Written by Fenja Läser, Embassy of Switzerland in Austria
In 2014, the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (Österreichische Forschungsgesellschaft FFG) and the Austrian Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT) commissioned a study entitled “#Big Data in #Austria – Austria’s Potential and Best Practices for Big Data”. The study analyses the potential of Big Data technologies for the Austrian market, ranging from managing the data deluge to semantic and cognitive systems. Moreover, the study identifies emerging opportunities arising from the utilization of publicly available data, such as Open Government Data, and company internal data by covering multiple domains. If you would like to know more about this study, this articles offers a summary of #Big Data in #Austria.
The study considers that Austria is not a leading actor in the field of Big Data on the international level. In the field of science, Austria possesses on one hand strong expertise in various subdomains of Big Data and is part of several highly innovative research projects. For example, Austria is very present in the domains of High Performance Computing (HPC), Analytics and Utilization (semantic technologies and knowledge management). On the other hand, Austria is underrepresented in the fields of Big Data platforms and programming models. In the economic field, a yearly revenue growth of 33.5% in the next four years is expected and the Austrian Big Data market volume of EUR 22 million in 2013 is predicted to reach EUR 73 million in 2017. But there are only a few Austrian firms that possess a know-how in the field of Big Data and which are only partially successful on the international market. All in all, the Austrian business market is not perceived as especially innovation-friendly and the internationally most successful companies are not planning a high presence in Austria. Also in the field of tertiary education, there seems to be a need for the enhancement of courses in the field of Big Data. In order to strengthen the endeavor of Austria to be an innovative location for business and science, the study proposes a “roadmap” for Austria in the Big Data sector. It identifies five main goals, and proposes four preconditions and seven measures to reach these goals.
- An important goal for Austria is to increase the value creation to strengthen the GDP and help create (and keep) jobs in the technology and innovation sector in the country. One way to do this is to attract international firms of the Big Data business to settle in Austria and help to integrate them into the research and development field. Furthermore it is important to support Big Data projects in local companies, SMEs and startups.
- It is also important to increase the competitiveness of Austrian firms to secure the development of Austria as a business location. This can be done by supporting the application of Big Data technologies in non-IT companies and the promotion of local IT-startups.
- Austria should be presented as a market with high affinity for technology and innovation
- In general, Austria should be promoted as an attractive international location for business.
- Especially in the technology sector, high expertise in the job market is important to raise the attractiveness of Austria as a business location. Therefore the development and strengthening of competences in the tertiary sector and the job market is highly important.
In order to successfully implement Big Data projects, the accessibility and availability of data, legal security in the use of data, the availability of necessary infrastructure and the availability of the necessary expertise on all four levels of the Big Data Stack (Utilization, Analytics, Platform and Management) are important.
First of all, the access to data needs to be enabled. It is important to distinguish between internal company data and the external provision of data. Firms and institutions have a growing amount of internal data available and need to establish clear rules for the use of it, especially for data with personal references. However, more and more firms make their data available to external service. On the one hand, this can be done by commercially distributing data. On the other hand data can be made public for free. There are initiatives in the direction of Open Data, especially Open Government Data. For all the above alternatives, clear guidelines need to be established because the use of data can be a very sensitive issue. Especially when it comes to data with (indirect) personal references, there is a lot of controversy about privacy issues and data collection. The study has shown that the uncertain legal situation often prevents firms from pushing innovation in the Big Data field. It is therefore crucial to implement a clear and international legal framework that establishes rules for access and use of data, especially for data with (indirect) personal references.
The availability of infrastructure is highly important for research, economy and the establishment of startups. A national, independent (not tied to a university) data processing service center should be established to provide capacities for all research projects on a national level.
The availability of the necessary expertise in science and research is highly important for the development of the Big Data sector. Austria possesses a rich infrastructure of universities and universities of applied sciences but there is a lack of specific training as a Data Scientist on the tertiary education level. Furthermore, the study opts for a stronger cooperation of business, science and tertiary education and a specific promotion of application-oriented research.
Measures to successfully attain these goals
First of all, startups are important for giving new impulses to the economy and thus create added value and promote the attractiveness of Austria as a business location. It is therefore suggested to support the creation of sustainable business models by facilitating access for startups to Venture Capital in Austria. This can be done by financial support for startups, reducing the cost of foundation or establishing a Venture Capital platform.
It is strongly suggested to create incentives for the creation and strengthening of Open Data. The field of Open Government Data can serve as good example and foster innovative projects. The public provision of data offers a lot of potential for research and economy and Austria currently offers several Open Government Data sets. To increase the quality, however, Open Data sets should be harmonized on a national level as to their format, their degree of detail and time frame and they should be updated regularly.
In the context of the rising quantity of data and information, a new business segment has developed: the data broker, who sells aggregated data sets. As the unstable legal situation in Austria stems businesses from investing in innovation in the data sector, the study strongly suggests the promotion and establishment of data markets. Data markets would enable a transparent legal framework for the reselling of data. A positive example is the platform CloudEO (www.cloudeo-ag.com). On this platform, data sets can be provided and users can, under certain conditions, analyze them and develop their own services on the basis of this data.
The unstable legal situation in Austria calls for the creation of an (international) legal framework. On one hand, the study suggests Austria to become the “Switzerland of Data”, meaning the establishment, implementation and control of clear data protection rules (data access and privacy rules) in Austria that also concern international firms. By establishing a real “safe haven” for data, Austria could fill a worldwide niche. On the other hand, Austria should advocate the establishment of an international legal framework. Clear guidelines and rules for the saving, analysis and sale of data with personal references have to be established with a strong accent on the protection of privacy but at the same time facilitating the use of this data.
In order to promote an Austrian business sector open to innovation, the researchers suggest the creation of a national platform or institution for data science that unites the different actors and stakeholders in Austria and allows perceiving Austria as an attractive location in the field of Big Data. Such an institution could foster the acquisition of competence in the economic sector by promoting specific educational programs, serve as a coordinator for the implementation of projects and also as a first contact for new firms to this segment. This national platform should serve as a competence center on all different levels of the Big Data Stack (infrastructure, analysis, utilization, platforms). This institution should be independent, flexible, sustainable and equally open to all stakeholders in the field. It should act as a strategic representation for Austria on the international and EU-level and cooperate with international institutions.
To secure the reinforcement and development of expertise and knowledge in Austria, the country needs to rely on an excellent tertiary education system that offers basic education training, research on highly topical issues and practice-relevant research. It is of utmost importance to secure a long-term funding of education, research and development. The fact that Austrian universities tend to hire on a short-term basis is rather counter-productive in securing the expertise available in Austria and induces a Brain Drain.
Finally, the study shows that the European market is not perceived to the extent of its potential and that Austrian firms concentrate rather on the local market. The researchers suggest to better communicate the “European idea” in order to strengthen the potential of the European market and the competitiveness of Austrian companies.