On 31 January, i3-MARKET hosted an SME Forum with members of the European DIGITAL SME Alliance, to hear their thoughts and feedback on how they currently use data and data marketplaces, with the purpose of using this information to help develop the i3-MARKET backplane to better serve the needs of European SMEs. 45 people took part in the Forum, which began with presentations from the i3-MARKET coordinator to introduce the current European landscape for data marketplaces and the benefits that greater data sharing would have for the European data economy. After providing this high-level overview, i3-MARKET technical partners then demonstrated the backplane technology that the project is developing, highlighting how this could be used by European companies to access multiple data marketplaces across a range of sectors.
Following these presentations, the participants were divided into thematic breakout sessions to discuss in more detail their experiences and motivations for using data marketplaces with i3-MARKET partners. From these discussions, i3-MARKET was able to understand several important factors that can help inform the development of the backplane to ensure that it suits the needs of its users.
One key takeaway from the Forum was that there was a stark divide between the participants in attendance as to how much time they would be willing to spend to connect to the Backplane, as some would be willing to invest more than two weeks to onboard, while others would only want to spend less than two days – and the split of participants was nearly 50/50 along this divide. This contrast could be interpreted in a number of ways, but this would suggest that perhaps some companies are still struggling to find value through data marketplaces and therefore don’t see them as a something worth investing time in. In this breakout room, the split between data providers and data consumers was also nearly 50/50, highlighting two of the key audiences that the project can engage with, and potentially form the basis of future Forums or workshop. It would be interesting to investigate further whether there is alignment between company role (data provider/data consumer) with regard to the Backplane and their willingness to invest time into onboarding, as this could reveal motivations for companies engaging with the Backplane. It did appear from initial discussions that data providers were willing to spend time onboarding, and data consumers not as interested.
The second takeaway from the meeting is that companies were interested to understand further how the Backplane could impact their business models. There were several comments regarding the incentives to use the Backplane and how i3-MARKET conceptualised transactions. Timoleon presented the i3-MARKET business models, highlighting where value could be derived for the users of the Backplane.
There was also discussion regarding the value proposition of the Backplane for SMEs, which can be considered at two levels: firstly, the practical, felt benefits of integrating with an ecosystem of data marketplaces: i.e being able to find already sorted/indexed data, more markets for data providers to sell to, greater ease-of-use for buyers, easier to source relevant data for testing new applications; and secondly, higher level, more abstract benefits, that potentially relate to the develop of the data economy, such as development of new innovations and the creation of new business models around data sharing. While it can be quite easy for the project to demonstrate how the Backplane will provide the practical benefits for companies, the conversation around the abstract level benefits – which may be required to convince non-data user companies to begin using data in their business practices, may need development, and in this, i3-MARKET is perhaps only one voice among many.
To complement this, it was agreed that the status of the Backplane as a non-profit technology based on an open-source approach was a positive indicator.
The Forum also helped the project partners identify some challenges that companies will face when adopting the backplane. Trust in the sources of data was raised as a particular concern, as users would like to be sure of the accuracy and legitimacy of the data that they will be receiving. Ensuring user trust in the system can be achieved through greater communication of the privacy, trust and security design features of the backplane. The sharing of data was also discussed, as consent would be needed from data owners before sharing their data across different platforms.
Further to this, there was interest in the anonymisation techniques that would be used and whether these could result in loss of information when transferring data. Another challenge that was raised was the supply of data for the platform. The access to large amount of data that the Backplane provides is a pull factor for SMEs to use the platform and in the World Café session there was interest in understanding the onboarding process for big data suppliers to ensure that there was a strong supply of data for companies to access.
The challenges of different data models and how companies would like to access data was raised by ATOS during this session, but it appears that there was no consensus on the type of data standardisation that would be preferred by companies. This could be explored further in a follow up meeting, as enabling ease-of-access is a good value proposition for the backplane. Another issue that was raised was how
Thanks to the hard work of partners in preparing an interesting and relevant workshop and the attendees for sharing their thoughts, experiences and opinions, i3-MARKET was able to host an informative and engaging SME Forum that will contribute to the design of the Backplane and hopefully its adoption by SMEs looking to benefit from greater access to data. The Forum provided some clear insights into the value of the platform, as well as highlighting areas in which the consortium needs to deal with challenges. Given the diversity of companies that took part in the forum, there are many avenues that can be explored in the future for further requirements gathering, including organising workshops by user type and offering more practical onboarding services for the companies that are already interested in using the backplane.