Europe needs to capitalize on data-driven innovation, or risk being left behind

Europe needs to capitalize on data-driven innovation, or risk being left behind

Data-driven innovation is unlocking new opportunities for Europe to grow its economy and address pressing social challenges. While Europe has achieved some early successes in data-driven innovation, including in areas such as education, energy, environmental management, healthcare, open data, smart cities, and smart manufacturing, it has not yet come close to reaching its full potential.

European policymakers need to forge consensus around a vision and strategy for harnessing the power of data-driven innovation to grow the economy and improve people’s quality of life—much as they already have coalesced around the need to protect citizens’ privacy. This was the conclusion of a recent report from ITIF‘s Center for Data Innovation

It says Europe’s policymakers, both in its capital cities and in Brussels, have not yet fully embraced data-driven innovation as a core driver of economic and social progress. To inject new leadership into this debate, member states should appoint national chief data officers to not only champion data innovation domestically, but also serve on a new, independent advisory panel charged with counseling the European Commission on how to seize opportunities to innovate with data.

“The data revolution creates vast opportunities to spur growth and address social challenges,” said Daniel Castro, the center’s director and the report’s co-author. “If Europe is going to take full advantage of data-driven innovation, then the Commission and member states must embrace a future where data is a core component of their strategies for economic progress and social empowerment. One of Europe’s most vexing challenges is that while it has created a political consensus on protecting the privacy of its citizens by regulating how their personal data is handled, it has achieved no similar consensus on how to capture the benefits of the data economy, which hinges on enabling people and organizations to collect, share, and analyze information.”

As an example, it says, building on its €500 million big data value PPP, the European Commission should accelerate ‘lighthouse’ projects that demonstrate the commercial value of data-driven innovation in key sectors of the economy, including agriculture, manufacturing, finance, transportation, and healthcare. As the European Commission moves forward with refining its Digital Single Market strategy and funding the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation initiative, it should continue its support of data-driven innovation through PPPs, not only for research, but all for demonstration projects.

The report also highlights how Europe has had some key successes in data-driven innovation. In energy for example, sixteen EU nations—Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, and the UK—have committed to large-scale roll out of smart electricity and gas meters by 2020 or earlier. Close to 45 million smart electricity meters have been installed in Finland, Italy, and Sweden and, by 2020, it is estimated that Europe will have 200 million installed smart meters for electricity, covering over 70 percent of all European consumers, and 45 million meters for gas, representing around 40 percent of consumers.

These developments, in conjunction with other measures, could provide information to facilitate more competition in Europe’s energy markets where retail prices have not fallen in line with declining costs. In the case of electricity, this can be facilitated by establishing an independent hub to grant access to smart metering data to third parties, including potential competitors to an existing supplier.

In healthcare, Europe is at the forefront of some of the most interesting efforts to use data to improve care for patients. The Innovative Medicines Initiative, a public-private life sciences partnership with €1.6 billion in funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 program, operates several projects designed to advance health research with increased data sharing. For example, the European Medical Information Network is developing a framework to allow researchers to link patient-level data from a wide variety of health systems and clinical studies to identify markers of susceptibility to dementia and to predict which individuals with obesity will develop complications like diabetes.

Drug makers are also beginning to use data analytics to gain valuable insights into public health from a variety of non-traditional sources. An EU-funded project, Neuromics aims to improve diagnosis and treatment for neuromuscular and neurodegenerative diseases through the study of the genetic material and the development of datasets that will help medical researchers to develop better targeted treatment.

The British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline has used text analytics to mine posts on parenting forums to better understand and respond to the concerns of parents who hesitate to vaccinate their children for diseases – a disinclination that has contributed to the rise in outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles. And researchers at Carlos III Universidad de Madrid have developed a system that can analyze social media posts mentioning a particular drug or its active ingredients to identify potential adverse effects of that drug not reported in clinical trials.

The report concludes that Europe’s progress in data-driven innovation within both its public and private sectors is already paying dividends for the productivity of its businesses, the efficiency and enhancement of its public services, and the quality of life for its citizens. Yet while Europe has many excellent examples of the public and private sectors using data for economic and social progress, its early advances will not be sustained if its policymakers, in both member states and in Brussels, do not capitalize on what has already been achieved by ensuring that data-driven innovation is at the core of policy to grow the economy and enhance society.

If Europe fails to build on these early successes, it will be overtaken by nations and regions that have had the foresight and political will to seize the moment.

The full report with detailed examples of successes in several industry sectors plus policy proposals can be downloaded here.

[Photo credit: The European data science hub]

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