At the International Data Spaces Association, we have been engineering data spaces for over five years. Now, let’s imagine together what the landscape will look like five years in the future when the E.U. Strategy for Data has been fully implemented, and individuals, as well as organizations, have regained control over their data.
The basis for the almost magical transformation that business and life will undergo is the concept of data spaces: protected environments in which participants can freely exchange data by adhering to a clear set of rules that protect data sovereignty and guarantee transparency and fairness.
Data spaces are designed to provide data sovereignty—this is a great benefit in itself and a trailblazer for the data economy of the future. Let’s look a little deeper: why are data spaces better for data sharing?
The data space paradigm shift
I would focus on the paradigm shift that data spaces represent. The term “data sharing” commonly refers to more traditional models of data exchange, most often between a restricted number of businesses, without the explicit participation of individuals. This type of data exchange typically takes place in centralized platforms and closed or strictly controlled networks.
In contrast, data spaces are open and flexible, though still regulated by shared principles and standards—and they scale seamlessly, without technology being a constraint or the need for dedicated agreements, as long as the shared principles are respected.
Data spaces also provide greater interoperability than traditional data sharing and offer shared services to their participants.
By their nature, data spaces do not require physical data integration, but support distributed data stores. This means, data spaces are a federated network, where data can stay with the provider while only metadata is shared—or data is not shared at all and only algorithms travel.
The added value of data spaces
Data spaces are the level playing field of Europe’s data strategy: they enable interoperability. They contain and combine all kinds of data endpoints: from smart objects, data marketplaces, cloud platforms, individuals, open data sources, data benches, everywhere!
Data spaces encompass data networking, data visiting, and data co-existence, which means a certain redundancy of data. They allow for “data to algorithm” as well as for “algorithm to data”. Data spaces allow for nesting and overlapping, which means that data spaces themselves can be part of other, larger data spaces. In fact, data spaces grow through the proliferation of participants, and with that more data sources and data sink.
Once implemented and brought to life, data spaces can deliver several dimensions of added value for business ecosystems. We have already learned that they can make data sovereignty and fair data sharing a reality. They can also deliver on all the promises which the data economy offers: they can reduce transaction costs and foster data value creation and hence enable new services, products, businesses, and innovation.
The secret sauce for flourishing data spaces
Successful data spaces adopt reusable, generic building blocks that can be used across domains and industries and use them to create to data spaces that deliver on the value proposition mention before. These building blocks can be divided into four categories:
- building blocks ensuring interoperability,
- building blocks ensuring trust
- building blocks allowing for value creation based on data
- building blocks enabling the governance of a data space.
More specific components can be used where it is necessary for domain-specific requirements. Existing norms, standards, and best practices should be used to ensure the cohesion of building blocks.
You can learn more about the design principles and archetypal elements that form data spaces from the International Data Spaces Association’s recent publication “Design principles for data spaces” (https://design-principles-for-data-spaces.org/).
Do you believe in magic?
Data spaces are a kind of magic that makes business, economies, and life dramatically better.
And they already exist out in the wild—not yet on a broad scale, but in specific economic sectors and domains. And a lot of convergence and harmonization has already been achieved by organizations like the International Data Spaces Association, BDVA, GAIA-X, MyDataGlobal, iShare, Data Sharing Coalition, and FIWARE. Our goal is to see the magic grow until the entire European economy is reaping the benefits.
And that is the reason why the International Data Spaces Association is teaming up with the leading European players in data spaces from European associations, industry, and research organizations with a common vision to deliver European data spaces as “Team Data Spaces”. Together we have been shaping trends in the European data and cloud landscape for many years. Our focus is upon economic, technical, societal, ethical, and legal aspects, thereby addressing policymakers, executives, and academia. We have now teamed up to intensify our contribution in the future – and to take leadership in making data spaces happen now.
Our joint goal is to make data spaces happen and realize their full potential in the respect of European values – and we are committed to continuing and increasing our efforts in reaching this goal. One core element in this context is this – and it calls for a joint endeavor: the future and harmonized governance for data spaces must be a holistic one. Sharing data is not only a technical challenge and an entrepreneurial risk, but it also requires legal conventions and operational guidelines. So – data spaces obviously do not come for free. But the result is worth the effort. And the benefits are endless. A harmonized governance for data spaces allows individual participants to join different data spaces, use data in multiple contexts and scenarios, and be part of multiple data value chains.
And with that, the magic of data economy begins.