France and Germany have decided to develop a European cloud. Towards the end of last year, news stories were already trumpeting their Gaia-X project as a challenger to the cloud giant Amazon. And there is a modicum of truth in it. One of the project’s objectives is indeed for European industry and public administration to get a tighter grip on its own data.
However, the most interesting aspect of the project is its goal to improve data management regardless of whether the data is located in a company’s own machine room or someone else’s. At best, the Gaia-X cloud could facilitate the reliable sharing of decentralised data. And that could in turn encourage European industrial companies and cities to provide data for services that could strengthen Europe’s competitiveness.
For example, an international logistics service could require information about traffic volumes, the weather, and the condition of trucks. There could easily be numerous parties involved and negotiations would mushroom out of control – not to mention the technical solutions. In contrast, the Gaia-X cloud project could end up being downright easy, if and when its contractual models and technical transfer solutions have been specified, and reliable parties have been certified. We would only need to turn on the tap and let the data flow in a controlled manner.
A great deal of specification work still lies ahead, but thankfully a lot is already behind us. Although the Gaia-X project has only just been launched, Europe has long been promoting the reliable exchange of data with retained ownership. For the last four years, a German-based community of companies and research institutes called the International Data Space Association (IDSA) has been focusing on this area in particular. Several Finnish companies also belong to this community, with VTT acting as the Finnish IDSA Hub. I would be extremely surprised if Gaia-X doesn’t benefit from the groundwork done by this community, such as developing open standards.
Many Finnish industrial companies are currently coming up with their own data solutions. Some are building closed ecosystems, while others are harnessing commercial cloud infrastructure. Good. Although it’s hardly worth sitting still and waiting for the Gaia-X cloud to appear, it’s worth staying open to the idea. It’s important for us to participate in European collaboration, and we’re ready to be in the vanguard when it comes to European infrastructure.
Finnish companies that provide data-sharing services should be especially proactive. These types of companies are springing up at a rapid rate, and Gaia-X will open up European-wide markets for them. Around a hundred major industrial companies and service providers are already participating in the Gaia-X project in France and Germany. Now it is time for Finland to join in and seek opportunities to create examples of compliance with the new standards.
Gaia-X will not solve all our problems. Debate over who will own the data in an industrial value chain continues. And alongside it, discussion over privacy issues surrounding personal data. Before long these conversations will merge. Data is not anymore conceptually divided into personal data or industrial data – it is simply data whose processing requires a set of rules and a platform that will provide the best way of complying with those rules.