In November 2019, ITI DATA CYCLE HUB was one the five finalists of the first Champions Challenge of Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs). This maturity recognition challenge developed by DIHNET together with the European Commission has highlighted the success of an ecosystem that had already been active for years. We met with Daniel Saez Domingo, Strategic Intelligence & Technology Transfer Director at the ITI and coordinator of the DCH – Data Cycle Hub to get to know better one of the European DIH pioneers and a leading actors of the Spanish Data driven economy.
How did the story of your Digital Innovation Hub get started?
In 1994, the regional public agency of innovation, a group of ICT companies and the Technic University of Valencia created the ITI R&D centre. Since the very beginning, thanks to this combination of various expertises, the ITI has been working in what could be called a “Digital Innovation Hub” mode, following the mission of facilitating the transfer of advanced digital technologies to improve competitiveness of companies.
The ITI relationship with the DIH concept started in 2015, when we were actively involved into the I4MS Phase 2 initiative within the BEinCPPS project, a network of DIHs around Cyber Physical Systems in manufacturing. The concept of Digital innovation hub appeared to us as an obvious evolution of our organisation as ITI was bringing together research centres and a very active ecosystem of more than 250 companies. We then built a global strategy by deciding on the setting up of the ITI DATA CYCLE HUB and the definition of a branding strategy and the registration on the EC catalogue. We also continued to strengthen our ecosystem by expanding it to new partners and integrating new industrials clusters.
Could you describe your DIH ecosystem and its development policy?
At the moment, we are twenty-nine stakeholders in the ecosystem and we work on a collaborative mode according to a consortium agreement we have discussed among all. ITI is the coordinator of the DIH but in the next general assembly members can elect a new coordinator & president depending on the needs of the ecosystem.
The coordination within the DIH is mainly ensured through a governance and management structure:
All our stakeholders are involved at each level of governance and they are all eager and willing to collaborate together. They are convinced of the added-value that a DIH can bring as a single entry point for any company or any professional looking for solutions. One good example of this interest for collaborative work is the organisation of a common annual training program on ICT, which allows to get critical mass and provide unique and complete training proposition at the regional level for covering all the needs in digital technologies for Valencia region Companies.
How many companies have been accompanied by the DIH on the base of the DIH services?
During the last years, we have been able to accompany more than 300 companies in their digital transformation. The support that we gave to them was based on a set of services combining the three main pillars of Community, Technology and Business. In DCH, we have defined a set of services that the DIH should be able to provide systematically. To do so, we’ve identified all the services that the members of our DIH are able to provide to companies and the members that will participate in providing each service. In the case we don’t have the service pre-defined, we launch a call for solution or challenge within our research ecosystem which is very dynamic.
Some of the DIH services are provided for free to the companies because they are totally funded by public money. Some others are partially covered by public funds. The digital maturity assessment for example is covered by the national and local Industry Ministries up to 66%, so the assessed company only paysfor the last third of the cost.
What is your vision of DIHs development in Europe?
We are very interested in the new concept of European DIH (EDIH) developed by the European Commission. We hope to get a European DIH in the Valencia Region as soon as possible to extend what we have got in DCH and be able to provide more services to companies for free through cascade funding. We would like to use this potential additional funding to be able, at the end of the European projects, to create new sources of revenue thanks to the new services that we will have developed.
In Spain we need to reach a critical mass of innovative companies to be a reference point for companies and public services that need to increase their use of digital technologies to improve their competitiveness and their efficiency. In this regard, the Digital Europe Programme and the concept of EDIH seems critical. The digital maturity level of companies in Valencia region could be higher and the ITI DATA CYCLE HUB will provide them the appropriate tools to start their digital transformation. But we also need tools for companies which are already quite advanced and looking for cutting-edge technologies.
How do you proceed to the digital maturity assessment?
We have designed a digital maturity assessment tool according to a methodology defined by the Ministry of Industry through the initiative “Industria Connectada 4.0” & Activa Industria 4.0.
This methodology relies on five pillars: strategy, processes, organisation, infrastructures and productos/services.
Following those 5 pillars, we have prepared a set of questions that constitute the two steps of the digital maturity assessment. First a self-assessment tool which is a starting point but sometimes a bit far from the reality; and then, secondly, the diagnostic process through face to face meetings. During the face to face meetings, we work with each company on the five pillars to be able to prioritise the opportunities offered to them and to define a digital transformation action plan. At the end of this diagnostic process we provide the company with a roadmap in which we suggest some technologies and some providers. We usually find the needed solutions within the local DIH ecosystem.
What could be the added value of Pan-European collaboration?
One of the main added value we see on European collaboration is data sharing. Data are a very important asset for digital technologies. The more data you have the more accurate your model is.
At Regional, National and European level, we have a very fragmented Data Space. Working at the European level on the sharing of those data bases could be interesting to improve the models. Federated and powerful infrastructures that can support that data sharing and data processing are very important and ITI is working actively in this area. In this sense, ITI DATA CYCLE HUB has the privilege to count with the ITI Data Space, a data infrastructure to facilitate the test before invest concept. This Data Space provides an architecture for federating data infrastructures and gain critical mass for data experiments.
The other interest would be to know where to find the technologies that are not available in our own ecosystem. We are a partner of the AI DIH network gathering thirty DIHs around Europe dealing with AI technologies. In November 2019, twenty-four of those DIHs have signed a collaboration agreement to share best practices and serve cross-border experiments.
We are also coordinating the project EUHubs4Data with a budget of 12 million euros, which will create the European Federation of Big Data Innovation Hubs. Started within Big Data Value Association (BDVA), which ITI contributed to launch in 2014, and its iSpaces concept, the topic and project were identified as strategic ones. This project will coordinate the network of Big Data Innovation Hubs along Europe to define a common catalogue of data driven services. BDVA and IDSA are also key players in the project.
What has been the impact of the registration of ITI DATA CYCLE HUB in the JRC DIHs catalogue?
Our hub was already the reference in the region concerning digital and data driven technologies. We decided to take a step ahead by including us in the catalogue, in order to gain European visibility and show all our potential.
This did not change the way we worked, but now we can confirm that being registered in the catalogue is a very good way to show your capacities to the network and to start building collaboration with others players. Being identified in the catalogue provide us with much more contacts throughout Europe.
Have you notice any impact of being one of the 5th finalist of the DIHs Challenge?
The impact at the European level is not yet clear. However, at local and national level, it has been very important for us to be recognised at the European level. Undoubtedly, this will have an impact and should help the Valencia region to have a European DIH very soon.
Now we are also working on the Spanish DIHs community within the DIHNET community platform, jointly with PLANETIC. Those new ways of collaborating are very interesting for us.
Interview by Maria Dimarco, DIHNET