Mar. 26, 2015

The amount of raw data being collected has been exponentially increasing and has growing economic potential. Big data will be of considerable benefit to the European Union (EU) and leaders of Europe are encouraging experts in research and innovation, as well as entrepreneurs, to take part in exploiting its potential. This article covers recent developments by the EU and member states regarding big data.

1.The EU’s Strategy on Big Data

Today, virtually every social and economic activity can be carried out on the Internet producing about 1.7 petabytes (1.7 × 1015 bytes) of data every minute worldwide, with a single person producing an average of over six megabytes per day.*1 The data collected encompasses everything from climate information, satellite pictures, digital photos, and business transaction records to Global Positioning System (GPS) signals. The EU recognizes big data as a driver of the future European economy and urges that its potential be exploited.

In July 2014, the European Commission outlined a new strategy on big data with the intention to support and accelerate transition to a data-driven economy.*2 The data-driven economy is anticipated to promote data research and innovation, enhance knowledge and capital for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and increase business opportunities. International Data Corporation’s*3 2012 report predicted that the global big data technology and services market will expand from US$ 3.2 billion in 2010 to US$ 16.9 billion in 2015, generating a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 39.4%, which is seven-fold that of the overall information and communication technology (ICT) market.*4 According to e-skills UK*5 and the SAS Institute Inc.*6 the number of big data experts employed in large enterprises is likely to rise by 240% over the next 3 years in just the UK.*7

The booming big data trend across the world has potential in various areas such as healthcare, food security, resource efficiency, intelligent transport systems and smart cities, which Europe cannot afford to miss. In order to seize such opportunities and compete in the global data market, the EU promises to do the following*2:

  • Support initiatives that can play central roles in enhancing competitiveness, quality of public services, and quality of life
  • Develop potential technologies to build foundations for infrastructure and skills, particularly for SMEs
  • Share, utilize, and develop open data sources and research data infrastructure on the large scale
  • Focus public research and innovation on finding solutions to technological, legal, and other barriers
  • Consolidate a data-friendly environment through relevant legal frameworks and policies
  • Streamline public administrations and services through increased digitization
  • Use public procurement to reflect the outcome of data technologies into the market

Additionally, the member states and the EU bodies need to prepare coordinated action plans to guarantee availability of the scope and size necessary to conduct activities and to ensure the success of the strategy. By implementing these plans, the EU expects outcomes such as accelerated innovation, growth of productivity, strengthened competitiveness in the data sector and the whole economy, and the solid presence of Europe in the global data market.

A strategic initiative on the data value chain, precedent to the new EU strategy, began in November 2013 at the ICT 2013 conference lead by the former Vice President of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes. This initiative concentrated on nurturing a coherent ecosystem surrounding European data, which can foster active research and innovation as well as utilize accrued services and products. The most noteworthy concept of the initiative was building public-private partnerships (PPPs), which was embedded in the 2014 version of the strategic initiative.

2.Shaping PPPs

The European Commission does not believe that Europe is fulfilling the role it should in the global big data market. Among the top 20 companies with the highest revenue from big data-related businesses, only four are European. To reach a breakthrough, Europe must strengthen the data value chain, and henceforth, a vibrant ecosystem centered on big data and a data-driven innovation business model will develop. The data value chain includes all activities, people, and organizations associated with a sequence of big data business from data formation, analysis, utilization, to value addition.

For a smooth transition into a data-driven economy, the European Commission is cooperating with the European private sector (primarily important companies, SMEs, researchers, and research institutions) to work together in data research and innovation, and also to advance the formation of a data community.

In October 2014, the European Commission and Big Data Value Association, composed of private enterprises, signed the Big Data Value Public Private Partnership (BDV PPP) agreement with a total of €2.5 billion capital invested from the both parties.*8 The BDV PPP lists concrete objectives:

  • Raising the European supplier share in the global data market to 30%
  • Creating 100,000 new employments in the European big data sector by 2020
  • Cutting energy consumption by 10% and improving healthcare results and industrial machinery productivity*1

The Big Data Value Association was established in Belgium with 24 founding members, including IBM, Siemens, NOKIA Solutions and Networks, and the Technical University of Berlin.*1 BDV PPP is seen as the first step towards promising growth of a data community and a driver for accelerating, strengthening, and actuating innovation in the European economy. The EU has decided to allocate over €500 million for BDV PPP during the 5-year implementation period (2016-2020) from Horizon 2020, in addition to over €2 billion from private partners, to support BDV PPP activities. BDV PPP is also one of the first outcomes among implemented policies for developing data-driven economy and therefore, expectations are high.*1

Horizon 2020 is the EU’s largest research and innovation funding program in continuation of the previous program, the 7th Framework Program (FP7, 2007-2013), aimed to strengthen Europe’s competitiveness, with an approximately €80 billion budget between 2014 and 2020.*9 The European Commission views partnership between the private sector and the EU as a powerful concept to leverage extra investments as well as to heighten industrial leadership.*10

The program consists of three pillars of priority: excellent science, industrial leadership, and societal challenges,*11 and there were two funding calls for proposals relating directly to big data. The first call had a total budget of €658,500,000 and was for proposals relating to big data and open data innovation and uptake. This call was open between December 2013 and April 2014 and selected proposals are confidential because they are now in a stage of discussion over funding terms. The expected impacts from this call are as follows*12:

  • Better access to more than several gigabytes of open data provided by the public and private sectors, promoting value creation and reuse of data by many European users
  • Feasible and barrier-free intraregional data supply changes across Europe in a robust and growing ecosystem where SMEs in particular can generate ample revenue
  • Development of marketable innovative data analytics solutions by European companies
  • Deployment of educational material for data professionals and acquisition of skilled workers trained in cutting-edge data analytics technologies capable of operating intraregional data supply chains across Europe
  • Efficacious networking and cooperation of all relevant stakeholders surrounding the challenges of European Big Data situations as well as all three pillars of Horizon 2020

The second call for proposal is for big data research and is currently open for submissions (deadline April 14, 2015). The total budget for this call is €561,000,000 and the expected impacts follow*1:

  • Enable a tracking and quantifying system for optimizing the performance and progress of massive data analytics and technologies in a European data ecosystem where hundreds of companies interact
  • Advance simultaneous and predictive data analytics technologies with proven scalability, accuracy, and feasibility by experimentation that will be ready to be used by thousands of innovators as well as used extensively by system developers
  • Validate the capability of developed technologies to be able to cope with rapidly growing data volumes and variety
  • Demonstrate the technological and value-generating potential of the European Open Data to strengthen the market position and create jobs within hundreds of Europe-based data intensive companies

3.Tactics by EU Member States

United Kingdom

The UK government in association with the EU considers big data a vital driver of the UK economy and listed it under one of the elements of the “Eight Great Technologies” for the country to remain globally competitive. Seemingly, the UK is ahead of other member states. In September 2012, the government invested £189 million in data infrastructure, and in February 2014, a new £73 million investment plan (Table 1) was announce intending to enhance accessibility to big data for the public and academics. It is anticipated that the UK big data market will not only attribute £216 million of economic effects, but also generate 58,000 new jobs by 2017.*13 A total of 55 projects will receive funds from their relevant councils to investigate solutions and hasten innovation in various areas from human diseases to transport systems.

Funding body Primary purpose Fund (GBP)
The Medical Research Council Improving understanding of human diseases through human bioinformatics 50 million
The Arts and Humanities Research Council Publicizing data normally available for only academics 4 million for 21 new projects
The Economic and Social Research Council Making data provided by private organizations and local governments available to academics in various fields 14 million for four new research institutes at the University of Essex, University of Glasgow, University College of London, and University of Leeds
The Natural Environment Research Council Allowing use of current environmental data for UK research communities 4.6 million for 24 projects

Table 1. Breakdown of the New Investment in Big Data Research & Innovation by the UK Government.

  • *Created by London Research International based on information from the UK Department of Business, Innovation & Skills.*13

France

The French government is also attempting to promote data research and innovation; however, their funding is open to everyone in the world with creative ideas that will contribute to the wealth and future of France.

In April 2013, the government launched the Innovation 2030 Worldwide Challenge under the Innovation framework to fund innovation projects. This contest has seven goals with big data as the seventh goal.*14 Successful applicants should design projects to enhance data use as well as define and encourage new data application and analytic models. Selection proceeds in three phases depending on the progress of the project:

  1. 1Start-up Phase: targeting projects in the early development stage
  2. 2Risk Reduction Phase: targeting projects that aim for commercialization with an ambitious business plan
  3. 3Development Phase: targeting projects in the commercialization or scale-up stage

By the end of Phase I (December 2, 2013-May 15, 2014), a total of 58 projects were selected, and they were granted €200,000 each.*15 Phase II was open for applications from October 2, 2014 to March 2, 2015, with 40 projects planned to be selected during this period. Phase III is planned to take place in 2016 and will not call for new applications but instead, seven projects will be selected from the phase II projects.*16

Co-financed with the Public Investment Bank, €30 million in total is available to support the winning projects of the competition, which are expected to come from SMEs. The French government’s purpose is to discover talented entrepreneurs and cultivate their leadership for the future French economy.*14

4.Challenges

The prominent challenges Europe may face in building a data-driven economy were referred to in a recent publication of the US National Academy of Engineering*17:

  • Fragmented data ecosystem due to differences in policies, official languages, and relevant sectors from one country to another
  • Fragmented strategies of data research and lack of efficient exchange of research results
  • Lack of workforce equipped with high ICT skills who can engage in data-related work
  • Complicated processes in reforming laws
  • Uncertainties regarding personal information protection policies and their implementation

While data production and sharing initiatives progress, issues of data privacy cannot be neglected. European citizens wish to prioritize protection of private information and the rights to protect it; on the other hand, that comes with the risk of potentially restricting technology and digital service advancement. Representing the EU, Neelie Kroes stated that none of our activities must be exchanged for our basic rights. As big data advances, innovating the management of private information should also be embraced.*17 As mentioned in the final stage of the EU’s 4-step strategy for big data, gaining “trust and security”*18 in big data business will be a significant challenge, and there is a need to avoid controversy.

Nations are racing against each other in the big data industry. Europe has finally realized they may fall further behind if radical actions are not taken, leading to the establishment of strategies as well as the provision of monetary support, particularly in research and innovation and PPPs. In the big data market, which is full of new opportunities for economic growth, the key to Europe’s success is to speed up the consolidation of e-infrastructure at a faster pace than that of other nations.