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Ian Manocha (UK) - On the Road to Open Data

According to Tim Kelsey, the government’s Director of Transparency, data is set to transform public service. Speaking at ‘Where next for Open Data?’ an event held by the think tank, Demos, and SAS, Kelsey set out his aspirations for Open Data.


Kelsey believes that the use of Open Data can help to assign political accountability, give accountability to citizens, and even save lives. It’s a commendable and exciting plan, which is certainly a step in the right direction for the government.


I say this as a business leader with an interest in deriving value from data, but also as a private citizen. The UK government cannot afford to be isolated in the modern networked world. We have the opportunity to take the lead in how data is being used, and now is the right time to move. Now, more so than ever, governments can’t afford to be disconnected with their public. Expectations in a society deluged by data and the rise of participation in social media highlights this. We expect full transparency, on demand, at a level of granularity unthinkable just years ago. And when we don’t get the information we want, when we want it, we suspect anything - from foul play to plain incompetence. So transparency is an important step for government, and for society.


Avoiding the data dumping ground
One of the most significant aspects of Open Data is the government’s definition that it is ‘free’. This is the right decision of course, but where there is a need to make data freely available, we risk devaluing that information in doing so by not appreciating its real value and potential. It’s important that the government, in Data.gov, doesn’t produce a ‘dumping ground’ for vast datasets that are irrelevant to most of us, and hence won’t be used.


Data is an asset; and the rich data the government holds makes it a hugely valuable asset. We can begin to unlock the value when we start to combine different sources of relevant data, and that’s when things get really exciting.


Dan Leighton, Head of the Public Interest Programme at Demos, stressed this point in saying it’s all about “turning information into insight.”


The need for data exploitation
Transparency is a good start, but the real value of data can only be gleaned if properly exploited -essentially, data needs to be analysed in order to be useful, and this is the next step government needs to take in its journey towards openness and better public service delivery.


When we start to analyse data, and use it for innovation, optimisation, forecasting and prediction, we can begin to look forward, not in the rearview mirror, at information.


The environment in which this information is brought together is key if the government’s plans are going to progress effectively. The framework needs to have standards for the collection of information, and a threshold from which data can be surfaced. Until a framework is provided, it will be too difficult to gain information and use it effectively.


And it’s not enough to make data available, there’s also a need to ensure quality of data and the ability to derive its value. Like any asset, data can go bad. I also think we can do much more to improve the quality of our data. Quality is fundamental for decision making.


A better society in the offing
Most private citizens do not care about Open Data, but they do care about safety, health, education, jobs and the economy. We all need to help explain how Open Data will support that vision of a better society.


The opportunity for Open Data is huge and, if properly exploited, will contribute to much needed economic growth. Recent studies estimated that by applying advanced analytics to Big Data held by Europe’s public sector could glean a value of €150bn to €300bn, derived from administrative savings in the 15-20% range. This is a staggering opportunity, and it is supported by our own experience from working with commercial enterprises.


Tim Kelsey stated his ambition for a “healthier, safer, fairer society” through the use of Open Data, and I feel, with a robust framework, standards and quality data he has a chance of delivering on his vision, with analytics providing the frame to seal its success.


What we’ve heard from Tim Kelsey is a vision of a Big Society, Big Data and Big Analytics, and it is truly exciting. Now the hard work starts, and the need to focus on the implementation framework.


By Ian Manocha, managing director, SAS UK and Ireland

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