Is that a pie or a cloud in the European sky?

Those involved in the creation of Europe's cloud and data ecosystem project Gaia-X gathered this week to discuss launch plans. Firebrand founder, Virginie O’Shea, tuned into the conference and has a few concerns about its rollout and impact on financial services.

This week, I decided to listen into the Gaia-X conference to find out a bit more detail about the EU’s plans to launch a rival outfit to the US and Chinese cloud platforms. And I can’t say I’m any clearer now on how the 11 European countries involved in this project will be able to achieve this ambitious goal.

Heavy-hitters from the French and German government alongside EU-level reps took to the virtual stage to explain why a “federated cloud for Europe” is needed. The impetus seems to centre around tackling data sovereignty issues and foreign regulator access to sensitive European data. Given that the industry’s main cloud providers are North American and recent regulatory changes in the jurisdiction give US regulators access to a lot of data considered within their borders, these concerns have some validity. However, trying to launch a brand-new cloud effort from scratch this late in the game seems, well, unrealistic, and the federated structure is likely to be a challenge within itself. There aren’t any significant cloud providers in the region, so where are these entities going to come from?

Government bodies aren’t known for moving swiftly when it comes to infrastructure projects. Anyone familiar with Target2-Securities knows that it can take over a decade to launch a well-understood and clearly parameterised platform, so who knows how long a cloud infrastructure across 11 countries might take. Even if they do begin working with the best of the EU industry’s tech talent. The governance and oversight of the project could also turn into a logistical and practical nightmare—the focus seems to be beyond just financial services and into most sectors and you have 11 different governments and regulators to get on the same page.

Looking at the specific goals for financial services, the project’s focus also seems very broad. The documentation shared during the event mentioned everything from supply chain finance to a consolidated EU-level market data platform (the consolidated tape, one would assume). The presentation also threw in nearly every buzzword under the sun including blockchain, tokenisation and sustainability. With such broad goals, who in the industry will take ownership of these individual items and how will they feed back into the wider program of work?

Though there are 100 or so individuals across financial services and insurance engaged in the discussions, they’ll need a veritable army onboard to get anywhere near where they aim to be in the next couple of years. On that front, will they be able to compete on the compensation side to get the right tech talent involved? If AWS can poach tech people from Goldman Sachs, how will Gaia-X stack up?

If it isn’t clear by now, you can probably tell I think there’s a pie up in that sky rather than a cloud.