open data

OpenText is not in the habit of giving away money. Neither is the Canadian government. However, in recent weeks, each has given $3 million to the newly formed Open Data Institute in Canada.

But open data is not a Canadian initiative, it is a global movement that is creeping into businesses everywhere — and the focus of an International Open Data Day tomorrow.

Big Value in Open Data

In fact in a recent interview with Michael Chui, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute and co-author of one of the seminal reports on the use of big data in 2011, the use of open data has spread rapidly with 40 governments offering information portals and many private companies now getting on board.

McKinesy researchers estimate the potential value of open data is around $3 trillion. That's divide roughly between the United States ($1.1 trillion), Europe ($900 billion) and the rest of the world ($1.7 trillion). While the economic value is enormous, it's not the only driving force in the creation a number of open data institutes that aim to promote the use and propagation of open data.

In that earlier interview, Chiu said, "Open data has traditionally been motivated by societal goals such as improving transparency. But it is important to recognize that by opening data, you also create significant economic value."

According to the Open Data Institute (ODI), launched in the UK in 2012 by Tim Berners-Lee, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web, and Artificial Intelligence pioneer Nigel Shadbolt in 2012, open data can and should be used to create business opportunities.

The ODI in the UK has secured $21.6 million over five years from the UK Government and $750,000 from the Omidyar Network, an investment firm established in 2004 by eBay founder Pierre Omidya. The group is working towards long-term sustainability through match funding and direct revenue.

But this is not a uniquely British affair. Already there are 13 "nodes" or hubs — essentially hubs for companies, universities and NGOs around the world to support open data projects and communities.

Initially, 13 nodes signed-up to the ODI charter in October including two country-wide trials with NGOs in the USA and Canada. There were an eight city or regional nodes, including ODI Chicago, ODI North Carolina and ODI Paris. In fact, only this week, another five nodes were created including hubs in Osaka, Philadelphia and Hawaii.

Data And Business

Emma Thwaites is with the ODI in the UK. Speaking recently to CMSWire, she outlined how open data is being used in the public and private sector.

In one instances, she said, ODI UK worked with Mastadon C, an agile big data specialist to analyze the way a heart disease medication was being prescribed by doctors in the UK. By applying analytics to open data that was made available by the National Health Service (the UK’s Department of Health), they were able to identify new ways of prescribing the medication that could save the British taxpayer nearly $333 million annually.

Needless to say, that caught the UK government’s attention. However, the private sector is just as interested. The ODI also worked with a number of financial institutions with information they released as open data to identify and improve money lending patterns across the country.

Open Data in the US

If the concept of open data, and the development of similar organizations to ODI UK is less well developed in the US, it is only a temporary situation.

At the ODI summit in October, Beth Simone Noveck, one time leader of President Obama’s Open Government Initiative, and founder of The Governance Lab at New York University (NYU), outlined the US vision of open data and where it is heading in the US over the next five years. She told the summit:

The ability to combine crowd sourced data from citizens with big data from sensors, with open government data from official sources, with small data contributed by companies could lead to a future of much better, informed governance. However, we have to be able both to combine data sources and to identify a provenance. The latter is legally important, the former is scientifically essential. I’m eager to see the rise of 'hybrid wikis' that combine data from distinct sources in new ways.

In fact yesterday, Connecticut’s Governor Dannel P. Malloy  signed an executive order that will release huge amounts of raw government data onto the Internet that will be accessible by enterprises and individuals alike. In signing the order, Malloy made the interesting observation that providing this information, the state government is breaking down information silos that are currently preventing the full use of data for business and social purposes.

Is opening up data to everyone in the enterprise the way to break down data siloes that is stifling enterprise productivity? Only time will tell, but it brings us right back to OpenText and the contribution it made to the creation of the Open Data Institute in Canada. Speaking of the donation, OpenText CEO Mark J. Barrenechea said:

It is time to bring Open Data into the mainstream and OpenText is pleased to support this collaboration of the private sector with academia and the government to create an ecosystem in Canada where the full opportunity afforded by the government’s Open Data program can be leveraged.”

Developing Technology

OpenText has made much of the ability to manage information across all enterprise and government departments, particularly around the extraction of value form unstructured data.

With such a strong emphasis on opening up public data to private companies, or the use of established technologies to take actionable insights from the huge amount of data produced by government, IBM’s Smarter Cities initiative also appears to dovetail with the open data initiative.

However, lest anyone think that this is an information free-for-all, Thwaites from ODI UK is quite clear about this. One of the goals of the institute is to provide advice to enterprises on how to release their information and how to ‘anonymize’ it.

There is no question, she said, of enterprises releasing information of any kind of a personal nature into the wild. With medical information, for example, there will be no question of identifying individuals, or groups, in such a way as to have a negative impact on those individuals.

Neither is there any question of enterprises being forced in any way to release information that it does not want to release, giving competitors an unfair advantage, or handing away an advantage that a given enterprises might have.

Open Data Day

Tomorrow — Feb. 22 — is International Open Data day. According to the organizers:

Open Data Day is a gathering of citizens in cities around the world to write applications, liberate data, create visualizations and publish analyses using open public data to show support for and encourage the adoption open data policies by the world's local, regional and national governments.

In the US, it coincides with CodeAcross 2014, a weekend of events organized by Code for America, a non-profit organization that enlists the talent of the web industry into public service and dedicated to improving communities through open data. While it is not directly associated with the ODIs globally, the principal is the same.

Meanwhile, the organizers to the Open Data Hackathon to be held all over the world over the weekend are calling for “computer cowboys and cowgirls like yourself to wrangle data into something useful. That means visualization, notification, integration, etc all in the name of doing something crazy and fantastic."

Title image by ArtisticPhoto (Shutterstock).