after infrastructures and data: The data skilled professional.

There is a clear call for action. While we have to acknowledge that education is a matter for Member States, the Commission tries to play the role of facilitator of innovation in the education sector. That is why invited together with PM Bettel Ministers from the Member States coming from different angles – economy, telecoms, labour and education – to find common ground on how to tackle the skills problem.

Futhermore, funded from our research and innovation budget, we are setting up a European Data Science Academy. It will analyse the skills gap for data science in Europe, it will develop curricula to meet these needs and will deliver training based on these curricula. I thus invite you to follow the discussion in the dedicated session later in the day where you can learn more about the European Data Science Academy.

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5) Managing the change

So far, I have sketched out the four main preconditions for a thriving data economy in Europe: infrastructure, data, regulation and skills. Yet, we also need to foster new ecosystems and a new mentality.

The challenge of making use of the tremendous opportunities brought by the data-driven innovation is too big for any company alone. You need partnerships among large players, between large players and small, between private research funding and public research funders. And you need a smart approach to regulation so that all the partnerships can thrive. You need access to brain power, to smart and agile minds and not least: to capital, most often being risk-capital.

In the ideal scenario, the dense network of such partnerships would evolve into an ecosystem in which all partners thrive, and on a pan-European level.

Strategically, the Commission has always been in close contact with the relevant government bodies in the Member States to coordinate policy and research and innovation funding strategies in any sector. This is also true for the emerging sector of 'data-driven innovation'. Yet, we may need to put this issue higher on the political agenda.

Secondly, we are partnering up in a number of domains with the industry, not only in order to align our research and innovation activities in Public-Private Partnerships. Let me in particular emphasis the Big Data Value PPP. It is an initiative of the Commission and more than 130 companies have joined forces in order to drive forward data-driven innovation.

Additionally, sometimes we need catalysts for collaboration – or catalysts for change. As we have learned in chemistry, the presence of two elements may lead to a reaction, but sometimes the reaction could be very slow. That is why a catalyst is sometimes needed in order to help the reaction to happen.

In the end what matters is finding today the solutions for tomorrow and showcase the capacity of our industry to master the data challenge.

This conference demonstrates enough examples to keep me optimistic that European industry has the capacity of mastering the change. In this respect I wish this conference a good success.