Source: The Parliament Magazine
Data is an increasingly important part of all of our lives and with the emergence of Smart Cities and the Internet of Things, the volume of that importance is set to grow. But how can we make sure that data is captured and used in a responsible way that benefits European businesses and citizens alike? The Parliament sat down with Ulrich Ahle, CEO of Gaia-X, to find out
One of the founding principles of the European Union is the frictionless movement of people and goods. But in the modern age, it is not just people who move across borders. Data does too. Since technological change has occurred so rapidly, the systems and processes we use to collect and share data have emerged alongside the technology incrementally and inconsistently.
This has created several challenges for European policymakers who want to ensure that regulations and legislation remain one step ahead of technological change. One organisation that is providing coordination and leadership to address the social, economic, and technical challenges that the Data Age has ushered in is Gaia-X.
“Our vision is one of a collaborative, interconnected digital future,” Ulrich Ahle, CEO of Gaia-X, tells The Parliament. “Gaia-X is seeking to create a federated data infrastructure, a decentralised ecosystem where data can flow seamlessly while ensuring privacy, security, and sovereignty.”
Gaia-X is a European network that brings together stakeholders from different sectors, including industry, academia, and government. It is driven by a commitment to make data services adhere to the highest levels of security, transparency, and interoperability through the development of common standards and principles.
“Our starting point is within Europe, but we also need to find a way to collaborate with global players.”
The task that Gaia-X faces is an urgent one. Europe is on the cusp of major changes that will lead to an exponential increase in the volume and types of data that are collected. Smart Cities, the Internet of Things, new sensor technology, and Artificial Intelligence, are all driving an exponential increase in the amount of data that is gathered and used by businesses and public bodies.
Ahle is clear that European partners must commit to developing systems that make that data easier to access and use ahead of that imminent curve. And businesses themselves are an important part of driving that change, recognising the benefits that data collaboration can bring.
The efforts of Ahle and his team are already delivering tangible, real-world results. He points to examples where industry is already benefiting from establishing common data spaces where they can share their own data and access the data of others.
Ahle cites the European agriculture and automotive sectors as examples of sectors where shared data spaces are already enabling collaboration and driving innovation. For example, Gaia-X’s Catena-X project has provided a new, decentralised data space for the automotive industry with common standards for data exchange between companies across the entire value chain.
“Catena-X has brought together companies including BMW, Renault, and BASF to create an automotive data space operated on a federated cloud infrastructure,” he explains to The Parliament. “It went live last year. This is not aspiration, its reality.”
Automotive partners can now connect to the data space and determine at a glance who the supply chain partners are that provide data, who has the right to access it, and how they are allowed to use the data.
Whilst much of the early focus is on industry, Ahle believes these initial steps are creating a model that will ultimately also bring benefits to individual citizens who may be increasingly unsure about precisely how their personal data is being used.
“Data does not have borders, we need to have a global approach.”
“We are still in the ramp-up phase and not yet in a position to provide this to the normal consumer,” he tells us. “The first real-world implementations are on the business side, but the instruments that are being developed are also there to use on the consumer side too.”
However, to achieve that change in approach will require collaboration between different partners – both inside and outside of Europe. Technology and data do not always respect geographical boundaries, so any effective solution will need to be developed alongside similar moves in other territories such as the United States and Japan.
“My strong belief is that this approach will only be sustainable when it is accepted and adopted on a global scale,” Ahle tells us. “Catena-X in the automotive industry is a good global example because in that industry processes do not stop at the European borders. Our starting point is within Europe, but we also need to find a way to collaborate with global players.”
Ahle is clear that, whatever collaborative partners Gaia-X works with, its key principles will always embrace core European Union values such as transparency, open access, and the protection of privacy.
“Landmark projects like Catena-X are not an aspiration, they are reality.”
“Our approach is based on a European value system,” Ahle explains. “The European Commission has defined part of the framework conditions to manage data, with GDPR, the Data Governance Act, and the agreement for the Artificial Intelligence Act. So, we have a European values system under which we are planning to manage data. Gaia-X fits firmly within this.”
By starting with those principles Gaia-X is paving the way for a unified, secure, and sovereign digital landscape that can set new standards for other territories. If they succeed, it will establish Europe at the forefront of efforts to make the way data is used more accessible and transparent, something that will ultimately benefit both businesses and consumers alike.