Companies earn their money with products, services, or solutions, while data is often simply a by-product or waste product of their day-to-day business. This maxim sounds so logical, so familiar – but is no longer true. Just as the digital transformation megatrend is changing business processes, it is also transforming the role that data plays in companies. This role is increasingly being viewed as an asset and a strategic resource.
Yet, when working with their business partners, how can companies use this resource and share data without losing control over their own data? The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft’s answer to this question is the Industrial Data Space. Basically, it is a shared, protected data space in which business partners can exchange their data according to certain rules and use it together.
Each company determines in advance which uses of its data are permitted as part of the collaboration and which are prohibited. Only certified parties are allowed into the protected data space, and only once their identity has been verified. In short, the Industrial Data Space offers the best of both worlds: data can be used freely within the collaboration, but the companies keep full control. Each company retains its sovereignty over its data at all times.
Successful pilot project with Salzgitter AG
What sounds good in theory also works well in practice, as is currently being demonstrated in a project implemented by the Fraunhofer Institute for Software and Systems Engineering ISST together with Salzgitter AG, a steel group. Their aim is to exchange warehouse data between customer and supplier systems via the machine interface in an automated, secure and encrypted process using smart data apps. Customers can inquire if a certain type of steel is available at a particular date, and the supplier system reports how much will be on hand. Mapping the master data is done automatically. Prof. Heinz Jörg Fuhrmann , Chairman of the Executive Board of Salzgitter AG, describes the advantage of the Industrial Data Space: “It completely eliminates the laborious manual process of data synchronization.”
Connectors manage the Industrial Data Space
Smart data apps make the solution easy to operate. However, these aren’t the usual apps that transmit their data over the Internet; instead, they provide various functions as well as some user interfaces. Underlying these apps is a crucial software component: the connector. Connectors form the core of the Industrial Data Space architecture. They are tasked with organizing the exchange of data and ensuring the security of the entire shared data space. The Fraunhofer Institute for Applied and Integrated Security AISEC is developing the security technology for the connectors.
In addition to managing warehouse data, the researchers are also employing the Industrial Data Space to develop solutions for real-time monitoring of transports with an eye to improving delivery processes. They plan to equip food transports with sensors that transmit parameters such as temperature, vibration and light via the connectors. As a result, food retailers can ensure that the goods arrive unopened and fresh. If the cooling function failed at some point during the journey, the retailer can take action early on and reorder.
Industrial Data Space connects industries
Another benefit of the Industrial Data Space is that it is well positioned to connect different sectors together because partners can jointly manage their data and tap innovative potential. Viewing data as a strategic resource even gives rise to new business models. “We can imagine that the Industrial Data Space will produce a kind of marketplace in which companies use data as a medium of exchange,” says Prof. Boris Otto, head of research for the Industrial Data Space and director of Fraunhofer ISST.
The Fraunhofer researchers are developing prototype connectors and apps for the reference architecture of the Industrial Data Space. “We will have a wide range of variants from many different providers that all work together. This ensures the functioning of the Fraunhofer reference architecture model, including the certification process,” says Prof. Otto. An initial reference model for the Industrial Data Space architecture will debut at the Hannover Messe 2017. In addition, Fraunhofer ISST will present the initiative at the Hannover Messe 2017 and CeBIT 2017, and Fraunhofer AISEC will showcase a trusted connector at both events.
Overall, twelve Fraunhofer Institutes are involved in the initiative. It is sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), which began supporting the Industrial Data Space research project in October 2015 for a period of three years.