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Connecting data innovators across UK and France

Wed Jun 27, 2018
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As part of its innovation programme, the Open Data Institute has been building on the recommendations of the UK–France Data Innovation Task Force, to connect data innovators and data innovation across the UK and France.

By Tom Hunter and Lucia Chauvet

As part of its innovation programme, the Open Data Institute (ODI) has been building on the recommendations of the UK–France Data Innovation Task Force, to connect data innovators and data innovation across the UK and France.

Our UK–France work has so far connected stakeholders through three bilateral projects, and our recent UK–France transport data workshop brought together leaders from key sectors. As part of this project, we have also conducted qualitative research with key ‘data stakeholders’ in both countries.

Our research aimed to identify potential areas for collaboration between the UK and France that will help both countries strengthen ties and put down foundations for a UK–France ‘data ecosystem’ (a system to map data infrastructure: how data is stored, accessed, used and shared, showing interactions between the data, its users, and related services and apps). In this blog, we outline three priority areas for data-led UK–France collaboration. These are industries and/or technologies where France and the UK have either best-in-class ‘data innovation’, complementary skill sets, or political momentum behind them.

How did we identify these areas? The ODI used semi-structured interviews with participants from 11 organisations across both countries (such as Digital Catapult, Transport for London (TfL), Etalab, Data Activist, Five by Five), as well as desk research to uncover three priority areas for collaboration: Transport, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Financial Technology.

1. Transport: a sector with ‘best in class’ data innovation in the UK and France

In our interviews, transport quickly emerged as a sector with vast opportunities for data collaboration between both countries. Interviewees considered France and the UK to have led the way in innovation in mobility and transport solutions. They also both have sophisticated open data ecosystems: both countries rank in the top five worldwide in Open Data Barometer rankings.

And some of the most innovative uses of data in the transport sector have emerged from the UK and France: Bla Bla Car, the ride-sharing service, was founded in France before expanding to other European countries (including the UK). Citymapper started in London before moving to other cities.

Our research also reported a perception among interviewees that both countries have complementary skill sets in the data and transport sectors. In the words of one of our interviewees: “In the UK there is great community engagement, organisations like TfL engage with their community in a way we don’t really see here… In France, we have excellent engineering schools that produce talent that is sought after across the world.”

With that in mind, the ODI organised the first UK–France transport data workshop on 15 February 2018 which saw participation from leading organisations such as TfL, Transfermuga, Transdev amongst others. The objective was to identify the most promising avenues for further collaboration on transport data between UK and France, whether this be cross-border travel, interoperability or startup exchange programmes.

2. Artificial intelligence (AI): a key sector where European countries can work together to succeed

Our interviews also revealed AI to be a key area where European countries, and particularly the UK and France thrive can excel, thanks to the mathematics heritage at British universities and institutions such as Paris-Saclay in the French capital.

Analysis by MMC Ventures shows that the UK has a new AI company launched almost every week and many interviewees mentioned France’s ambition in the space being symbolised by Station F, a previous railway station which now hosts the largest startup campus in the world.

Interviewees noted “the strength of the AI communities in France and in the UK” and that “government investment in France to facilitate startup/corporate collaboration has been really picked up by AI firms”. Additionally, the UK and France decided to join forces and support net neutrality, which promotes a free and open internet.

As well as the many recent bilateral AI events, Matt Hancock ( UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport), and Françoise Nyssen (French Minister of Culture), recently announced plans for a UK and France artificial intelligence tie up, through a summit later this year that would bring together industry, government and academic research, with the end goal of encouraging cross-channel investment in AI. The first Franco–British Artificial Intelligence Conference also took place this year (January 2018) at the Alan Turing Institute discussing academic collaboration between the two countries and business opportunities for organisations based in the UK and France.

These findings show the vast interest and opportunities in collaboration and competition between French and UK AI sectors. In parallel, as part of our innovation programme, the ODI has produced a report on the state of play for AI and machine learning focused on the role of data in AI business models. This will help both technology and product managers in the UK private sector make more informed decisions.

3. Fintech and open banking: challenges and opportunities with the implementation of PSD2

The final priority sector we identified throughout our interviews, due to the similarity of challenges and opportunities faced, is financial technology (Fintech). In 2018, financial sector organisations across the EU will be required to open up data to third parties with the implementation of the second Payment Services Directive (PSD2).

Many interviewees noted that both countries host some of the leading innovators in the sector. In the UK there are new challenger banks like Monzo, while young companies like Marketinvoice have allowed small- and medium-sized enterprises to access capital in flexible ways. Both countries have large associations representing the Fintech community. In France, startups like Younited Credit and Lendix provide revolutionary ways for households and companies to access capital.

In particular, the implementation of PSD2, which mandates banks across the continent to open up data to third parties, has created both challenges and opportunities across both countries. One of our interviews noted the speed of the change: “It’s moving really fast, and these financial organisations in both countries don’t have much choice… It’s really interesting to see how different countries are adopting different strategies for the same directive.” In another of our ODI blogs, we begin to outline key differences between open banking in France and the UK.

While arguably, the UK has led the way in Fintech to date, France is certainly catching up: Fintech investment in France increased by 71% from January to September 2016. The two countries could both become hubs of a sector that is revolutionising the finance industry.