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European Commission

Neelie Kroes

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

Big data for Europe

ICT 2013 Event – Session on Innovating by exploiting big and open data and digital content /

Vilnius 7 November 2013

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

Welcome to you all.

Today we are discussing online content.

Digital content that can serve the needs of every European, and generate new opportunities for business.

It's the life that flourishes in a vibrant digital ecosystem.

Today I want to talk about one particular digital tool that can do so much for us: big data.

It's often said we are in the era of big data.

What does that mean?

For one thing, it means we have more and more data at our disposal. Take all the information humanity produced from the dawn of civilisation until 2003 – now, we produce the same amount in just two days.

But, more importantly, it means we can manage, manipulate and use that big data like never before.

Thanks to high-powered, high-performance digital tools.

And the applications are huge. From predicting the traffic to predicting the economy. Translating a foreign website to designing better aircraft engines to detecting cancer. Improving business models, or looking for the Higgs boson.

Whatever you're trying to do these days, chances are you are using big data.

That's why this magic material, data about the reality around us, is becoming the fuel for innovation. Powering and energising our economy. With a data market worth tens if not hundreds of billions of euros a year to our economy.

Take just one sector: healthcare. A complex task like decoding the human genetic code – needing analysis of 3 billion base pairs— took ten whole years back in 2003: now it can be achieved in just one week. Thanks to faster processing. At these speeds big data becomes relevant for day-to-day decision-making. So there are big data benefits in preventing diseases, cutting out unnecessary tests, or testing how effective new drugs and treatments actually are. Indeed, one study put the value of big data in US healthcare at over $300 billion a year.

Many have understandable concerns over big data and privacy.

Let me be clear. Nothing we do should be at the expense of fundamental rights. Mastering big data means mastering privacy too.

But here too technology, and the right legal framework, can help.

Much big data does not concern individuals.

For data that does concern people, we need firm and modern data protection rules that safeguard this fundamental right.

And we need digital tools to help people take control of their data, so that they know they can be confident to trust this technology.

Then we have a virtuous circle, where technological progress, our legal framework, and our fundamental rights mutually support each other.

Privacy is essential. But it cannot be an excuse to avoid this topic.

Without a European capability we would have just two options.

Either to rely on solutions from abroad. With all its disadvantages.

Or turn our backs on a huge opportunity. A sector with 40% annual growth, where job opportunities have grown 12 fold over 20 years, one which offers businesses in many sectors a productivity boost over 5%.

Again, take healthcare. Concerns on the use of that data are legitimate. But the fact is that big data, suitably anonymised, can improve healthcare and save lives. So failing to act would also be a concern.

Big data doesn't just boost productivity and employment. But helps us manage healthcare, transport, the environment, or undertake new kinds of scientific research. And improve transparency and performance in the public sector, too.

That's why they say big data is not just a new sector, but a new asset class. One that sits as a pillar of our economy, like human resources or financial capital.

Those other asset classes benefit from an EU boost. Both labour and capital can circulate around the EU free of borders. Those are the fundamental freedoms of our single market.

But what about big data?

The fact is: in Europe we face many barriers. Many are involved in this field – researchers and manufacturers, suppliers and demanders. But ultimately we do not have a coherent data ecosystem. It is fragmented between sectors, languages and national borders. In each EU country, different laws and policy practices affect what can be done with data, and shatter the digital single market.

Data research is also highly fragmented. There are many investments made by many bodies public and private; many universities and research institutions. But those results need to feed off each other and cross-fertilise; without the right networks between them we are missing out.

Data sets also do not interoperate or work together on their own. It is not even easy to find all open data: there is no common view or link between individual infrastructures or pools.

Plus we are not preparing for the rising employment demand. We will soon have a huge skills shortage for data-related jobs. It's time trainers and hirers started talking.

Other parts of the world are investing heavily. Of the top 20 big data companies, 17 are from the US; just 2 from Europe.

That lack of European leadership has implications not just for our big data industry. But for every business and every sector that could get the big data boost.

Put the data together, and the value of the whole is far more than the sum of its parts. That's why we need economies of scale. Essential for analysing for meaningful, valuable outcomes. And essential if we are to compete globally.

This kind of work needs huge processing power. But the highest performance computers are unaffordable by any member state, even the largest, acting alone. A piecemeal approach would be inefficient, and subscale.

And as it stands, too many companies and public services don't fully benefit, from their own data or from others'.

That's why we need to work together. And enjoy those economies of scale.

We have taken a big step forward with new legislation to open up public sector information. With more consistent rules to unlock this goldmine – for better public services, more transparency, and new innovative applications. Plus, under the Connected Europe Facility, we plan to fund a pan-European open data portal.

But this is not just about open public data. And we need to go further in building this ecosystem. This is an area where public and private interests interrelate and intertwine.

There is investment on offer, public and private. Including the EU's Horizon 2020 programme, with 90 million euros available over the next two years.

In similar areas with similar challenges - electronics , photonics, robotics - we have launched new partnerships. To get active partners together and jointly develop a way forward. Taking their requirements and turning them into a research roadmap. Federating our research effort in Europe. With national and EU research programmes coordinated to reach the critical mass needed for a real breakthroughs. The critical mass for a true European big data capability. Promoting the EU's strengths to stride onto the global scene.

A European public private partnership in big data could unite all the players who matter. Researchers, software makers, data intensive sectors, venture capitalists, and more.

It could build on the work we are doing in cloud and high performance computing, on our legislation to open up public administrations, and on our action to promote open science and boost trust in data handling.

It could steer financial resources: European, national, private.

Most of all, it could support new research and innovation, stimulate demand for new products and services, and cement Europe as a global player.

Energising our economy, supporting our society, and generating jobs.

Then Big Data can be more than a fashionable slogan: it can become a recipe for a competitive Europe.

Thank you.

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