The path to utilising data for a brighter, more efficient future

Labour MEP (S&D) Josianne Cutajar • It is undeniable. The world is changing

Labour MEP Josianne Cutajar
Labour MEP Josianne Cutajar

Occurring right under our noses at a rapid pace, is the exponential growth of data which is, arguably, the most valuable global commodity of our time.

The rate at which technology is progressing and developing may be hard for many of us to conceptualise. That being said, we as individuals, consumers and business owners, must learn to adapt and grow alongside it, developing technology in a human-centric manner, in order to survive and ultimately, thrive. The introduction and application of new intelligent software, artificial intelligence (AI), plus the development of new telecoms such as 5G and beyond, will favour the explosion of the data economy for many sectors.

Big data, the term used for extremely large data sets, was traditionally stored in centralised data centres, where computers would collect, store and process said data. As time wore on, data clouds became the norm, with studies estimating that by 2025, 46% of global data would be stored in cloud public repositories.

It is undeniable. The world is changing. With the advent of intelligent infrastructure, such as Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), as well as the Internet of Things (IoT), data is now produced and stored in a much more decentralised manner. Smart TVs, fridges and vehicles will all contain data and share it with each other without having to connect back to a central server. This is the concept of data at the edge. In this way, benefits such as faster response times, better end user experience and higher levels of efficiency are achieved across most, if not all sectors.

The more data we collect and store, the better the analysis and evaluation. When taking the transport sector into account, for instance, collection and analysis of data can result in a myriad of benefits for both consumers and businesses, including enhanced knowledge and improved customer service. Analysis of big data has the capacity of making customers aware of the most effective form of transport at any given time. Work in a port? Data can help you understand when certain terminals are congested, allowing for the algorithm to rearrange the offloading of cargo and thus diverting it to another side of the port, saving you time, money and endless headaches.

From a customer’s point of view, on the other hand, effective analysis of complaints may lead to a greater successful response. Through smartphones and the right amount of in-time data, if your bus is late, you can simply whip open your app and check for alternative solutions. Other benefits of big data collection include more efficient operations, better road traffic management, safety and most importantly, sustainability.

The combination of effective AI solutions, as well as big data collection will lead to the complete digitisation of the industry. This will ultimately be the key bottom up driver behind the sector’s transition towards a greener, brighter future. The deployment of ITS and smart vehicles, which thrive and make use of the IoT and AI, will result in the reduction of pollution and congestion.

The issue also lies in the fact that many may not understand the benefits of data sharing and therefore, may not willingly share theirs. we must also recognize that it is will not always easy to separate personal and non-personal data.

There is a trust dilemma and trust is everything, when it comes to data sharing. This is where the EU comes in. The Data Governance Act, in whatever form it takes, must create a fluid network, where European businesses and governments can check in and check out of the data spaces, allowing all to benefit from data sharing.

We have all heard the term GDPR being tossed around for years now. In essence, it’s a landmark regulation on the protection of data privacy. On the one hand, GDPR is restricting data sharing and on the other, the EU data strategy is promoting it.

As Shadow Rapporteur to the TRAN opinion entitled ‘A European Strategy for Data’, which is currently being discussed in the European Parliament, I am acutely aware that the success of Europe’s digital transformation over the next five years will depend on establishing effective frameworks to ensure trustworthy technologies, and give businesses the confidence and means to digitise.

How can we facilitate this process? How can we break the barrier and instill trust in those who are dubious? How can we make use of GDPR in a way that it is correctly applied to mixed data sets? How do we allow European business organisations to process our data, without infringing on our fundamental rights?

As many things do, it starts with education. Informing businesses that better data sharing leads to increased competition will undoubtedly stimulate innovation through collaboration models. This will be the main driver for change. Next, new business models must be devised, which foresee a win-win scenario in the sector. Here, the EU Commission must create measures to incentivise voluntary data sharing. It should also look towards regulation of instances where mandatory data sharing would be required such as in the case of systematic market imbalances.

It’s also crucial that data unions and cooperatives are efficiently developed. These will help SMEs, which often fall behind when it comes to digitisation, implement tech solutions and make the most of their data.

What’s more, Europe must combine schools and universities investing in STEM career paths. This will lead to the raising of a generation of engineers and data scientists that will learn and develop the know-how necessary for Europe to succeed on data collection and sharing.

The main objective should, in this case be: harmonising data management across the EU, facilitating interoperability among sectors. In the same vein, upskilling and reskilling programs should also be introduced, especially within the transport sector. Here, all players of the game should be involved, with special attention given to SMEs. They should be taught and informed about storing data in a way that is commonly approved in any given industry, thus creating a system that everyone is familiar with and therefore, can trust more easily.

For the data strategy to succeed data must be available. For this reason we must avoid the concentration of data in the hands of a limited number of platforms.

In truth, digital services, including online platforms and marketplaces, should be kept in check, avoiding anti-competitive behavior. We are attempting to create an open digital market that benefits all, not some. In this way, the EU aims to shape the digital economy and set a global standard, just like it had done with data protection.

For these reasons, the European Parliament has supported a strong text, the Digital Services Act Report, demanding that the Commission tackle current shortcomings in the online environment especially where systemic market imbalances exist, caused by the hoarding of data by some players. Currently, the European Parliament is working on the European Data Strategy Report which will delve into many of the aspects highlighted above.

If, as an EU, we effectively address all the mentioned issues and points, I have no doubt that we will achieve an EU data economy that benefits all, leaving no one on the wayside.

Josianne Cutajar is a Labour MEP • This is a paid post