Data Space in Flanders – how to support the Flemish data economy
Data spaces are not a new concept. The idea that data can be shared across organisations, that this has high societal potential, and that it is not easy to achieve, has been around for at least 25 years. It was already the underlying tenet of the Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) efforts at the end of the 90's and beginning of the 00's and was also the prime motivation for developing a semantic web. Even though the issue may have been in part solved for rather business data that does not change a lot (which we'll call "slow moving" in this paper), the emergence of fast moving data that emanated from e.g. Internet of Things sensors has introduced new challenges to the sharing of data.
We define a data space as "a set of data coming from a variety of data sources". A data space is an essential concept in allowing the sharing of data between various actors in a data ecosystem, by which we refer to "a loose set of interacting actors that directly or indirectly consume, produce, or provide data and other related resources."  There is therefore an inherent relation between a data ecosystem and a data space: the data space is composed of a data which is exchanged between the members of the data ecosystem. Data spaces are defined by the applications that use them. An application will need a number of data sources to function and it is this set of data sources to which we refer as a data space. There is therefore not one data space, but an almost unlimited number of data spaces, represented by all the combinations of existing data sources. In a data ecosystem, we count 3 types of participants:
- Data consumers
- Data providers
- Open data providers
- Closed data providers
- Data space federators
When we refer to organisations in a data spaces, we aim to denote government organisations, not for profit organisations or private companies. Data consumers are the actors that define the data space through their data needs. Among the data consumers, we count both the developers that build applications and the end-users that use the applications that are built by the developers. In terms of data providers, we mainly see organisation or private entities that provide open data or closed data.
How can data spaces benefit the economy?
From a macro-economic point of view, there are costs to a lack of interoperability. A lack of interoperability will lead to fewer competitors and a winner-takes all logic. As entry barriers are introduced, a few winners will develop market power and keep competitors from entering in a market. Fewer competitors mean that dominating companies can controle prices, which leads to inflation and a general higher cost for society and especially for consumers. High market power has been calculated to be as high as 9% of GDP. Making sure that interoperability exists between organisations in terms of data sharing can lower entry barriers to new companies and thus allow a beneficial effect on prices. The market has a very limited incentive to making sure that such interoperability exists, which means that governmental actors has a substantial role to play.