By Jan Muehlfeit, Chairman of Microsoft Europe
The economist Mariana Mazzucato recently noted that the aim of public policy is to make “big things happen that would not have happened anyway.” She argues convincingly that to achieve societal and economic advancement “big budgets are not enough: big thinking and big brains are key.” I certainly agree —but, I would include one additional criterion—big and open data.
“The platform uses Windows Azure to store all of the city’s regions’ transport records. So far, over 100 third-party developers have created mobile apps that provide real-time information about, for instance, parking locations, Metroshuttle locations, and journey times for the city’s bus routes.”
Big and open data is the latest stage of the ICT revolution in Europe, building on significant developments in computing power and data storage capacity to process and analyse massive amounts of information. The ‘open’ part refers to access for humans and machines to (predominantly) government data. This can help, for example, foster private-sector innovation through greater potential for experimentation, increase transparency into the actions of public bodies, and provide greater insights for evidence-based social policies.
As an example of the potential economic and societal benefits of big and open data in action, I’d like to draw attention to the public body Transport for Greater Manchester, which has deployed an open data cloud-based platform that helps travellers better plan, manage and enjoy their journey. The platform uses Windows Azure to store all of the city’s regions transport records. So far, over 100 third-party developers have created mobile apps that provide real-time information about, for instance, parking locations, Metroshuttle locations, and journey times for the city’s bus routes.
So how will the big data revolution specifically impact Europe? And how can the maximum benefits be realized at both a national and Europe-wide level?
The economic impact of big and open data policies has been estimated by the Warsaw Institute for Economic Studies as providing Europe with a €206 billion boost in GPD in the coming years. In their report ‘Big & Open Data in Europe: A growth engine or a missed opportunity?’, the authors highlight that data-driven solutions can generate a 1.9% growth in GDP across the EU28 by 2020, which will be felt most acutely in the Northern European countries (2.2%), followed by New Member States (1.9%), and Southern European countries (1.6%).
The benefits of this potential vary from country to country according to the scale and composition of economies. In Central and Eastern Europe, for example, it is predicted that the Czech Republic can expect substantial gains from a mature manufacturing sector which is well integrated into international supply chains. Similarly, Poland can expect gains from the increased productivity of its large companies in the wholesale and retail trade sector, which have a significant market-share.
To turn potential into reality, several concrete policy recommendations are outlined.
“Opening up and ensuring easy access to data can lead to innovative uses of data through linking and combining with other sources, long after the data were originally collected – but it’s crucial that the right framework is put in place now to achieve this.”
Firstly, the nature of the big and open data revolution must be understood and agreed on, taking into account the different levels of preparedness of individual Member States. Opening up and ensuring easy access to data can lead to innovative uses of data through linking and combining with other sources, long after the data were originally collected—but it’s crucial that the right framework is put in place now to achieve this. In particular, ensuring the right to privacy is of utmost importance. The harmonisation of privacy laws can strengthen the single digital market and empower individuals to choose the data they wish to remain private—providing the opportunity for the private sector to look for value in data acquired under clearly established rules.
Secondly, big and open data projects rely on a range of enabling technologies – which allow for the collection, transmission, storage and processing data. Incorporating broader ICT solutions such as cloud computing into a government’s procurement strategy can help realise this. At the same time, interoperable systems can help future-proof investments made today by enabling usage with other operating environments, development languages, protocols and end user devices.
Thirdly, and a subject that I am particularly passionate about, is ensuring that there is a continued push to cultivate a robust talent pipeline of professionals with strong STEM education. This will help to ensure we have skilled data analysts and managers who are ready to exploit the value of novel data-driven solutions. Data has no impact without context, so the brightest analysts will be needed to propose and implement data-based solutions.
I started this blog post by citing an eminent economist and her model for attaining common goals – I will end by quoting another. John Maynard Keynes stated that “the important thing for Government is not to do things which individuals are doing already…but to do those things which at present are not done at all.” Currently Europe is not taking advantage of big and open data to its fullest extent. With the right policy framework in place – and clear support from the private sector – I’m confident that Europe can take the lead position in the global race for data-driven innovation.