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Digital Infrastructure

Eline N. Lincklaen Arriens

Infrastructure is an important component to various aspects of life. For example, transport. Infrastructure is the combination of roads, railway systems, ports, power supply, airports and navigation, and how it is ensured that each of these aspects are working efficiently. Another example is architecture. A solid infrastructure can ensure that buildings and bridges are sturdy and can withstand volatile weather conditions and keep citizens safe. In our daily lives, we can see how good and solid infrastructure is important, but how does infrastructure translate – or relate – to data?  

A data infrastructure refers to a digital infrastructure that promotes data sharing and consumption. Similar to other types of infrastructure, it is a structure that is needed to support a system or an architecture. A digital infrastructure acts as the foundational service for the information technology and is necessary to ensure that the operations of transferring data from one entity to another, whether it be for services or to facilitate knowledge sharing, for example, is done successfully.

The first example of a European data infrastructure is the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) in 2006. The ESFRI is the first European roadmap for large-scale Research Infrastructures and supported the sharing of a wide spectrum of resources, spanning from networks, storage, computing resources, and system-level middleware software, to structured information within collections, archives and databases. The ESFRI is still ongoing and acts as a strategic instrument to develop the scientific integration of Europe and to strengthen its international outreach.

With increasing awareness of the importance that a solid digital infrastructure can play in society, a lot more attention is being focused toward developing the concept. This is especially true in regard to creating a solid technical structure and legal framework to share data, particularly when the data being shared is personal data. There are already several examples of institutions sharing data around the world in a manner than is technically and legally secure. For example:

·       Technology Industries Finland (TIF) – an advocacy organisation for companies in the information technology industry in Finland that specialises legal frameworks as a component of infrastructure.

·       SODA – a project that offers a piece of technology infrastructure as it aims to tackle data protection and anonymisation issues based on Secure Multiparty Computation (MPC).

In addition, there are studies that look at the aspects involved in establishing a secure digital infrastructure. One example is Ctrl-Shift’s Personal Data Mobility Infrastructure Sandbox – a project that explores how to enable organisations and citizens to access the economic and social benefits of what Ctrl-Shift calls “Personal Data Mobility”. The project examined how to deliver safe data sharing and investigated how new markets can be unlocked by making data sharing safe for individuals and organisations, focusing on aspects such as regulatory standards and infrastructure.  

More organisations are becoming aware of the benefits of data sharing and are actively exploring how to share data with others to create more business opportunities and value. Given that the data sharing space is still relatively new, organisations that are looking to share data will look to previous examples and the initial infrastructure used as a base for their model. Thus, the most successful experiments or initiatives that are using data sharing will be investigated and can become the convention, and from there a common practice and base for all future initiatives.

Do you know of other developments around digital infrastructure? Share it with us in the forum or in the comments below.