Highlights of the European Data Forum 2014
On the 19th and 20th of March 2014, Data was placed in the spotlight during a two day conference, namely the European Data Forum (EDF) conference, which took place in Athens, Greece. According to the organizers more than 700 industry leaders, researchers and policy makers gathered at this event to discuss recent developments in Data and specifically in three Data strands, Big Data, Open Data and Linked Data. Being present at the conference I can attest to this claim, as there were hardly any available seats in the enormous main conference room, where all participants first gathered for the conference’s opening; and what an opening that would be, with inspiring opening speeches given by prominent members of the Greek government and the European Commission.
To start things off, Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission and in charge of the Digital Agenda, welcomed everyone to the conference and reminded us that we are indeed already in the Big Data era and substantial effort needs to be allocated to discovering data sharing and manipulation possibilities to allow us to come up with concrete results in the near future.
The next three speakers, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Minister of Administrative Reform and e-Governance of Greece, Evy Christofilopoulou, Deputy Minister of the same ministry and Christos Vasilakos, General Secretary for Research and Technology of Greece, stressed Greece’s utmost efforts to catch up with the Big Data revolution. One such effort, with regards to Open Data and the government’s commitment to promote transparency, is the “Diavgeia” program where all public services in Greece must post their decisions online before they can actually be considered legitimate.
The opening session was followed by a ceremony, where Johann Mittheisz, former CIO of the City of Vienna, Austria and the Open Government team of Vienna, was awarded the prestigious Data Innovator Award for his 41 year old contribution to promoting Open Data and Open Government in the city of Vienna.
After this small break, I could sense that everyone was getting eager to welcome the keynote speaker and hear what he had to say on the matter of Big Data. Prof. Stefan Wrobel, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems (IAIS) and Professor of Computer Science at University of Bonn outlined the Big Data trends that are currently present within the community, namely digital convergence, ubiquitous intelligent systems, user content and open data. Even though his speech was mostly optimistic about where we are heading in terms of exploiting Big Data, he was also quick to warn of several challenges that lie ahead and issues that we need to consider before we embark on our quest to “tame” Big Data. Some of these challenges/issues are the following:
- Big data is not an isolated IT topic.
- Technical solutions must be designed to fit.
- Innovation needs beyond of the shelf software.
- Data linking and brokering need open standards.
- Security and Privacy are demanded by business and society.
- Enormous education and training efforts need to be approved as more often that not data scientists are extremely hard to find.
- SMEs and startups face special challenges and need a supportive ecosystem in order to be involved in the Big Data revolution along with the other big players.
It was obvious that Prof. Wrobel could have continued talking for hours before anyone would even notice that the conference needed to move on to the “main course”. That was evident by the number of people that were waiting to speak to him, myself included, after his speech had ended.
The rest of the conference’s program continued with two parallel tracks and over 25 presentations from experts on all aspects of Digital Economy and data driven innovation. The main focus of these presentations seemed to be on Linked Data and interoperability. For example, Anthony McCauley, Head of Research, Fujitsu Ireland, stressed their need to understand data. They have been focusing on creating a network of data, which needs to be able to work seamlessly, providing the much needed interoperability between underlying data repositories. Jochen Hummel, CEO ESTeam AB & Chairman LT-Innovate, Germany, further analysed the notion of interoperability, within the European Interoperability Framework, where 4 levels of interoperability are actually present, namely technical interoperability, semantic interoperability, organisational interoperability and finally legal interoperability.
After all these presentations and the valuable knowledge that they provided, it was time to move on to the poster session, where about 25 posters, relating to projects, tools, products and services relevant to Big Data were presented. You can see the full list here:
http://2014.data-forum.eu/edf2014-poster-session. After this visual feast everyone attended the conference dinner where one could almost see and hear ideas and collaborations being born among all the attendees. After all, ideas usually come to us not while we are at work or under pressure but when we are relaxed, in an enjoyable environment, which allows our minds to wander in everything other than everyday responsibilities and obligations.
The second day of the conference was equally interesting and started of with a session on PPP on Data & an Executive Panel on Big Data. The panel discussed the existing relationship between public and private sectors and how it could be enhanced in order to exploit Big Data as efficiently as possible. Challenges, such as the lack of data scientists, the lack of quality datasets -yes, even nowadays companies find it hard to acquire quality datasets-, the existence of different licences and heterogeneous formats and the lack of strong standards were thoroughly discussed, although, come to think of it, I can’t recall any real practical solutions being suggested other than the fairly obvious ones, such as “we need to have better standards” or “we need to train more people on big data”. The panel also discussed issues that hinder the integration of Big Data policies within organizational processes, with the most important of all being the lack of awareness. Other than major players in the market, the rest of the companies don’t have a clear understanding of big data and how it can be of use to them, and most importantly how it can produce a certain ROI.
For the next session, we were again divided into two tracks, with the first one providing an insight into the value of data in industry and the other one was a Big/NESSI networking session. The first track, the one I was in, provided examples of how Big, Open or Linked data can have a major impact on the industry. One such example is the Open PHACTS platform, which relies on open data “to reduce the barriers to drug discovery in industry, academia and for small businesses”. The Open PHACTS Discovery Platform allows the interaction between multiple integrated and publicly available data sources by providing certain tools and services.
It was a crazy two day conference, where no one would ever expect that so much information could fit into 48 hours. Next year the conference takes place in Luxembourg and I am already eager for that day to come! Hopefully, data preservation will have its own place within the conference’s programme!
From Athens for PERICLES Consortium, Alex Papadimitriou, firstname.lastname@example.org