Three Challenges Europe Faces in Becoming a Competitive Big Data Market

November 21, 2014
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The European Commission is working hard on developing a competitive European Big Data market.

The European Commission is working hard on developing a competitive European Big Data market. Last week, as a result of this, the European Digital Forum convened the High-Level Roundtable on Europe’s Digital Future. Neelie Kroes, former vice-president of the European Commission and commissioner for the digital agenda (2009-2014), delivered a keynote and launched Digital Minds for a New Europe, an e-book featuring 44 essays by the world’s leading thinkers on the challenges ahead. I was asked to give my vision about how Europe can enable forward-looking, data-driven startups to unleash the vast potential of data. Here’s how I think Europe should move forward:

Accelerating the European Big Data Market

europe big dataIn 1663 there was an Englishman named John Graunt who was looking for information around mortality rates in London. He wanted to gain insights in the causes of deaths in order to create a warning system for the bubonic plaque. He collected this data in the book Natural and Political Observations Made upon the Bills of Mortality. The data gives great insights in the causes of death in the 17th century and indeed enabled Graunt to develop a warning system using statistical data analysis. Small and in this case public data provided great insights and therefore, the Englishman, Graunt can be seen as the farther of statistics.

Fast-forward to 2014 and we are no longer talking about small data. In fact, terminology like megabytes, gigabytes or perhaps even terabytes already become out-dated. Today we are talking about Exabytes, Petabytes, Zettabytes, Yottabytes or even Brontobytes. It is estimated that the current digital universe is 1 Yottabyte in size. This is the equivalent of 250 trillion DVD’s and our digital universe is expanding at an exponential rate.

We are therefore at forefront of a major digital revolution that will radically change the way we live, work and manage our societies. From now on, accelerated change is the only constant and it is therefore time that we all should think bigger when dealing with data.

The rise of data and data analytics offers beautiful opportunities for organizations and startups. There are multiple ways that organizations could benefit from Big Data. In my book, Think Bigger, I discuss 18 different industries, including examples of better understanding of your customers, better and faster product development, better market knowledge, lower risks and fraud, a healthier society and significantly lower costs for organizations in any industry.

The possibilities for organisations are huge and this offers great potential for forward-looking, data-driven startups to develop solutions that really could help organisations make better use of their data. I see this happening all the time in the United States. Currently my company is indexing the global Big Data market, which is still a very volatile market, and the most-promising Big Data startups are from the USA, attracting massive amounts of funding and becoming global business players. How come Europe is lagging behind here and what should we do to stop it?

Well, I think there are several problems. Apart from the fact that Big Data means something different for every person and organization and companies in Europe have difficulty in really grasping the potential of Big Data, there are three challenges that we face which we should solve if Europe really wants to catch up with the USA.

These are ‘access to talent’, ‘access to data’ and ‘access to funding’. Let me briefly explain each of them:

Access to Talent

The Big Data scientist is said to be the sexiest job of the 21st century, but he or she also needs to have a wide range of skills that until now did not even fit into one department. Universities and colleges are only slowly developing Big Data programs, of which most of them once again in the USA, but still it is expected that there will be a huge shortage in talent in the coming years.

So, how could we solve this? Well, first we should know the demand from the market and secondly we should streamline the development of Big Data programs per country. This will ensure that we only develop courses that are actually delivering students that match with market demand. But one of the most important things we should do as Europe is having kids learn to program code at young age. In Estonia they have implemented this and toddlers receive basic programming lessons once per week, which is extended to robotics in year four. Although this is a long-term approach, it will definitely reduce the talent gap in the future.

Access to Data

Big Data is all about combining data sets, ‘Mixed Data’ as I like to call it, and public data sources are a very important part in this. For data-driven startups to prosper, access to data, and especially public data from governments, is therefore vital. Back in 2011, former Vice President Kroes announced legal proposals to unlock the data held by the Europe’s public institutions. Although I see that this has resulted in several open data portals, there is still a long way to go here

There are ample benefits for both governments and startups in using open data sources. According to a Capgemini report from 2013, Open Data can drive revenue, cut costs, improve efficiency and generate employment for future generations. When governments open their data sets, it will allow innovative startups to come up with great new services that could solve problems organizations and governments have been dealing with for a long time.

I think that Public Data is one of the most important drivers for a successful and thriving European Big Data market. Local, national and European governments should do therefore what ever it takes to make these data sets available to forward-looking startups.

Access to Funding

European startups face a lot of difficulties in getting their funding raised. There is a completely different culture in Europe than in the USA, resulting in significantly less financed startups in Europe. Those startups that do make it and get funding, receive funding from the States and will move to the USA. This is a big loss for Europe in terms of economic growth, talent and competitiveness.

I have seen so many American big data startups with 10, 20, 40 or 100 million in funding, even if they are only a few years old. I have seen almost none from Europe. For the European data market to flourish, venture capital firms should therefore be more willing to take more risks and to join startups earlier with more money.

We have all the ingredients in Europe to become successful with Big Data and help forward-looking startups unleash the vast potential of data. We have a highly educated market, we have the right IT infrastructure and we have the ambition. For Europe to catch up in the global Big Data market we should therefore do three things:

  • Think Bigger from an education perspective: young kids anywhere in Europe should learn to code as early as possible and universities should develop programs that can cater for the massive demand that is coming;
  • Think Bigger from a public data perspective: local, national and European governments should open their data sets for startups and organizations to use and to drive innovation;
  • Think Bigger from a funding perspective: European Venture Capital firms should dare to take more risks, invest earlier and invest more.

Therefore, the new European Commission should dare to Think Bigger in terms of Big Data. This will allow us to create an environment, a competitive Big Data market, that will drive innovation and business growth within Europe.

Europe / shutterstock


I really appreciate that you are reading my post. I am a regular blogger on the topic of Big Data and how organizations should develop a Big Data Strategy. If you wish to read more on these topics, then please click ‘Follow’ or connect with me via Twitter or Facebook.

You might also be interested in my book: Think Bigger – Developing a Successful Big Data Strategy for Your Business.

This article originally appeared on Datafloq.