On 26 January 2021, the EIF organised a virtual debate on ‘The European Alliance for Industrial Data and Cloud’. The event, hosted by MEP and EIF Chair Pilar del Castillo, was moderated by EIF Director General Maria Rosa Gibellini and focused on a number of issues around this initiative with the following policymakers and industry representatives:
- Pearse O'Donohue, Director for the Future Networks Directorate, DG CONNECT, European Commission
- Stéphane Demartis, Vice President for Cloud infrastructure solutions and services, Orange
- Jo Stark, Director of Strategic Business Development, IBM
MEP Pilar del Castillo opened the debate driving the attention on how cloud computing is a key enabler of data-driven innovation and new technologies. According to the MEP, we must not be shy to ensure that European businesses and the public sector can run and store their data safely - namely according to EU rules and standards.
Nevertheless, at this stage we can only rely on the joint declaration of the member states and the European Commission of the last 15 October; this document – according to MEP del Castillo – is very comprehensive and really ambitious, but many questions are still to be answered on how to put it in practice. MEP del Castillo stressed the fact that, together with the unanswered questions, we must not forget the many related files on the table, such as the Data Governance Act, the DSA package and the upcoming EU-US summit with the new Biden administration.
According to Pearse O'Donohue, the Alliance is a massive market opportunity for Europe, because it will make Europe benefit immediately from the new data technologies and bring it in the lead of the edge computing. At the same time, we must ensure that commercial and industrial data receive the same level of protection as personal data and that the new generation of cloud computing moves us towards the goal of the Green Deal, with climate neutrality and sustainability inherent in this infrastructure.
Mr. O’Donohue stressed the European key strengths we can build on: the strong presence in the software market, the expertise in system integration and the industrial know-how. “Now” said O’Donohue, “we have to marry all this together, including the huge efforts that we have made in the development of IoT systems and in applications, as well as our strong telecom sector which will have a key role to play in the delivery of this more decentralised computing.”
Moreover, the alliance will ensure close cooperation with GAIA-X, acting as a bridge between the Commission’s priorities and the GAIA-X initiative. The governance of the alliance is very important and it will be partly decided by the industry themselves; nevertheless, it has to meet the European Commission’s requirements in terms of security, data sovereignty and sustainability.
Stéphane Demartis brought to the stage the perspective of Orange, which fully supports EU willingness to reap the benefits of the industrial data race. In fact, there cannot be a data strategy without appropriate underlining cloud strategy; this is why a stakeholder like Orange strongly supports setting up the Alliance for Industrial Data and Cloud.
According to Mr. Demartis, such alliance should aim, first of all, at coordinating and stimulating investments at European scale to promote the creation of a European federate cloud infrastructure, supporting industry in projects like GAIA-X – where Orange is one of the founding members – enhancing new industrial developments, such as moving from centralised cloud to decentralised cloud, and stay competitive and relevant. Secondly, the alliance should further enable digitalisation and data-driven growth across European industry. Mr. Demartis reiterated how Orange is very happy with the collaboration and initiative of the European Commission and ready to contribute with investments and federate resources to the new European data space.
Jo Stark reasoned on the fact that the topic of the debate has the potential to be a significant driver of economic recovery, competitiveness, and growth: it is therefore very important to clearly shape the collaboration and the execution model of this initiative, connecting both the procedural rule-centric and the technical dimension.
In order to reach better digital sovereignty in Europe, reduce vendor lock-in for cloud services and create synergistic data spaces for innovation, Europe needs architectural ground rules for data and cloud. Precision regulation should be provided in a way that it tackles the right problems without threatening the benefits. Mr. Stark praised the European Commission for adopting this type of approach also in the recent Digital Services Act. According to Mr. Stark, transparency and inclusion, federation and multi-vendor interoperability and avoiding over-restriction allowing some appropriate flexibility, are key to enrich the European collaboration with large international players.