Guest post: Open data - just do it

For those of us in the open data movement, it’s easy to feel like a speedy release of open data should be a no-brainer for organisations; after all, it's been seven years since the first articulation of the principles of open data.

Back then, the return on investment (ROI) of open data was unproven. Today, examples abound of open data companies exploiting its value. A recent Deloitte study estimates the worth of open data to consumers, businesses, and the public sector in 2011 and 2012 at approximately £1.8 billion. And yet, even though the ROI of open data is emerging strongly in the UK, we are still not moving as quickly as we should.

Why is open data usage lagging?

For those in the open data movement, the advantages of opening data are clear: improved citizen experiences, cost reduction, and third-party innovation. But despite this huge market opportunity, emergent data companies are struggling to make inroads. Two major barrier prevent a speedy implementation of open data at the local government level:

  1. Organisational structure: Local governments and bureaucracies are characterised by what the Harvard Business Review describes as traditional leadership models, which unlike open leadership models, have a top-down structure, aim to control information and messaging, and do not prioritise transparency. If you work in open data, the open leadership model will be familiar from the great work done at central government level in the UK by Government Digital Service.

  2. Outsourced IT functions in local government: Many local authorities have long-standing contractual arrangements, established before the advent of big data. Difficulties start when open data companies' lightweight agile products need to be integrated into back office systems; it's not just a matter of persuading local government, but of accommodating an ecosystem of vendors and suppliers. A proposition that might cost £50,000 a year can easily become one that costs £500,000 a year to integrate into legacy systems.

The journey to Open Data 2.0

To solve this problem, we need to begin a conversation between open data companies, local government, and their vendor ecosystem. I'm calling for the open data movement to focus on the entire ecosystem rather than just on government.

The large vendors have established relationships with local government in the UK. Increasing their knowledge of open data is crucial, and will help demonstrate the value that open data innovations can add to the overall ecosystem.

I propose that established open data software solution providers, like Socrata, host a high-level event to convene software and systems integrators together. Even better, let's invite UK local government to the party and have all the key players in the room to let the innovation unfold and get us to "Open Data 2.0."