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Open Data Innovation? Open Your Data And See It Happen

November 17, 2016 6 mins. read Milena Yankova

Open data innovation fosters a culture of creativity

Open Data innovation has been on the radar of leaders in both the public and the private sector for the last five years.

On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama was sworn in as the US President. On the next day, he issued the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, endorsing the opening of government data and committing to accountability. In the early months of his second term in office in 2013, Mr. Obama issued an executive order to make open and machine-readable the new default for government information.

As one vital benefit of open government, making information resources easy to find, accessible, and usable can fuel entrepreneurship, innovation, and scientific discovery that improves Americans’ lives and contributes significantly to job creation, the executive order says.

The open data policy movement has been gaining traction globally in recent years, with governments and cities opening more and more datasets and encouraging citizens to contribute with apps and innovations. Apart from the obvious benefits of public accountability and transparency, open data innovation fosters a culture of creativity and ingenuity.

The rise of data openness serves established companies to develop new products, define new markets, and change the way they compete. Furthermore, open data innovation allows bright entrepreneurial minds to create new products and services, generating value for the global economy.

The Economic Value of Open Data Innovation

A few months after President Obama’s executive order on open data, McKinsey Global Institute published an analysis, which estimated that open data innovation has the potential to unlock $3 trillion to $5 trillion in economic value annually across seven industries globally: education, transportation, consumer products, electricity, oil and gas, healthcare and consumer finance.

The European Commission’s European Data Portal said in 2015 that it had estimated the cumulative value of open data innovation in the EU to be between 2016 and 2020 at 325 billion euros.

All these estimates point to the huge, and oftentimes unlocked, value of open data for the global economy. The good news is that some early adopters among established organizations and a growing number of startups have embraced open data innovation. These enterprises are using open data not only as an additional resource for their data-driven analytics but are building new services on top of open data sets and opening data for others to use.

Open Data Innovation Generats value for the global economy

Commercial Success: Linked Open Data Innovation at the BBC

In 2014, the BBC launched BBC Things to give anyone access to the data about concepts that the organization stores. This data, available in standard open data formats, is about the places, people and organizations that appear in the BBC programs and online content.

The service uses Semantic Technology and Linked Data, which also power BBC ‘s Linked Data Platform. The machine-readable formats of the data allow developers to create new applications or combine BBC’s data with other open data sources to create completely new datasets.

Open Data for Creating Innovative Services and Apps

The rise of open data has been exciting and fascinating creative minds for some time now and many developers have started leveraging its potential in apps.

The first innovative application of open data that comes to mind is in the area of transportation apps. Many big (and smart) cities have open transport data available and many residents and tourists find such apps very useful.

Citymapper offers transportation options in 34 cities worldwide, including New York, Paris, London, Sydney, Saint Petersburg and Mexico City. Citymapper uses open transport data with live and real-time routing updated every minute and combines the data with data from Google, Apple, OpenStreetMaps, Foursquare, Yelp, Uber, Hailo, Car2Go and Autolib.

Announcing in January 2016 that it had raised new financing of $40 million, Citymapper said:

We’re a utility that could be useful to anyone building anything.

The company is developing APIs to enable developers and other businesses to use them for their own websites and applications.

Open Data for Creating Innovative Services and Apps

Apart from transportation apps based on open data, chances are that you’ve already benefited from the open data innovation in your music streaming service. Spotify, for example, relies on MusicBrainz for information about artists, albums, etc. MusicBrainz is a free and open source service that collects music metadata and makes it available to the public.

Then there’s UK’s Shoothill, which integrates open data from the Environment Agency with maps in order to show rivers at risk of flooding and creates flood alerts.

Governments Encouraging Open Data Innovation

As more and more companies and startups derive social value out of open data innovation, the open data trend-setting governments and local authorities are not sitting idle. They are busy opening up data sets and actively encouraging everyone to innovate with open data.

In July 2016, Virginia’s Governor Terry McAuliffe launched the Open Data, Open Jobs initiative. It provides an open data set of available jobs in Virginia so that entrepreneurs could use the data to create apps and programs. The initiative combines data from multiple publicly available sources of job postings into one machine-readable file.

Australia’s New South Wales has its Innovation Initiative to foster private, research and community efforts in order to make data more accessible and help develop smart applications for improved information and services. The Fire Near Me alert service, for example, is one of the results of New South Wales’s open data innovation policy.

Open Data Innovation at all Levels

Open Data from Space for Earthlings’ Innovative Minds

Quite naturally, innovation is one of the main driving forces at NASA. In its OpenNASA website for open datasets and innovation contests, NASA is opening data, code and APIs. Their hope is to empower developers to use NASA resources, including imagery, in their efforts to solve various challenges.

One of NASA’s winners in innovation is Cropp, an app to alert farmers about the status of their crops. The system uses 3D printed bottles with local sensors as well as satellite-obtained optical and radar images to study the development of any potential threats to crops.

From the local bus schedule to space observation apps, open data creates and upgrades innovation at all levels of society. Share on X

Now it’s up to governments to continue promoting data openness and to businesses to boost the use of open data, both as a resource and as a service.

In Capgemini Consulting’s Digital Transformation Review published in October 2015, Open Data Institute’s CEO Gavin Starks said:

Our key challenge is to make organizations realize that open data is core to their business, to innovation and not peripheral.

The more organizations realize the social, entrepreneurial and economic value that open data creates, the more innovative services customers will get and the more money will be generated for the global economy.

As Mr. Starks put it:

If we start sharing our information, we will benefit too.


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A bright lady with a PhD in Computer Science, Milena's path started in the role of a developer, passed through project and quickly led her to product management. For her a constant source of miracles is how technology supports and alters our behaviour, engagement and social connections.

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