The European Commission has set out plans to support and accelerate the transition to a data-driven economy.

What's the issue?

Big Data is one of the buzzwords of the moment.  Both the public sector and the private one stand to benefit from the opportunities presented by Big Data.  Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT, estimated that organisations which base their decisions on Big Data analysis are around 5% more productive than their competitors who rely on the more traditional methods of statistics, experience and gut instinct. For businesses, Big Data offers the opportunity to spot trends in real time, allowing targeted marketing, customer friendly business offers, and considerable cost savings in areas like stock control. In the public sector, projected benefits appear almost more exciting.  A study carried out by SAS and UK think tank, the Centre for Economics and Business research, suggests that the UK government could use Big Data to save £2bn in fraud detection and £3.6bn through better rationalisation and management of processes. 

What's the development?

The EC has published a Communication on the steps which need to be taken in order to make the most of the data-driven economy. The Communication sets out initial actions which are needed to provide the right conditions for a single market for big data and cloud computing in Europe. 

Attention is focused on finding and investing in Big Data ideas, developing access to raw information and creating skilled data experts. The Commission also plans to issue guidelines on recommended standard licences, datasets and charging for re-use of documents.  It will look at mapping standards for Big Data in areas like health, retail and financial services, designing a European network of centres of excellence to increase the number of skilled data professionals and setting up a new data market monitoring tool to measure and map Europe's data economy.

The Commission is also going to investigate ways in which data-driven innovation based on data-mining including text-mining might be enhanced and will look at security issues, including international transfers. Another goal is to issue guidance on anonymisation and pseudonymisation as well as best practice guidelines.

The Commission is looking to the new data protection Regulation to provide a regulatory environment in which the which the data-driven economy can flourish while giving comfort to individuals in relation to their privacy.

What does this mean for you?

By comparison with the USA, and by its own admission, the EU is coming to the Big Data party relatively late in the day.  The Communication is a very high level statement of intent but it does show that the Commission is beginning to take Big Data more seriously and sees it as vital to the economy going forward. How the UK will react to the ambitions of the Commission remains to be seen.  The UK government recently announced funding of £48m to set up the Alan Turing Institute for Big Data and algorithm research in the hope of making the UK (not necessarily the EU) a world leader in the field.

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