On request of my employer KPN I contributed to the yearly technology book with an article on data driven society. I’m happy to share the result. The full technology book can be found here.

1 What is a data-driven society and why does it make sense?

A data-driven society is one that uses data for more efficient, decentralized
decision-making. Driven by innovation and developments such as IoT, society today produces massive amounts of data from a range of sources.

What’s still not done very often, however, is sharing these different data sets to create new services, and enable faster, better quality and more efficient decision-making. Doing so on a large scale would create a data-driven society that experts believe could become a reality in a matter of years. Examples could be efficient waste management in cities based on real-time and historical data, or providing tailor-made advice for crowd management, guaranteeing safe and enjoyable mass sporting and music events.

A full-fledged data-driven society would have a huge impact on how
governments, cities and businesses design and implement policies
and strategies. If citizens could access data that was previously almost
exclusively available to their local or national governments, they might feel
empowered to draw their own conclusions and develop their own policies to deal with issues in their community. This could lead to new forms of decentralized policies and decision-making. A local neighborhood, for instance, might have its own ideas on how to regulate traffic, based on locally generated traffic data.

2 What is the current status and what are the anticipated future developments of a data-driven society?

Most initiatives are still at a stage where the technology is being explored to see what sort of pilot applications could be launched. One exception is social media; it’s using the cloud and the latest technology to share huge amounts of data real-time without authorities intervening. An obstacle to developing more applications, however, is our society’s current general lack of trust.

Although people acknowledge the opportunities access to data could offer, there are concerns about security and data being used unethically. As a result, it can be difficult for companies that want to develop new applications to convince parties to indeed share their data. There are also practical concerns about the scalability of data-related services.

One of the first projects in the Netherlands to address these issues is the Dutch Partnership Talking Traffic, where multiple stakeholders, in some cases competitors, cooperate to develop ways to better streamline traffic and reduce traffic jams by 20% by sharing data. KPN plays a crucial role in this initiative, facilitating data sharing through its specially built Data Services Hub.

3 Why is a data-driven society relevant to KPN?

A data-driven society requires networks that enable trusted exchange of information between people, things and organizations. As a leader in ‘connectivity’ in the Netherlands, and based on our potential role as a neutral intermediary and experience with analyzing and securely storing data, KPN is well-positioned to provide products and services to support a data-driven society.

We already provide crucial building blocks for a data-driven society through our Data Services Hub and our networks such as LoRaWAN and LTE-M.

4 What are the key technologies behind a data-driven society, the expected timeframes and the main technological hurdles?

The technological building blocks for a data-driven society, such as
connectivity, the cloud, robotics, big data and data science, are all available. We also have the technology enabling the use of applications in different IT systems, which is crucial when different parties want to cooperate and share data. Blockchain is another technology that could enable data-driven societies. A major hurdle is that we still need to develop regulation to balance privacy and security considerations with the opportunities that big data offer to businesses and governments. As long as parties involved don’t know exactly what they may or may not do with data, there will be uncertainty. This makes it difficult for them to build trust.

Another hurdle is an intolerance among the public and regulators of errors in gathering or processing data. Becoming a data-driven society will be a process of trial and error for at least the next five years. But if even the slightest mistake in dealing with data can lead to major reputation damage, many companies will be hesitant to invest in new applications.

5 Who are the frontrunners and which world-leading companies, institutes, experts and publications should readers invest time in?

Social media players are leaders and all the big tech companies (e.g. IBM,
Cisco and Ericsson) have a vision and plans for a data-driven society. The
World Economic Forum is very invested in this topic, particularly in how to boost confidence in this kind of concept.

The city of Toronto is a frontrunner among cities and is building a neighborhood designed as a model for urban life in the 21st century, with high-speed communication networks and connectivity to collect data from
sensors in public spaces and buildings to report various environmental data.

Estonia is a leader among countries in implementing technologies and taking steps to entrust data-based decision-making to local communities. It claims that use of IT tools and data in the security services (e-Police, emergency services) has halved the number of deaths by accidents in Estonia over the last 20 years.