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EU Data Strategy: Helping Themselves

by Andrew White  |  August 4, 2020  |  Comments Off on EU Data Strategy: Helping Themselves

I read the EU Data Strategy some weeks ago. The document was made available for public comment. I posted to my blog some comments and challenges I felt it contained back in March: The Value of Data.

The biggest challenge of all is that the EU is seeking to create a market for data. There are of course already many markets for data. There are also numerous use cases for data. Many public sector agencies collect data and so do private industry. But the EU seems focused on a need for a kind pan-EU market.  I am not altogether sure what this means, but the preamble emphasizes the lead the US seems to have due to large private companies such as Facebook, Amazon, Google and the like.  Of course, it could well be that the EU is really looking at the growth of multi-sided platform business models that just happen to be more effectively developed in the US.  I wonder why that would be?

It could well be that the size and success of firms like Facebook, Google and Amazon, have triggered this response. Why doesn’t the EU have its own private private organizations emulating such firms?  Is it the lack data? Or might that be the difference in the political and regulatory institutions, and the motivations to innovate and drive growth?  That sounds political so we should ignore that.  We must revert to something else: hence a Data Strategy…

It so happens that I was reading a public document from the European Data Protection Supervisor. It was the Opinion 3/2020 on the European strategy for Data. In this document I found some interesting points. Here is a pretty big one that caught my eye:

“25. Any subsequent use of data, collected and/or shared for a public good/public interest function (e.g. for improving transport/mobility or tacking serious cross-border threats to health), for commercial for-profit purposes (for instance insurance, marketing etc.) should be avoided.”

This use of data, collected by the EU market, was implied as ‘function creep’ and might undermine the trust citizens have, it said.

I didn’t quite understand this important point in reading the EU Data Strategy. If I had it didn’t sink in. Effectively the EU Data Strategy wants to create a ‘data space’ that is not a market at all, but is more like a data common. The data would be collected (from private and public organizations) and managed and used for public sector, non-profit use only. Even if said non-profit uses had equivalent for-profit solutions.

How many commons-based good and services can you count that have operated efficiently? How many works well? To work at all they must be highly regulated. Uses for the data will have to be designed. Suppliers of data will have to share data by edict, leading to conflicts of interest between private hoarding of data for natural, competitive reasons, and sharing for common, free use.  Costs for everybody will increase: The EU is adamant it wants processing core to operate as an alternative to the cloud that seems to be so US centric.

Is there an increase return on investment here? Or an improved cost to serve? From a political perspective I don’t see it. From a D&A perspective this seems a tall order.

Back in the US the Federal Government mandated, some years ago, healthcare data interoperability as part of a broad initiative to help healthcare organizations across the USA work better together. It is part of a program called Health IT.  Go check it out and see how that is doing.  I have blogged several times that the problem with achieving interoperability is not any longer a technical issue. In fact, data interoperability stopped being a technology issue 30 years ago. When EDI was invented, we had the technology we needed. APIs and service buses and cloud are just newer forms and formats and functions to move data faster, to more places.  The fundamental challenge with interoperability is semantics in the data shared across stakeholders and that is driven by use-case and outcomes improved by that shared data.  All this is missing in Health IT (as far as I can tell).  Don’t for get the largest companies on the planet have also tried to implement data interoperability in support of their own many to many trading networks.  They didn’t work as planned either.

So, will the EU Data Strategy leader identify business outcomes first, then use cases and their data requirements second, to drive the requirements about technology? Or will they first create their own processing capability requirements (for hardware) to compete with the American firms? If I had any spare money, I would make you a small wager which approach is most likely, based on how most organizations behave: its easier to just develop stuff than think through the real goal of, “What is the outcome that matters?”

But this EU data common is not going to be a market. Huge volumes of data will be duplicated. Private firms who are invested to collect data to solve problems through efficient capital allocation methods will be disincentivized to keep similar data to that witch the EU data common collects; and/or those same firms will be motivated to avoid the same use cases the EU Data Strategy will target.

In its conclusion the European Data Protection Supervisor “understands the growing importance of data for the economy and society and supports the ambition to make the European Union “the most attractive, most secure and most dynamic data-agile economy in the world”.” These are great words.  But I am not sure how what is articulated creates this condition.  It would seem to me that currently the EU Data Strategy will displace and undermine the very competitive forces and allocation practices it seeks to create. I can tell that certain data and technology vendors and consultants are smiling from ear to ear as they think about the money they are about to engage with.

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Category: data-strategy  eu  european-union  health-it  interoperability  

Andrew White
Research VP
8 years at Gartner
22 years IT industry

Andrew White is a Distinguished Analyst and VP. His roles include Chief of Research and Content Lead for Data and Analytics. His main research focus is data and analytics strategy, platforms, and governance. Read Full Bio




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