"Data is the new oil" is a quote from an article that appeared in the Economist in 2017. It seems hackneyed, but is now more relevant than ever: we have discovered the new oil of the 21st century. It has become clear what a special commodity data is: it can stink, burn, stick – to keep going with the analogy. We are extracting this new oil using a variety of methods. We have started to collect it in so-called data lakes. What we can't do yet is refine the new oil, distribute it in a value chain and process it. And produce plastics, paints and pharmaceuticals from it.
None of this happens because the data has no price tag. The great advantage of digital data is the flawless 1:1 copy, which is also free as soon as it is shared on the internet. With the greatest of effort, publishers try to make money on the internet. No company is interested in sharing data if they do not make money from it. Or worse: if others make money with it. International data rooms give data-owners back sovereignty over their data.
International data rooms – a definition
"The next big thing is here”. It will change the IT world, just as cloud computing did. It is about a new way of sharing data. An attempt at a definition: Participants in International Data Spaces store their data as usual. Where they do this is secondary. What matters is how data is shared. This is done peer-to-peer in data spaces and sovereignty over the data remains with its owner. The owner grants access rights such as "read", "edit" and "copy". And these can be adjusted, depending on who is accessing the data and for what purpose. So the exchange takes place directly between the partners. Once again, digitalization makes intermediary trade obsolete. The applications for managing requests, offering and monetizing data sit centrally in the cloud – the data itself is distributed decentrally. And it can be given a price tag. International data spaces are the springboard for the industrialization of data.
Gaia-X – a blueprint for European data refineries
"If data is the new oil, then we must slowly start getting our fingers dirty," said Thomas Jarzombek, member of the German Bundestag, at the Digital Summit 2019 in Dortmund, when he presented the Gaia-X project: France and Germany plan to build a data infrastructure for Europe. A data infrastructure that is competitive, secure and trustworthy. The founding members on the German side include BMW, Robert Bosch, Deutsche Telekom, SAP and Siemens. On the French side, for example, Amadeus, Atos, EDF and Orange are represented. In March 2021, 212 new members joined, including Microsoft, Alibaba, Amazon and Google.
Catena-X – the automotive industry leads the way
One of Gaia-X's flagship projects is Catena-X. The data ecosystem for the automotive industry wants to simplify the exchange of data between car manufacturers and suppliers according to the principles of international data rooms – and is already well advanced: the service is to be launched at the Hannover Messe 2023. Catena-X is based on the standards of Gaia-X and the International Data Space Association (IDSA). In autumn 2022, Gaia-X certified the Telekom subsidiary T-System as a "Gaia-X Digital Clearing House": as soon as the Catena-X network is live, T-Systems can approve new participants’ identities. And broker data connections. To provide these core services in the cloud, an operator is needed. So in spring 2023, Catena-X approved the first operator company: Cofinity-X. The goal: Cofinity-X will operate an open data space from distributed, sovereign data sources, all whilst adhering to the Catena-X standards. The first two applications will be launched at the Hannover Messe: one is about quality assurance in supply chains. The other application provides data on the circular economy. Both aim to create transparency and maximize the potential of existing resources.
And there’s more to come – with Manufacturing-X and others
The Platform Industry 4.0 initiative has set itself the goal of connecting international data spaces of different industrial sectors. Manufacturing-X focuses on mechanical and plant engineering. Catena-X is not just an MX lighthouse initiative, but a concrete example of an International Data Space, here with a focus on the automotive industry. Other industries will follow. By 2025, the European Union wants to create the foundations for a European Health Data Space. The background to this is, for example, research into very rare diseases. Potentially too little data is available for this in any single country. If research could use data from all countries of the EU, the results would be more reliable and faster. But it is precisely with this data that sovereignty has the highest priority. And International Data Spaces can do all that. So I remain convinced that it’s "the next big thing".
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