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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda
The data gold rush
European Data Forum
Athens, 19 March 2014
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Nearly 200 years ago, the industrial revolution saw new networks take over. Not just a new form of transport, the railways connected industries, connected people, energised the economy, transformed society.
Now we stand facing a new industrial revolution: a digital one.
With cloud computing its new engine, big data its new fuel. Transporting the amazing innovations of the internet, and the internet of things. Running on broadband rails: fast, reliable, pervasive.
My dream is that Europe takes its full part. With European industry able to supply, European citizens and businesses able to benefit, European governments able and willing to support. But we must get all those components right.
What does it mean to say we're in the big data era?
First, it means more data than ever at our disposal. Take all the information of humanity from the dawn of civilisation until 2003 – nowadays that is produced in just two days. We are also acting to have more and more of it become available as open data, for science, for experimentation, for new products and services.
Second, we have ever more ways – not just to collect that data – but to manage it, manipulate it, use it. That is the magic to find value amid the mass of data. The right infrastructure, the right networks, the right computing capacity and, last but not least, the right analysis methods and algorithms help us break through the mountains of rock to find the gold within.
Third, this is not just some niche product for tech-lovers. The impact and difference to people's lives are huge: in so many fields.
Transforming healthcare, using data to develop new drugs, and save lives. Greener cities with fewer traffic jams, and smarter use of public money.
A business boost: like retailers who communicate smarter with customers, for more personalisation, more productivity, a better bottom line.
No wonder big data is growing 40% a year. No wonder data jobs grow fast. No wonder skills and profiles that didn't exist a few years ago are now hot property: and we need them all, from data cleaner to data manager to data scientist.
This can make a difference to people's lives. Wherever you sit in the data ecosystem – never forget that. Never forget that real impact and real potential.
Politicians are starting to get this. The EU's Presidents and Prime Ministers have recognised the boost to productivity, innovation and better services from big data and cloud computing.
But those technologies need the right environment. We can't go on struggling with poor quality broadband. With each country trying on its own. With infrastructure and research that are individual and ineffective, separate and subscale. With different laws and practices shackling and shattering the single market. We can't go on like that.
Nor can we continue in an atmosphere of insecurity and mistrust.
Recent revelations show what is possible online. They show implications for privacy, security, and rights.
You can react in two ways. One is to throw up your hands and surrender. To give up and put big data in the box marked "too difficult". To turn away from this opportunity, and turn your back on problems that need to be solved, from cancer to climate change. Or – even worse – to simply accept that Europe won't figure on this mapbut will be reduced to importing the results and products of others.
Alternatively: you can decide that we are going to master big data – and master all its dependencies, requirements and implications, including cloud and other infrastructures, Internet of things technologies as well as privacy and security. And do it on our own terms.
And by the way – privacy and security safeguards do not just have to be about protecting and limiting. Data generates value, and unlocks the door to new opportunities: you don't need to "protect" people from their own assets. What you need is to empower people, give them control, give them a fair share of that value. Give them rights over their data – and responsibilities too, and the digital tools to exercise them. And ensure that the networks and systems they use are affordable, flexible, resilient, trustworthy, secure.
One thing is clear: the answer to greater security is not just to build walls. Many millennia ago, the Greek people realised that. They realised that you can build walls as high and as strong as you like – it won't make a difference, not without the right awareness, the right risk management, the right security, at every link in the chain. If only the Trojans had realised that too! The same is true in the digital age: keep our data locked up in Europe, engage in an impossible dream of isolation, and we lose an opportunity; without gaining any security.
But master all these areas, and we would truly have mastered big data. Then we would have showed technology can take account of democratic values; and that a dynamic democracy can cope with technology. Then we would have a boost to benefit every European.
So let's turn this asset into gold. With the infrastructure to capture and process. Cloud capability that is efficient, affordable, on-demand. Let's tackle the obstacles, from standards and certification, trust and security, to ownership and copyright. With the right skills, so our workforce can seize this opportunity. With new partnerships, getting all the right players together. And investing in research and innovation. Over the next two years, we are putting 90 million euros on the table for big data and 125 million for the cloud.
I want to respond to this economic imperative. And I want to respond to the call of the European Council – looking at all the aspects relevant to tomorrow's digital economy.
You can help us build this future. All of you. Helping to bring about the digital data-driven economy of the future. Expanding and depening the ecosystem around data. New players, new intermediaries, new solutions, new jobs, new growth.
Last year in Vilnius, I raised the idea of a public private partnership in this area. That can be a powerful way to work together – and something that has worked very well for us in other areas, like 5G.
But let me be clear. Public money is not free money. Before you can unlock it you need a very clear plan, showing how any public investment will work, how it connects to the activities around it, and how it will pay off.
For all its importance: big data is no different. So we need a Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda that does all this– growing from a broad, inclusive and representative basis, pulling together different priorities, so they make sense across the board.
I know many of you have been busy working on such an agenda. And you are going to discuss text here at the EDF. That is welcome. When we have stable input we will have to check and review it against the requirements for PPPs in Horizon 2020. And then finalise to go ahead. And we need to do all this quickly, and to the highest quality.
I'm sure you will continue that and all the other hard work: engaging, networking , developing. Finding data innovations for the public sector and business too. From big industry players to small entrepreneurs; from researchers to venture capitalists - you are all part of the European data economy, and part of our economic future.
Together, I hope we can build on that, working together for a European future that thrives on data.