Digital Sovereignty will define Europe’s next decade

The next ten years will be defining for our digital world, bringing in radical changes to how we work, learn and live

We will see exponential growth of data volume and distribution, as it gets shared across devices, households, organisations, governments and borders.

This brings with it a pressing need for digital sovereignty and capability across nations; the acknowledgement that there should be a regional, if not national, mandate to improve data security, privacy, and innovation. But this raises big questions; what are the challenges for businesses – and indeed all of us – if this doesn’t happen? What innovations are leading the response? And, crucially, how can this become a reality before potential threats outweigh opportunity?

Defining digital sovereignty

Boil it down and this is about people, businesses and government maintaining control over their data, ensuring the right controls are in place to prevent it being accessed and misused by unknown actors. Twenty years ago, the solution was simpler, but in a true multinational, multi-cloud world, data is spread all over the globe, bringing complications to where it is, who owns it and who can access and change it.

As Sylvain Rouri, Chief Sales Officer at cloud provider OVHcloud says; “more companies, more software, and more applications are relying on the cloud. It’s how we now produce services to citizens, customers and users, and it needs to be fully transparent and agnostic to such an extent that we have complete control of our data.”

Where does responsibility lie

So who actually wants and needs sovereignty over their data? Well, it’s everybody.

Understandably, governments around the world want their citizen data to stay within their national boundaries and they’re concerned about whether all of the data they’re building is sitting within another nation’s control – a genuine issue of national security. It’s the same scenario for organisations. Most businesses want to be global but it’s a delicate balancing act, juggling operations – including the interchange and storage of data – across different countries and entities.

That’s especially true when you start to look at the nuances of specific market sectors. Take the challenges banks are facing as an example, Regulators are carefully looking at concentration risk – saying ‘don’t put all of your eggs into one cloud basket, spread the risk across clouds… but also make sure you can get out of these clouds at any given moment, oh and make sure you always know where your data is and have control of it’. These are deeply technical challenges that are not solved overnight. And it’s an indicator of why there are over four and a half thousand cloud providers, collectively satisfying the need for choice in a multi-cloud world.

Action talks louder than words

So what is being done in response to all of this? What efforts are leading the way in shaping our digital decade?

Enter Gaia-X, a project built to create a federated and secure data infrastructure in Europe and beyond. Gaia-X is working towards a vision of an open, transparent and secure digital ecosystem, where data and services can be made available, collated and shared in an environment of trust. Anybody can be Gaia-X compliant, so long as they open their services and technology to be inspected, verified and made transparent.

According to Francesco Bonfiglio, CEO Gaia-X Association, AISBL it is about “taking back control of digital technologies”. He has seen enthusiastic members from around the world, not least from countries like Korea and Japan, where businesses are hungry for consistent levels of proven trust. “This is not a European problem,” Francesco says. “We are talking about the future of the worldwide economy, which is going to be driven mainly by data. If you don’t have control, this will simply constitute a move of the economy’s value to one of less control.”

Trust as the foundation to build on

Part of this equation has to be trust. People have trust issues going into the cloud before and have in fact had their trust broken. The action being taken now is a sign of maturity in the cloud market – which has evolved to the point where many different providers are delivering nuanced, mature versions of the technology that offers users choice, reliability and value.

At the same time, we also need to think bigger. The future of data isn’t just in clouds; it’s highly distributed, at the edge. New standards and ways of talking about data need to consider where data exists, holistically, that’s throughout the entire design chain and architecture.

The opportunity couldn’t be bigger. We are working through this ‘digital decade’ with purpose, but the work we do now – rooted in collaboration, trust and transparency – will be significant far beyond 2030. It’s an incredibly exciting time to take back control.

About the Author

Joe Baguley is VMware’s Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for EMEA, joining VMware in July 2011. He helps develop and communicate VMware’s strategy and vision with customers and partners, using his wealth of experience to help organisations reduce costs and better support users and business needs. As part of VMware’s Office of the CTO and its representative in EMEA, Joe assists VMware’s customers in understanding how to use today’s advances in technology to deliver real business impact and plan for disruptive technologies of the future, as well as working with them to inform VMware’s R&D processes. 

Featured image: ©Mathias Weil