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Open-Data: A No-Brainer for All

V. Richard Benjamins

Open-data is data published free for anyone to use, and currently is mostly generated by governmental institutions. It is published in a machine-readable format then it becomes an enabler of innovation and entrepreneurship.

While open-data is currently prominently a government play, there is no reason to exclude it coming from non-public sources.

By Oct 2011, 28 nations had open-data portals where they published different types of government data for others to use, such as data on healthcare, crimes, education, traffic, etc. Capgemini estimated the direct impact of open-data on the EU27 economy at €32B in 2010 with an annual growth of 7 percent. In June 2013, the G8 adapted an Open-Data charter, which will give open-data initiatives a significant boost: Open-data might become big-data.

But open-data is not only about free data. There are significant business and social opportunities within reach. Who will be the Redhat or Cloudera of open-data? Who will be the Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) for the required platform?

There are several areas of opportunities in the open-data field:

  • Business intelligence: Open-data is a valuable external source of relevant information for companies to include in their BI initiatives. Traditionally, BI departments focus on data associated to specific products and services. Enriching company data with open-data enables better decision making. If, in addition, social media data is included, business managers will have an integrated view of their customers and markets: what are their customers doing, how does that relate to the external environment, and what does social media say.

  • External data monetization of aggregated and anonymous data: Some leading companies are starting to monetize the data they have to other industries and governments, especially in the telco and financial services industry. One of the reasons is that they have differential data that nobody else has, with the potential to transform whole industries with new insights and products. While open-data is not differential (it is free for everybody), combining it with differential internal data may significantly increase the value proposition for the companies’ data propositions.

  • Improve society and the planet, Smart Cities: Open-data is "of the public and for the public." A large variety of applications can be built with open-data, both for consumers and businesses, that optimize energy consumption, improve traffic management, reduce pollution, make healthcare more efficient, make cities smarter, etc. Moreover, companies could donate part of their data as open-data to contribute to a better world. There is a growing group of startups building such applications.

But the real opportunity in open-data is the creation of a thriving open-data ecosystem with a platform play. In order to get the most out of open-data, a platform is needed that brings all the data together, makes data from disparate sources as interoperable as possible, ensures privacy, security, and data protection, provides APIs for developers and startups, and provides tools for non-technical people to build "simple" data-based propositions. There is a range of startups playing in different parts of the ecosystem from publishing government data as open-data, to providing analytics to building data-based applications and products. However, as of today, there is no major platform player that can bring all things together in a big data platform and boost the ecosystem.

A key factor to sort out for creating an ecosystem around (open) data is a new "social contract" (socially and legally accepted) that regulates data production, storage, protection, consumption, and monetization. Other important factors to create an open-data ecosystem are to get quickly sufficient data available such that it is an interesting place-to-be, to attract a critical mass of startups and developers that use the platform, and to have good relationships with key stakeholders in the data protection space such as regulators, data protection agencies, consumer organisations, the European Commission, etc. Not surprisingly, candidate "platform players" need to be perceived as leaders in the data and analytics space.

Some telcos are well positioned to take the role of the platform player in such an open-data ecosystem: they have valuable data, relationships with regulators, startup incubation programs, and financial muscle to make the required investments. In addition, there is an opportunity for Europe to provide the platform player. Too many doubts have arisen about US-based cloud platforms storing personal data, which recently culminated with the Prism scandal.

Open-data is an exciting place to be, and it will happen. The question is whether it will be the US again, or whether Europe is ready to recover some of its technological leadership. Hopefully the promise of Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission, to invest €100 million (US$135 million) in startups that deliver value from data helps making this true.

-- Richard Benjamins, Director Business Intelligence, Telefonica Digital, & Francisco Jariego, Director Digital Enablers, Telefonica Digital

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10/11/2013 | 8:05:49 AM
Re: Prism
Thanks for sharing that! 
10/11/2013 | 3:54:51 AM
Re: Prism
Anomymization is a complex issue, and refers to the (almost) impossibility to re-identify individuals. The best "officially issued" document i have read so far on this is from the Information Commissioner Office: http://www.ico.org.uk/news/latest_news/2012/~/media/documents/library/Data_Protection/Practical_application/anonymisation_code.ashx

10/8/2013 | 9:11:48 PM
Re: Prism
one potential pitfall which can also represent an opportunity if addressed correctly is what hapened to the Netflix million dollar challenge. They provided what they thought was a fully anonymized data set for teams to develop improved suggestion models, but in the 2nd year a team managed to de-anonymize the data which ultimately lead to the cancelling of the program by Netflix
10/1/2013 | 4:53:52 PM
VP of EU on Big Data

There is certainly someone interested in getting the platform player to be from Europe.

10/1/2013 | 4:07:29 AM
Re: Prism
I guess finding a platform player is more of an issue in the US and actuall an opportunity for Europe. But whatever the location, societies will learn to live with "PRISMs" and the data revolution is unstoppable, unless regulators will shut down the industry ....
9/30/2013 | 3:39:32 PM
In some people's minds, the Prism scandal might be an argument for open data, though I would agree: Good luck finding a company willing to be a platform player after that scandal.
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