Geographies in Depth

Here's how this EU data-sharing plan could benefit us all

European Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton.

European Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton. Image: REUTERS/Yves Herman

Aclan Okur
Project Collaborator, World Economic Forum Geneva
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  • The European Commission recently outlined a data strategy, encouraging more data sharing among businesses.
  • The manufacturing industry shows how data sharing can benefit companies.
  • But any strategy must focus on creating value and driving transparency, efficiency and sustainability.

Part of the European Commission's recent data strategy encourages data sharing among businesses to “empower society to make better decisions.”

Data is at the core of technologies such as artificial intelligence, and a strategy for effectively managing and allowing access to data makes sense. Many businesses are already collaborating and sharing data to address important needs that they cannot address alone.

We can learn from manufacturers, many of whom are already sharing selected production and product data to increase productivity, improve quality and reduce their environmental impact. The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Boston Consulting Group, recently published a white paper investigating how and why manufacturers share data.

Benefits of data sharing

According to the findings, key to success in data sharing is providing value to all participants and helping them address important business needs, such as:

  • Full transparency into value chains
  • Highly efficient and flexible production processes
  • Innovative products and new business models

For example, by combining data from multiple users of the same machinery, manufacturers can improve algorithms that optimize production processes, creating a win-win situation for all involved. Connecting value chains through data, manufacturers can reduce waste, react quickly to disruptions and provide their customers with traceability and provenance information, which they increasingly demand.

Image: World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group

Running algorithms on combined data sets or securely combining data sets among companies is much more difficult than implementing use-cases within one company's operations using its own data. Considering how sensitive production and product related data is for the industry, it is remarkable that some manufacturers are still willing to collaborate and build open data platforms. For the majority, however, lack of trust, interoperability issues, technical risks are still the main barriers to data sharing.

How to reduce barriers

The Commission’s strategy acknowledges these barriers and encourages openness based on a set of principles and values. The strategy also calls for a common manufacturing data space, where participants commit to using fair contracts while complying with clear competition rules. This vision is welcome, as long as it doesn’t prescribe one technology over the other or alienate important players.

Moving forward to establish these rules, it is critical to involve all stakeholders. Using the manufacturing ecosystem as an example, it is clear that everyone plays an important role.

Technology providers can develop secure solutions that fully respect data sovereignty and privacy. Start-ups can help manufacturers make the best use of this infrastructure by developing user-friendly shop-floor solutions. Manufacturers can commit to further collaboration to optimize productivity in the industry and reduce their environmental impact. Governments can ensure fair contracts and provide the legal clarity and incentives needed.

Have you read?

If the European approach to data sharing can provide clarity while demanding more transparency, efficiency and sustainability from the industry, it can encourage companies to collaborate and make the best use of their combined data.

In the long term, within an inclusive framework, businesses that understand the value of collaboration and respect data sovereignty and ownership will be the winners.

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