Data sovereignty: an opportunity for European businesses and technology providers

14 June 2022 • 5 min reading time

The greatly increased usage of data in our society and our heavy dependency on the US and Asia for digital infrastructure are increasingly at odds. In the light of recent geopolitical developments and the pandemic, the need for digital sovereignty is felt and seen. How can European cloud and technology providers differentiate from Big Tech companies and create new value propositions and lucrative business models based on digital sovereignty?

In our digitalised world we increasingly rely on digital technologies and data sharing applications provided mostly by a few non-European tech giants who don’t always have data sovereignty as their main objectives. Recent incidents with data leaks and cyber attacks have demonstrated our vulnerability. On top of that there are global developments in the regulatory field, such as the US Cloud Act, that raise concerns about the protection of European data.

Moreover, from a business perspective, European companies find it difficult to compete with largely American and Asian hyperscalers, offering very easy to use cloud and data sharing solutions. As companies put more and more data on these big-tech platforms, it becomes increasingly difficult for European providers to develop competitive and distinctive alternatives.

Creating business opportunities

In contrast to this threatening 'winner-takes-all' scenario, recent attention for data sovereignty presents a promising opportunity for cloud and networking companies to create innovative services and business models. Matthijs Punter, Researcher & Consultant Data Ecosystems at TNO: “In recent years we have seen a lot of initiatives around shared data spaces, including our own activities for International Data Spaces (IDS), a European standard that is already being used in various domains to make data exchange safer and more efficient. It’s one of the technologies we use to start data sharing initiatives in many domains, such as manufacturing and health. In those domains we have now reached the point where we can scale-up. There is a market need for technology providers to provide the necessary data technologies on an operational basis, according to these new European standards: easy to adopt, offered as a service and a platform for new innovations.”

Data Sovereignty as a Service

Sovity is a German company that has started to develop such a commercial offering. Based on the trusted IDS standard, sovity provides companies with Data Sovereignty as a Service, enabling them to create new business models and build innovative products. Sebastian Kleff, CEO & Co-Founder of sovity: “We were involved with initiatives on data sovereignty and IDS from the very beginning. My personal vision is that we should have full control over our data, be it privately or as a company.” Next to IDS, sovity works with Eclipse, Catena-X, Gaia-X, and other digital sovereignty initiatives.

Sebastian Kleff sees that the adoption of those technologies is the tricky part. “Currently, the solutions for data sovereignty are complex and it requires a lot of effort and deep expertise to leverage the open-source software. With sovity we are lowering the entry-barrier towards digital sovereignty solutions.”

"Currently, the solutions for data sovereignty are complex and it requires a lot of effort and deep expertise to leverage the open-source software."

Focus on use-cases

Especially for small- to medium-sized companies it’s still difficult to participate in trusted data spaces, says Matthijs Punter: “If you want to share data and maintain full control, you need to follow certain standards and technologies. Within IDS, each participant requires a so-called ‘Connector’ or ‘security gateway’ through which they can share your data in a controlled way. For each particular data space (automotive, manufacturing, etc.) additional shared components are needed, such as a ‘broker’ or ‘catalogue’: an address book where all companies can register, making them findable for others. We need companies to provide these building blocks on an operational basis. And we need to make sure that the offerings of different companies are interoperable, reducing the risk of lock-in.”

Sovity offers these building blocks as a service and keeps them up to date, which is especially beneficial for smaller companies who don’t have large IT-departments. Sebastian Kleff: “Our solution allows organisations to focus on their core business, so they can accelerate the development of new digital services and innovative use-cases for their customers.”

App store for data

When asked about the future of shared data spaces, Sebastian Kleff points out the network effect in the market. “Of course everyone sees the value of shared data spaces, but it’s the chicken-and-egg challenge. Companies only participate if there is a lot of data on offer to create exciting new use-cases. In my vision we will have an app store-like platform in the near future where companies can buy ‘apps’ to get access to all kinds of data for creating new use-cases, shared in a secure and sovereign way. Because the best digital solutions are created by combining data.”

"In my vision we will have an app store-like platform in the near future where companies can buy ‘apps’ to get access to all kinds of data."

Matthijs Punter shares Sebastian Kleff’s vision, but also emphasizes the importance to have an easy to use data-sharing infrastructure. “For example, if you want a new mobile phone subscription, you simply select the best offer and you’re good to go. You don’t need to worry about all the underlying technologies. With data sharing we’re far from that level. In my vision sovereign data sharing should become a commodity offered by many network and cloud providers.”

Creating marketable solutions

As the largest Research & Technology Organization in the Netherlands and one of the largest in Europe, TNO combines their neutral position with the capacity of making the right connections, adding sequence to the process, and connecting the right parties at a European level

On a technological level, TNO is involved in the first-time engineering on IDS technology together with other research institutes like Fraunhofer. By on-boarding network and cloud providers TNO shares this knowhow with the market, e.g. by providing components under open-source licenses. Technology companies can use this as a starting point for their commercial offerings. Matthijs Punter: “At TNO we have extensive knowledge of data-sharing technology in multiple domains, like energy, health, and manufacturing. For example, we have set up the Smart Connected Supplier Network, a collaboration of various high-tech equipment suppliers for data sharing. That’s really taking off now and is creating a market-pull. Cloud providers that want to create marketable solutions for the manufacturing industry can hit the ground running and build on this experience.”

More information or partnership requests?

For questions regarding this subject please contact van Matthijs Punter.

Do you want to know more?

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