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The future of data exchange

Big data necessitates and promotes collaboration

06/2016 - The databox is a project initiated by DB Systel to create a platform for promoting the exchange of data between DB companies. This apparently is also in tune with the times as far as the renowned Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is concerned, where focus has already been placed on cross-industry data exchange and the potential it has in store.

Experts predict that data troves will play a key role for companies in future. Talk about whether big data even makes sense therefore stopped a long time ago; today, the question revolves around what is the best, most secure way of collecting and processing it. One possibility to this end is data services, which are data-based service offerings such as online portals that can evaluate and assess data in automated fashion. Another option is to interlink different data records across the entire company. In other words, what DB Systel has just initiated with the databox.

Companies open their data gateways

The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft endeavoured to take this step a number of months ago. The result was “Industrial Data Space”, a virtual space or environment for exchanging data between companies that operate in different sectors. Industrial Data Space is grounded in the knowledge that data frequently can only unfold its true potential when it is exchanged and linked with other data.

Jan Cirullies (Fraunhofer IML)
© Fraunhofer-Institut für Materialfluss und Logistik

Jan Cirullies manages the project office for Industrial Data Space. For him, the virtual space solved a large problem in particular. “There was previous discussion on other, similar projects, most notably on the scale of a so-called data lake. The difficult aspect with this approach, however, is you don’t really know who is “fishing” around in it.” Companies would therefore hesitate to share interesting or pertinent data because they would lose control of it. The architect of Industrial Data Space therefore focused on adding value to the exchange process without introducing any security risks. An idea that also intrigued Minister of Science Johanna Wanka, who estimates that Industrial Data Space is exactly in line with the needs and requirements of German industry.

With its databox, DB Systel is actively pursuing what the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has already realised on a much larger scale: A cross-industry platform for exchanging data that can only be accessed by certain companies and is subject to very strict data protection guidelines. The databox project has been made available exclusively to DB Group companies as of this May. The first data records are already entered, and the initial resonance from data officers has been quite positive. What all is possible with databox becomes clear in view of the initiative promoted by the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft.

Digital bouncers

In future, participants will need to use so-called connectors to access Industrial Data Space. These interface points regulate and control which parts of the respective data records should be made available. Users can then also assign the data records to the connectors and disclose just a couple of selected excerpts, or the owner of the data can define a time limit to using his or her data.

Professor Boris Otto heads the ambitious project and knows about the strategic value that data records hold for companies. “This is why it is so important for companies to always exercise proper control over their own data. Digital sovereignty determines whether the economic success of companies will be short lived or have a lasting effect.”

Back to the future?

Digitalisation is not a topic reserved for the distant future, but is the here and now and must be faced directly by companies, attests Jan Cirullies. “Core businesses are transitioning. Companies must forge new paths.” No more than a few years ago, it would have been ludicrous to even entertain the idea that sportswear company Adidas would purchase a running app for Euro 220 million. This example demonstrates very clearly just how important the data of recreational runners is to the organisation. Everything revolves around digitalisation and collecting data. And Industrial Data Space will be the next big thing as we move on into the future”. The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft could not be any more certain about this.

Whereas this data previously was viewed as simply a means to an end, it is now becoming more and more an actual product in itself. For the Fraunhofer Institute, this translates into new roles in Industrial Data Space, such as that of the data provider and the data user. Intermediaries and provisioners will also be important, however, as well as brokers, app store operators and certification agencies.

Data connects sectors of industry

One possible data user could be the chemical industry, which requires that vendor-supplied parts and medications be received complete and in full at their destination location.

Prof. Dr. Boris Otto (Fraunhofer IML)
© Fraunhofer-Institut für Materialfluss und Logistik

The goods in question are also frequently so sensitive in nature that excessive fluctuations in temperature, air pressure, magnetic radiation and other related parameters could cause damage. Parameters that could be delivered by a player that no one has perhaps thought of before – namely, large automakers whose vehicles will at a future point be so well networked on the roadways that it will be possible to acquire detailed information on local road and environmental conditions. It is in this context that Industrial Data Space offers the potential to spearhead entirely new forms of synergy.

Companies will be required to rethink the way they do business in any case. Expensive machinery could therefore become a unique selling point. In a digitalised world, large applications could also be developed on the worn-out sofa of a college dormitory. Several examples of this include Uber, AirBnB and Opodo. Apps that themselves generate almost no new data and instead link existing information pertaining to living and travelling on a platform to create exceptional added value in the end. In so doing, data becomes the interface that connects companies with consumers.

Thinking outside the box

Before Industrial Data Space can become part of corporate reality, a couple of barriers must first be overcome. Industrial Data Space therefore proposes developing a joint vocabulary to ensure that data is exchanged properly across sectors of industry. Standards, guideline requirements and certifications are currently still not in place for a project of this magnitude. However, which is why this year, the initiators collaborated with other companies to found the association aptly named Industrial Data Space e.V. Members of this association include PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), Volkswagen, ThyssenKrupp, Bayer and Bosch, among other firms. One thing is clear to the experts: Data services such as Industrial Data Space and databox will change many industrial sectors. Everyone can play a part and profit from the new gold rush – regardless whether your place of work is a worn-out dorm couch or the offices of the DB Group companies.