The goals of Open Data can sometimes appear amorphous and even touchy-feely, with talk consistently centered on “doing the right thing” and “giving the people access to information they already own.”
Certainly, those are noble and important goals – and, rightly, the first imperatives of Open Data, in my view. And, the truth is, until we can draw a straight line from Open Data to concrete economic results, altruistic goals such as “proactive transparency” and “constituent engagement” will continue to serve very well, indeed.
However, many of those concrete economic results are starting to become obvious and provable, thanks in part to non-profit research being conducted at New York University.
Unveiling of the Open Data 500
NYU’s Governance Lab this week announced the Open Data 500 project, which it calls the first comprehensive study of companies that use Open Data. The results offer astounding proof that Open Data represents vast, untapped economic value, just waiting to be tapped by communities everywhere.
As project director Joel Gurin told TechRepublic’s Alex Howard in an interview: “We have better and better evidence that the commercial application of open data is widespread and comes in many forms.”
Gurin tells Howard it’s becoming clear that Open Data is moving from a niche in the economy to a key business resource, adding that “2014 feels like the year Open Data is coming of age as a source for business ideas.”
The project includes 500 examples of companies (including us at Junar) that leverage Open Data availability to create economic value. The companies are broken into 16 broad industry groups, from data/technology to food to housing/real estate, and the project looked at the data sources they rely upon most frequently.
Only datasets from federal agencies were included, but further study is delving into local datasets. The project’s excellent, interactive website lays out some of the early conclusions, including:
- “Open government data is a key business resource for hundreds of U.S.-based companies. … Our results confirm that a variety of government open data is being used by a large number of companies of all kinds.
- Open Data companies operate in a large number of sectors and use very diverse sources of open government data. We found Open Data companies large and small, across the country, in all sectors. Many companies use more than 100 different data sources from a range of government agencies. Conversely, individual agencies not only provide data to a large number of companies, they often serve companies in very different sectors of the economy.
- Open Data companies generate value through a wide variety of operating models. These companies earn revenue from a range of sources, including advertising, sales of services, referrals to other businesses, etc.”
Gurin says half the companies studied have more than 10 employees, and they’re distributed across 38 states.
What Kind of Companies are Leveraging Open Data?
They range from Noesis of Austin, Texas, an intelligent energy management platform company that leverages access to government weather data, to IW Financial of Portland, Maine, which uses datasets from Homeland Security, the Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency in advising its clients.
The companies using Open Data are big, like cloud-computing giant Amazon Web Services, and small, like Aunt Bertha, Inc., which compiles all kinds of data to match people in need with social services.
Open Data 500 is continuing, with in-depth surveys of the companies and research into the impact of local datasets, but this much is clear already: What we see now is the tip of an iceberg.
Open Data is already starting to fulfill promises for innovation, tech-driven economic development and improved services in areas where data is available in a usable format, with the proper structure, enriched metadata, APIs and other details that data-mashers and innovators need.
If that sounds difficult, well, it’s not. Making data freely available and usable has never been easier or more affordable for organizations than it is now. Today’s cloud-based Open Data Platforms simplify and speed up the process and bring all the benefits of Open Data that much closer to your community.
As the economic value comes more and more into focus, it’s a proposition that is getting harder to ignore.
Image credit: Open Data 500