Economic prosperity is more than ever driven by intelligent sharing of data, including personal data. The Flanders government recognized that data should be able to flow more freely to fuel innovation and enhance citizen interactions with the government and private companies. But the government faced common challenges to letting data flow across sectors and countries: scattered and inaccessible data, incompatible data formats, regulatory hurdles and the distrust that both individuals and organizations feel when asked to share their data.
In order to help the Flemish economy overcome these challenges, the government created athumi, a neutral public company to foster the data economy. Conceived as a “utility company” for data, athumi’s mission is to “facilitate the development of innovative services through data collaboration while ensuring businesses and consumers retain control of their data.”
To be able to let data flow in the economy, athumi needed to develop the ecosystem, governance, processes, architecture, semantics, legal frameworks, and software that would stimulate data sharing opportunities for citizens and businesses alike, while also building citizens’ trust that their data is handled in a secure and private manner. In constructing this secure data ecosystem, athumi faced a number of challenges familiar to data-driven economies all over the world, such as:
Traditional approaches to data storage, integration, security and consent management failed to meet athumi’s needs. A new data ecosystem required a new kind of software infrastructure designed for secure data sharing, as well as expert partners to ensure this infrastructure was implemented correctly.
Athumi made the key decision to use the Solid specification for their data collaboration ecosystem. As the Flanders ecosystem implements additional use cases, all Flanders’ citizens will be able to receive their own “personal data vault” or Solid Pod. Public and private organizations can request citizens’ permission to access certain data in their Pod to provide innovative applications and services.
In order to build a Solid ecosystem at national scale, Flanders relied on Inrupt’s Enterprise Solid Server software. Inrupt also partnered with the government to deploy and manage the software according to their strict requirements, as well as to consult on legal, commercial, and governance issues.
Solid Pods will now serve as the architecture of a government-hosted data vault accessible to Flanders’ 6.5 million citizens and both public and private providers of value-added services. As the foundational data infrastructure, Pods will act as trusted:
Through athumi’s platform, the citizen retains control over their own data and chooses which data to share with which organizations and for what period of time. All of the citizen’s data is stored in a Solid Pod in a standardized format that all ecosystem participants can use. Anyone in the Flanders ecosystem who is approved by athumi’s advisory committee and board of directors and is in alignment with their own sectoral governance structures may request access to data directly from citizens for a certain purpose or in order to provide an intended service.
Currently, citizens can view and manage access to their data through their Citizen Profile. Each profile has a “Personal Data Safe” tab, which allows individuals to see what data they have stored in their Solid Pod, as well as the various access requests for that data and their given consents.
Athumi already has a number of Solid-based projects underway in the area of professional data, which allows standardized credentials to be exchanged among citizens and private and public entities.
Over the course of a career, an employee shares a lot of data with his or her employer—this data must often be shared manually, with an employee searching for documents, and digitizing and sending them. Employers or other parties who receive this data also need to process it manually, creating a lot of friction in the process.
By using Solid, athumi can automate this process, saving time on behalf of the employer and employee. Recipients of the data can also organize their information more efficiently and securely.
Private recruitment agencies frequently need access to diplomas when working with job candidates. In Flanders’ current system, government entities can access diplomas through the Learning and Experience Evidence Database. However, private parties are not granted access. By using Solid, citizens can grant diploma data to private parties such as recruitment agencies when necessary.
To share a diploma with a recruitment agency, citizens connect their account with the recruitment agency through their Citizen Profile, and can create a new Solid Pod connected to this profile. Individuals then give consent to have the Flemish government upload their diplomas or other certificates to the Pod, choose which certifications they’d like to share with the recruitment agency and for what period of time, and then confirm the recruitment agency’s access to this data. The job seeker is then directed back to the recruitment agency’s website and can continue to apply to jobs.
Payroll data needs to be shared to many different parties, such as landlords, banks or the government. This data is currently most often shared through pay slips, which grants the recipient unnecessary information about a citizens’ employer or family. By using Solid, citizens can share only necessary information, such as gross wages, while concealing other private information that a third party does not need. Granting access to payroll data through Solid also avoids the need for human verification and ensures the accuracy of the data.
Inrupt’s Enterprise Solid Server operationalizes Pods for millions of citizens, enabling controlled accessibility and reusability of personal data that improves the quality and flow of data sharing for the ecosystem. Since Solid Pods are interoperable, Pod data is stored in a standardized format that all participants in the data ecosystem can easily use. This capability makes it possible for Flanders’ data ecosystem to grow and for data to flow freely across EU borders,
Solid also exceeds all existing and emerging data compliance regulations, such as GDPR, ensuring all data is fully protected even as regulations continue to evolve. As an open specification, Solid also lets athumi and its ecosystem partners avoid vendor lock-in and long-term investment in proprietary technologies. At the same time, these organizations are able to enjoy the benefits of innovation, enhancements, education and industry support from the Solid community.