Earlier this month, I attended the Open Data Institute’s annual summit. I heard stimulating speakers from business, government, the arts, start-ups and charities and left buzzing with enthusiasm, inspiration and ideas. This week I’m sharing a few of my thoughts in a series of posts.
Yesterday I wrote about the value of open data to journalists – why they’re sceptical of it and why they perhaps shouldn’t be. Open datasets are a great way to get fresh leads before following them up with more traditional investigative techniques.
Of course, it all depends on data actually being open. But this is no simple suggestion.
The Global Open Data Index ranks the UK as the most open society in the world, blazing a trail for the rest to follow. From detailed national maps and postcode data to parliamentary voting records, a huge amount of information has been made available and put to good use.
But this data has one thing in common: it’s public – not private – sector data. We need to get businesses in on the act.
And it’s not just journos who will benefit. Take Transport for London (TfL). Freeing up public transport data allowed for the creation of hundreds of travel apps serving millions of customers. Many of these have become successful businesses in their own right. Open data both makes life easier and grows the economy. The more datasets we can make public, the better for society.
Still, companies have been slow to open up. And it’s easy to understand why. Their data might hold the key to competitive advantage, unlocking insights that put them ahead of their rivals. Put yourself in their shoes. You wouldn’t give that up willingly would you?
But there are real reasons for a change in mindset.
For a start, people want transparency. It’s one of the overarching themes of the decade. Everywhere you look old secrets are being uncovered – even the intelligence community is being made to step out into the light. Change is inevitable. By opening up now, businesses can ensure they’re on the right side of history – and get the credit for leading the movement. It’s a reputational dream.
And this transparency has additional benefits in itself. Data-savvy stakeholders will be quick to point out waste. Execs can use this insight like a free auditing service to root out inefficiencies in the firm.
Then, coming back to TfL, there’s another potential benefit to consider. For the right kind of business, open data presents an opportunity to develop an app infrastructure around the offer – all without having to spend the time and money building it themselves.
These are the businesses that get to become ever more central to their customers’ lives. The tech giants get this – it’s the reason why they opened up their APIs to the development community all those years ago.
For many businesses this is still a step too far. But as I’ll explain tomorrow, this could all be about to change.