It is so nice to be supported by Minister Kris Peeters and his team during our first Data Innovation Summit. Thank you Leo for the excellent presentation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to apologise Vice Prime minister Kris Peeters for not being able to make it to this meeting due to a political meeting that succeeded to eventually dominate his agenda.
On days like these, when the bright minds of the world of data come together, we have a great opportunity to look ahead. We can discuss the next step in a field that progresses at an impressive speed.
Now that digital has become the new normal, what will be the new extraordinary?
The digital economy is one of the most dynamic and promising sectors in terms of development potential. Its possibilities for growth far exceed those of other sectors. Mobile data traffic doubles each year, the use of the internet does so every two or three years. Today, 4 million people work in ICT in the European Union and their share increases with 3% per year, despite the economic crisis.
For the federal government of Belgium, our prime goal is to translate this digital growth into job creation. This is why we are developing our digital agenda. If we want to stay ahead as a digital nation, we’ll need to invest. We have a more developed high speed internet infrastructure than most other countries. We do not want to give up on that advantageous position. We instead wish to continue to invest in a 4G and LTE advanced network in Belgium.
At the same time, we need to invest in our regulatory framework. We need to update our privacy legislation that dates back to 1992, which, in digital terms, is the stone age. Privacy is a key driver for digital progress. The digital revolution will come to a halt when people’s trust diminishes. People have to be granted the right to information ànd the right to be overlooked, ignored, forgotten. Moreover, people need to feel safe when they go online.
The government therefore, wants to make the CyberSecurityCenter operational this year. This center will work out a strategy to secure our nation’s digital network and the information we have online. Moreover, the Federal Public Service for Economy organizes campaigns to raise awareness on the data and digital fingerprint that people leave online.
In today’s age of big data, these kinds of campaigns have become a necessity. Never before in the history of mankind, data have been collected, processed and linked at this massive a scale. A company’s power today is not just valued in terms of capital, but also in terms of data. Data is the new gold. Data means a company can produce, ship and market their products and services far more efficiently.
In fact, our cabinet has already reaped the benefits of big data. We have been working together with a promising Belgian start-up, called Dataminded, who analyse our social media activities and we have already changed our communication policy on the basis of this analysis.
Both the Vice Prime Minister and his staff are convinced of the great added value of big data. But, ladies and gentlemen, this does not mean that all bets are off. As I mentioned earlier, we need some form of regulation. Moreover, we need to think about creating a level playing field.
The term ‘big data’ is quite self-explanatory. Big companies, first and foremost, are capable of gathering a critical mass of data for useful analysis. Those companies have the means to buy data or to invest in data processing. The question therefore is, how we can make sure that small and medium sized companies – those that somewhat are the backbone of our economy – can also become part of the big data story.
This is why the federal government is working on legislation that makes open data accessible to citizens, companies and researchers. The exchange of data between governments and other organisations, will strengthen literally every citizen and company. Sharing data means strengthening everybody.
Companies that own data, need to keep this in mind. Big data should be more than a new way to maximize profits. Big data should also benefit society. Take product information for instance. It is abundantly present in digital networks and it is used to reduce costs, boost productivity and make marketing efforts more efficient. Product information is often highly specialized, technical and exhaustive. It is so exhaustive that it confuses the average consumer. This is the point where big data should cross the boundary between economic logic and social logic.
Let me give you one very concrete example. In December of last year, a new European regulation on Food Information to Consumers came into force. This legislation will ensure that consumers get more information on the food products that are put on sale in stores. But given the abundance of information, it is difficult for the consumer to use this in a meaningful way. So wouldn’t companies rather share their product information with others who can present these data in a more comprehensive way? Isn’t is socially responsible, isn’t it a corporate social duty for them to share information so that this legislation can actually be applied and we can make the consumer more aware, give him a chance to make rational decisions? This is where data should be turned into knowledge.
Now, some companies will consider this a threat. But frankly, they are wrong. If you take initiative, you create opportunities. You get ahead instead of trailing the pack. First of all, transparency about data creates trust. And trust boosts business. Secondly, when companies provide their data directly, they can be sure that the data on the market are correct. Companies that continue to shield and hesitate and stay aloof, make the wrong choice. Because eventually the data will see the light of day. The huge multinational internet companies will put this data on the market sooner or later. And they will not wait for an agreement or cooperation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Big data is indeed big business. But it also means big responsibility. While having the new gold in your hands, you should think twice about what you use it for. Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “if you need to handle yourself, you should use your head; but if you have to handle others, use your heart.”
I hope hearts and minds will work together when we develop the new extraordinary. Because that is what big data is. Now that digital has become the new normal, big data is the next leap.
For now, I wish all of you a productive and fruitful conference. And together with Vice Prime Minister Peeters, I do look forward to the great innovations that all of you, the bright minds of big data, will create in the years to come.
I thank you.