SAP’s chief technologist asks government for clarity over data ownership

SAP, amongst other vendors, has warned that device compatibility is a minor dilemma in comparison to the legal issues surrounding storage and transfer of that data - and it is asking for the government to provide clarity on ownership.

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SAP, amongst other technology vendors, has called on the UK government for more clarity over data ownership and privacy as the Internet of Things evolves.

Firms are already torn between hardware standards to ensure that all connected devices that will eventually stream data are not lost in translation.

But SAP, amongst other vendors, has warned that device compatibility is a minor dilemma in comparison to the legal issues surrounding storage and transfer of that data - and it is asking for the government to provide clarity on ownership.

Dr Mark Darbyshire, SAP’s chief technologist for UK and Ireland told ComputerworldUK that SAP had discussed the matter with government recently.

He said: "We need clarity around the legalities. Who owns the data, who can see the data, what does the data mean, what happens when we combine that data with other data? That is where a lot of people would like clarity and I don’t think we are the only vendor in that position.”

A networked economy

Having bought Ariba, Concur and Fieldglass, SAP has invested heavily in creating an end-to-end business network for its customers. It is investing in an academic project with Oxford University to see how businesses like GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca could link their production and procurement pools to better serve their customers.

For example, GlaxoSmithKline  has an estimated 2,000 suppliers on an Ariba network - a one-stop shop to procure whatever they need, rather than individually managing those relationships.

By extending this network to other pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors and retailers - like Boots for example - the firm can start to ask questions like, “where is the last bottle of Lemsip in the UK”, Darbyshire explained. This will cut wastage in latent stock, supply chain fraud and better serve patients who rely on the manufacturer’s drugs if the worst happens - like a disaster on a factory floor.

“Having that network, we can ask where is the local supply if it runs out, we could connect to networks in France, Belgium or even the US and bring stock over,” he added.

While it is still an academic project at the moment, Darbyshire hopes that the research will result in a service, or portal, that SAP customers will be able to use in the future.

But a business network like this, combined with smart factories and digitised shop shelves predicted for the IoT, opens a can of worms for the data holders - namely SAP.

“We might see all of your transactions but Cisco might see all of your packets, and Apple might see all of your interactions. So there are a number of companies that could get in the path of seeing all of what is going on - and we would all like to get some clarity on that. It’s not an easy question to answer,” Darbyshire said.

He predicted that areas like insurance telemetry and connected cars will have enforced data regulation, as will public areas that collect information (for example smart parking areas or motorways). But in most cases, “it will be self-service”, and the onus is on the person using a device or service to agree to allowing their information to be communicated between multiple networks.

In the short term, SAP’s dealings with the IoT lies with Hana, its in-memory database.

“You will hear announcements featuring IoT and Hana this year,” Darbyshire revealed, hinting at some exciting developments for end-user interactions.

“People are going to see what platform really means. Hana is a platform where we all get to share. A lot of people have in the past underlooked or undervalued the platform at the front-end.  Where can I consume it, on my watch or phone? It is not just about laptop and how you support that anymore.”

Image credit: iStock/Rzoze19