PEOPLE | Sep 16, 2016

Pollock: Open Data as an opportunity for public and private sectors

During 2015, Italy recorded some progress in relation to open data despite it only ranking in 17th place in the Open Data Index; certainly, compared with the 25th place achieved in 2014, it may indicatively be considered progress. From the survey conducted by Open Knowledge – the international non-profit organization which has been working towards knowledge sharing since 2004, in order to demonstrate how use and re-use can facilitate insights and innovations capable of producing big changes – it is possible to note the opening of several national public datasets; the National Institute of Statistics (Istat) is an example in this case, as it has reached the top of the table. However, much still needs to be done as regards government expenditure and environmental data. Open data is a great opportunity for both the public and private sectors and most of all it allows achieving economic benefits and results which can be very significant. In this sense, the example given by the British government could be used as good practice in our Country in order to improve the current process.

Precisely in relation to the opportunities and the value of open data we interviewed Rufus Pollock, Founder and President of Open Knowledge and an open data consultant for several governments.

What are the benefits of open data?

Benefits are not linked to a single specific sector or flow area, but are characterized by a vast range of broad-spectrum improvements for society as a whole. My research at Cambridge University has shown how economic advantages given by opening the main UK government datasets may be important: profits were estimated at 6 billion pounds a year.
In the first place, there are the potential economic returns from the development of new products and information services specifically designed for the public data sector; secondly, there are gains arising from the development of products and services such as software and complementary tools in addition to consulting.
It is also possible to create so-called indirect benefits, such as reducing costs for users through the reuse of that “open” data and that information. Finally, one must consider the potential efficiency increase in the public sector and the improved access to a more effective and timely information.

Which are the key factors it is necessary to consider when managing open data in the public sector?

There are some important elements which must be placed at the center of any public sector management analysis and data and information provision: the non-rivalrous nature of the information, the structure of the associated costs (fixed costs, very low marginal costs), the high potential of use and re-use and, finally, the dual nature of public administration, which holds and retains information at the same time.

What are the business opportunities?

In general, for companies dealing with data or business data software, the biggest opportunity is represented by free access to a range of essential data which they can use to improve or to develop new offers and services.
There are, however, other types of opportunities for companies not in the “data” field: for example, “open” data relating to public contracts and orders allow them to analyze and submit bids for tenders issued by institutions and public administrations.

What will Italy lose should it not understand the value of open data?

Certainly quantity and quality in sector economic exchanges. Much more data must be “open” and not solely in relation to the public sector. An example for the private sector could be the data concerning the clinical trials of medicinal products, which should be “open” (of course, always in relation to non-sensitive data), this could greatly help the market for the production of drugs.
The Opentrials project could be a good example: it is a collaborative, open database with available structured data and documents concerning clinical trials. Wishing to be more ambitious, one could open large amounts of data produced by IoT on air quality, on traffic activities related to mobility, etc.
Of course, some of these data are sensitive and personal so their publication should not be allowed without the permission of the interested parties, but the opinion of citizens and consumers could be requested, for example through a public consultation.

As regards the Open Data field, where is it necessary to invest?

Quality: a great deal of currently published or released data do not have the appropriate standards and qualities to be considered “open”. In this sense we must improve tools, promote training initiatives and take into account the authority of those working in the sector.
Then, we need to invest in skills: data are of no use, if you do not know how to use them. We know that there is an expertise gap concerning data and their analysis, for this reason as Open Knowledge we have established a data school.