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European Commission

Neelie Kroes

Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda

The Economic and social benefits of big data

Webcast Conference on Big Data /Brussels

23 May 2013

To add your comment to this speech, see the social version of the speech here

As I speak, the world is generating 1.7 million billion bytes of data per minute. That's over 6 Megabytes per day for every man woman and child on the planet. From instruments, sensors, online transactions, email, videos, and a host of other digital sources.

That's incredible. But the amazing thing isn't just the amount of data: it's what we can do with it these days. And new advances in machine learning, data mining, and visualisation give us ever more ways to extract ever more useful information from ever larger data sets.

As Tim Berners-Lee said: "Data is a precious thing." And he knew that, if you put it online, it will be used by other people to do wonderful things, in ways that you could never imagine. But why is data so valuable?

Quite simply, knowledge is the engine of our economy. And data is its fuel.

For traditional and service sectors, analytics and processing bring new opportunities, transforming efficiency and productivity.

For the public sector, better data allows services that are more efficient, transparent and personalised.

For scientists, open results and open data allow new ways to share, compare, and discover: permitting whole new fields of research.

For citizens, data is the key to more information and empowerment, and to new services and applications (think about using data to improve Internet search engines, to better trace and fight illnesses or to limit road congestion).

We are at the beginning of a paradigm shift. Huge amounts of data are starting to be generated automatically. And we start being able to store, process and analyse these huge amounts. This can change the way we make decisions and run our businesses.

To give you an example, Siemens fits its machinery with sensors, which generate data about its functioning. That data is constantly analysed for any anomalies – to detect failures and fatigue in advance, alert service operators upfront before damage occurs, mitigate the risk of long term service contracts and increase the efficiency of remote monitoring operations.

Although benefits of such 'automatically generated' data, as opposed to obtained manually by a technician dispatched to measure the machine in various ways, are undeniable, automated generation is still not the norm in industrial production.

So, how can people like me support that? I think there are a few ways.

First, regulation. We need a set of rules that maximise the value and minimise the cost of data. Making it freely available for re-use, and freely flowing across Europe. Without compromising on fairness, transparency, or user control.

For one thing, as part of our wider open data strategy, we have revised the rules about public sector data.

In fact, I expect that revised Directive to be finally approved by EU legislators within a matter of weeks. It will make it way easier to use and re-use public data, with lower charges and without complicated conditions for re-use.

Secondly, unlocking this data needs people's trust. So we need a data protection framework that builds that confidence and permits that digital innovation.

We proposed such a framework back in January 2012. A comprehensive reform to take account of both globalisation, and the advance of technology. Because these have massively changed how our data is collected, accessed and used.

We will make it easier for personal data to cross borders, without compromising on the high and consistent protection Europeans expect. We will build in principles like privacy by design, with safeguards built into new ideas right from birth. Plus, different interpretations of existing rules currently mean 27 different ways of enforcing: so working across borders can be a costly headache. Our proposal does away with that fragmentation, with a single data protection Regulation for the whole EU. That could save businesses over €2 billion a year.

Second, it is not just legislation that can support "big data".

Innovative data products and services need interoperability, standardisation, and where possible harmonised formats. Otherwise, the data is there in theory, but it's just too difficult to fit together and use in practice. And it's that much harder to make new ideas work across borders. So we're working in these areas too.

In this respect the Commission has engaged with stakeholders in the European public sector information ecosystem to forge lightweight agreements and standards that are needed to enable interoperability and integration of Public Sector Information.

We are also promoting standardisation of data formats on our EC Open Data portal and one of the goals of our Pan-European Open Data Portal is to drive the harmonisation of data-formats and licensing conditions in Europe.

Open Data standards are also considered in the Commission's R&D project negotiations and are envisioned to continue as part of the Horizon 2020 activities from 2014 inwards.

Third, public funding can also help open data.

For one thing, we can invest in "big data" research and innovation. Under our current research programme we've pumped an average €76 million a year into data and language technologies.

And – provided Council and Parliament give us adequate budget in Horizon 2020 - we intend to continue to fund innovation in the area of data products and services: from business intelligence and decision support to added value services.

Because I want to support a strong European data industry: the companies who can produce and market all this innovation. Some European companies like SAP, ATOS and Telefonica are already established, well-known, and successful.

And already we have many smaller global successes: like Good Data for cloud services, Vestas Wind Systems for collection and analysis; and DataSift, providing real time intelligence from social networks.

But I'd like to see more, and in particular start-ups, with Europe becoming a leading player.

Plus, when we're investing in research, we can practice what we preach. Open access to scientific results and data is a great way to boost science, boost the economy, and enable new techniques and collaborations between disciplines. Really it's quite simple: it's about ensuring you can see the results you've already paid for through your taxes.

And we have set up the Research Data Alliance, so scientific data infrastructure can be fully interoperable, and so sharing data becomes even simpler.

Ladies and gentlemen, that is a little about how I see the open data revolution. And just a little about how we can support it – through legislation, standards, and research funding.

I know we are not alone in seeing this huge economic potential. There's many out there supporting us and there's a great, competitive market out there to get the maximum value from "big data".

That competition is a good thing. It's helping our digital society. Helping innovation, with new and exciting services available for people every day. And it's good for our economy, giving us a much needed boost at a time of crisis.

So thanks for taking part. I hope you have a rewarding day, and look forward very much to all of your contributions.

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