Achieving a digital economy is a clear goal for Europe, but there are several key challenges that need to be met first, says Marta Nagy-Rothengass, head of data value chain unit at the European Commission (EC).
“Data has become an economic and societal asset, but it has to be handled accordingly, taking into account both the opportunities and risks,” she told the Trust in the digital world conference in Madrid.

One of the biggest challenges is establishing secure infrastructure to enable the data-driven economy that the EC sees as vital to decision making, job creation and economic growth.
“A data-driven economy is important for Europe because it can help solve challenges in areas like healthcare and city management, and create opportunities for small businesses,” said Nagy-Rothengass.
Other benefits include providing opportunities for research institutes, accelerating research and reducing the time it takes to apply the results in practice.
“The big data market is now the most dynamic market in the world. In the public service alone, big data analytics is expected to improve efficiency to save up to €200bn a year,” said Nagy-Rothengass.

Balancing data safety and utility
But, to enable this data-driven economy, Europe has to ensure data is always stored in a safe environment, but at the same time is available to those who can use it for the benefit of society.
“The EC wants to encourage the development of a big data ecosystem or community acting together in which bigger players create opportunities for smaller players,” said Nagy-Rothengass.
Although Europe is lagging behind the US in innovating around personal data, the EC wants to ensure all European development is conducted in a secure environment.
“All guidelines and regulations such as the proposed network information security (NIS) directive and open data directive are designed to ensure the European values such as privacy are preserved,” she said.
EC unveils range of digital initiatives
Other EC initiatives are aimed at helping to create the skills in Europe that will be necessary to support a data-driven economy through public private partnerships (PPPs).
“In July 2014, the EC adopted a PPP on data to help promote a data driven economy as a key initiative in community building,” said Nagy-Rothengass.

More than half of the useful data that is being generated is not personal, or it is easily anonymised for use in data-driven products and services
 Marta Nagy-Rothengass 

Other community-building initiatives include an open-data incubator for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and a network of centres of excellence.
In parallel, the EC is driving initiatives on open data research, big data tools, standards, interoperability, secure infrastructure and legal frameworks – including guidelines on privacy and data mining.
“Trust and legal certainty are important elements, especially because of the restrictive effect that the Snowden revelations on internet surveillance is having on European entrepreneurs,” said Nagy-Rothengass.
Data protection regulation
The EC is hoping to counteract this effect by engendering trust and confidence through the proposed EU general data protection regulation which is designed to be a single, modern, strong, comprehensive data protection framework for European Union (EU) states, she said.
The EC is encouraging the establishment of “innovation spaces” to provide secure environments for experimenting with data and acting as business incubators.
However, Nagy-Rothengass said it is important to recognise that much of the data that can be used to build a data-driven economy is not personal, and its use is not complicated by privacy concerns.
“More than half of the useful data that is being generated is not personal, or it is easily anonymised for use in data-driven products and services,” she said.
The big data PPP  plans workshops in different sectors, starting with finance. There will be a public online consultation in coming weeks, with a final action plan expected in November 2015.

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