Follow-up report GXFS Connect 2022: Conference brought Gaia-X to life

On 7 and 8 September 2022, around 500 people were on-site and or joined the livestream as the key actors behind Gaia-X gathered in Berlin for GXFS Connect 2022. What innovations and reference implementations are possible with Gaia-X and how innovations and sovereignty are promoted were discussed by more than 40 speakers on the podium in the halls of STATION Berlin.

“Gaia-X is a central building block for allowing different data spaces to grow together through standardisation and specification,” said Ernst Stöckl-Pukall, Head of Division for Digitalisation and Industry 4.0 at the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Action (BMWK), in the opening panel. “Creating the necessary governance structures now is costly, but we need to drive this cultural change now.”

Making progress visible in Gaia-X

Gaia-X is the central building block for digital sovereignty. One example of this is Catena-X, in which automotive manufacturers and suppliers, as well as dealers, have joined together to enable a standardised exchange of data across supply chains. The common goal: Achieving more sustainability and resilience in the automotive industry. Ultimately, Industry 4.0 as a whole benefits from Gaia-X. Creating the necessary governance structures with Gaia-X now is costly, requires a change in thinking, and a firm belief in a cultural change –  this was the tenor of the first panel.

Klaus Ottradovetz from Atos focused on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs): “It is more difficult for SMEs to participate in complex governance processes. Nevertheless, they must not be discriminated against, but must also be able to contribute.” Gaia-X should continue to evolve, especially through the connection with secure infrastructures,.

“Europe’s diversity is reflected in decentralised structures,” said Harald A. Summa, CEO of eco – Association of the Internet Industry. He firmly believes that Gaia-X will be a recipe for success. “What we do today will fill us with pride and reward us with success in a few years’ time. Sharing in digital sovereignty and digital value creation should be a concern for all of us.”

Why a European approach is important was also explained by eco Chair Oliver Süme in the panel on legal aspects in the Gaia-X ecosystem. “The digital single market needs uniform regulations, and the GDPR is a good example of this. However, application scenarios in different sectors have different compliance requirements, which must be taken into account. “When technology and law work together, then we can find European standards, guidance and guidelines on the most important legal issues.”

Susanne Dehmel, Member of the Legal & Security Executive Board at Bitkom e.V., agreed with Süme: “There is no alternative to a legal framework for the European market. Gaia-X contributes to a simplified reconciliation of complex legal frameworks and complex digital business models, freeing companies and users from risks. Felix Beckmann from Airbus also agreed and called for a common syntax and architecture to define compliance and policy. “With Gaia-X, we need to make sure that we are all on the same page.”

Gaia-X promotes more sustainable IT

Digitalisation is also part of the solution to the current crisis in the energy markets, the experts on the following panel noted. The goal of Gaia-X is also to achieve the climate targets more quickly. “Gaia-X offers users and providers of digital applications the unique opportunity to make digital infrastructures more sustainable, hand in hand,” said Alexander Rabe, Managing Director of the eco Association. He called on politicians to seek cooperation with companies in order to create infrastructures that allow, for example, better use of waste heat from data centres to heat offices and living spaces.

For Dr Sabine Wilfling of Scheer GmbH, it is crucial that the evaluation of data with Gaia-X makes sustainability more transparent and measurable. This opportunity must be seized now.

Christoph Streit, Managing Director of ScaleUp Technologies: “Sustainability is not just about saving energy. Resources also play a big role. Users must be able to understand their consumption. Only then can they make the right decisions and advance sustainability.”

Peter Ittenbach from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) underlined: “If we want to promote sustainability with Gaia-X, we need to involve everyone, not just industry and academia; we need the full breadth of society, including SMEs.”

Ulrike Hinrichs, co-chair of the BMWK’s Young Digital Economy Advisory Council, also wants to improve the framework conditions for this: “The transformation processes that are possible in energy and sustainability must be financed. We need more strength and potential. Germany is very cautious. We need to talk about numbers.”

Innovation potential for European industry

Why do we need Gaia-X at all? To answer this question, Roland Fadrany, Chief Operating Officer of Gaia-X AISBL, based in Brussels, suggested giving more support to flagship projects. “It is about business cases and not about technology-theoretical questions. The projects will come bit by bit.”

“SMEs are also very good at high-tech,” Luise Kranich, Head of Division at the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, pointed out and called for incentive models to share data. As industry breaks down regional silos and cooperates more with diverse actors, it should think along with the public sector.

Data is raw material on the basis of which Gaia-X will raise innovation potentials, the discussants agreed. “Data only unfolds its value through contextualisation. Gaia-X makes this possible through appropriate standards, so that innovation potentials emerge,” added Peter Kraemer, Head of the Gaia-X Hub Germany. The coordination of user ecosystems and scientific support for Gaia-X are important tasks.

Gaia-X is what we make of it

In a subsequent pitch session at the end of the event day, various initiatives communicated what Gaia-X would like to achieve in concrete terms. Jutta J. Meier from Identity Valley presented the Digital Responsibility Goals, which deal with ethical issues of digitalisation. “We demand and promote digital responsibility for a value-based future of the digital world”. Markus Weber and Kai Meinke presented the Gaia-X research and flagship project EuProGigant (European Production GigNet), which shows how highly connected manufacturing can be equipped with self-organising and stabilising properties.

“We advocate for a data economy based on trust, privacy and personal identity,” said Manuela Urban and Eduard Itrich of the OSB Alliance. They spoke about the Sovereign Cloud Stack, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs, as an open technology for a federatable, sovereign cloud infrastructure.

The first day of the conference was followed by a networking evening event where conference guests, fortified with finger food and drinks, were able to exchange ideas with each other. In this context, the Gaia-X Roadshow powered by eco started with a discussion panel. Harald A. Summa, Stephan Ilaender (Plusserver), moderator Claudia van Veen, Roland Fadrany (AISBL), Bernhard Fohringer (Atos) and Emma Wehrwein (eco) talked about digital autonomy with Gaia-X, collaborative data spaces and the challenges involved in creating them.

Day 2 with high-profile guests and technical deep dives

High-ranking visitors from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) welcomed the participants on the second day. Parliamentary State Secretary Dr Franziska Brantner said in her keynote address in the morning: “The lack of digitalisation is painful, as we are also noticing now in the crisis on the energy market. With Gaia-X, we want to shape the digital future of Europe together. Even in times of crisis, we should think about the future; companies should be able to use and share their data in a self-determined way. Germany must become digitally better overall.

In the subsequent keynote speech, Iris Plöger, Member of the BDI Executive Board, emphasised the importance of digital sovereignty for German industry. “The proof of concept has been done,” she said, calling for Gaia-X to be now taken to scale. In order for Germany to remain a business location with a future, technology such as cloud, artificial intelligence, blockchain and quantum computing must be promoted today.

“Data spaces are untapped data treasures,” emphasised Stephan Ilaender, Chief Technology Officer of PlusServer, in the following panel that gathered some of the key players behind Gaia-X. “Now is the time to bring Gaia-X from theory into practice,” said Andreas Weiss, Head of Digital Business Models at the eco Association. “We need a federal approach in Europe to promote sovereignty and innovation. Gaia-X does that, even if it’s a bit abstract for many, because it lays the foundations for new digital business models and more resilient IT infrastructures.”

The GXFS toolbox helps develop applications and services

Rebekka Weiß, Head of Trust and Security (Bitkom), wants to bring technical and legal understanding together in the Gaia-X working groups. “We are developing a common understanding of data spaces and data exchange. An important task here is the development of digital identities for future applications. “Identities are central building blocks in Gaia-X.”

Technical deep dives followed in the afternoon of the second day. For example, experts presented the GXFS toolbox, the kickstarter for Gaia-X ecosystems. This includes open-source software that is intended to enable each federation to operate and thus to get started in the Gaia-X world. Dr. Christian Weiss, the GXFS Portal & Integration expert, showed a simple solution for how to change one’s own portfolio within a federation in a clear interface. Berthold Maier and Steffen Schulze, GXFS Identity & Trust experts, and Sebastian Steinbuß, GXFS Sovereign Data Exchange expert, gave in-depth insights into the security mechanisms, such as the validation of self-descriptions with Self Sovereign Identity (SSI). Thomas Niessen, the GXFS “Rule Conformity expert, underlined: “Federations interact and can be sure that all basic requirements are met. Nevertheless, all federations can add specific compliance requirements. That’s what you’ll find in the toolbox.”

The GXFS create trust in data ecosystems

After the afternoon break, Prof. Jens Böcker, Scientific Advisor of Böcker Ziemen Consulting, presented the GXFS study “Strategies for building Gaia-X ecosystems with the help of the

Gaia-X Federation Services – In Dialogue with the Gaia-X Support Projects”. The study maps the state of planning of the funding projects and discusses implementation strategies. “The GXFS create the basis and the necessary trust in data ecosystems with the aim of making platforms and data spaces a success,” said Prof. Böcker. Close cooperation between technological and business functions is important for this. Examples of this were then provided by the funding projects, which were united by the vision of using Gaia-X as an enabler to solve business and societally relevant problems. Examples from the automotive and healthcare sectors were presented by Dr Jan Henrik Schönke (LMIS AG, funding project: Car Repair 4.0), Dr Shalini Sahoo (Bechtle, funding project: Possible), Gino Barnard (Univention, funding project: Possible) and Harald Wagener (Berlin Charité, funding project: Health-X/dataLOFT).

Thomas Niessen, Sebastian Steinbuß and Dr Anja Strunk then spoke about a core element of the Gaia-X ecosystems, the so-called self-descriptions for companies and services. They explained how to join Gaia-X federations using these digital business cards and how to manage them in catalogue services.

Representatives of the domains of the Gaia-X Hub Germany talked about the future requirements for Gaia-X and the GXFS during the final panel of the GXFS Connect 2022. Prof. Frank Köster (DLR), Prof. Steffen Warmbold (Association of Consulting Engineers), Matthias Brucke (embeteco) and Tina Siegfried (Dataport) analysed and evaluated use cases in order to consolidate the requirements for Gaia-X. Here, the focus was particularly on the user perspective and the experiences from the currently eleven work domains of the Gaia-X Hub Germany.

After two days filled with experience exchange, knowledge transfer and networking, the participants left GXFS Connect 2022 at STATION Berlin. They all took away a deeper understanding of the various projects and how close they have all come to realising the potential and promise of Gaia-X.

Further information, approved slides of the speakers and links to the photo gallery and a video recording of the event can be found here.

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