If you are not involved with open data yet, you are missing out on one of the most exciting and dynamic aspects of the current data revolution. You are also missing out on probably the most enthusiastic, optimistic and engaged set of data practitioners anywhere - the energy generated by the people working at the Open Data Institute alone could probably keeping its servers running.
A look at the programme for this year’s ODI Summit on 3rd November should convince you of the scope and opportunities of open data. But if your organisation has yet to tap into the movement, you are not entirely alone - commercial companies are behind the public sector on the curve of adoption, which means they are also missing out on its benefits. So here are three things you can do to catch up:
1. Publish some open data
For the new open data eco-system to work, more data needs to be shared by more organisations, especially those who possess information on commercial activities. Open data has most impact and salience when multiple sources are fused, matched, analysed or mapped, because each set represents some, but not all of the pixels in a picture. Bringing them together multiplies their value because it reveals fresh images that are not visible when the data is looked at in isolation.
You already know that from working with your proprietary data. So why not move some of that information into the open? The technical obstacles are few - the ODI publishes standards and licences and can also advise directly on your open data programme. You will not lose competitive advantage, since what you publish will not be sensitive data, but rather variables which are stable enough to have been identified elsewhere. The context in which they originate is often their real value.
Doubt that a commercial business, especially one rooted in extracting value from data, should open up its data asset in this way? Then take a look at Thomson Reuters - a true information business - which has published a knowledge graph subset as open data. It expects to discover new things from the way that information gets used by the open data community which it might otherwise never find out for itself.
2. Hash some open data into your own
Consuming open data is the easy part of this new practice. Identifying which of the thousands of open data sets might have value is harder. But if you haven’t started to do that yet, you will never know.
Location data is a good place to start, since there are lots of data sources to tap into. Almost every business - including pure play dot.coms - have geographical challenges, from optimising logistics to understanding customer distribution through to identifying access pinchpoints.
Adding a dose of open geo-location data could deliver a fresh insight which existing, commercial data might be missing because it has been architected for a specific purpose - open data starts with an open mind. GeoLytix is a prime example, having gone from start-up to £1 million turnover in three years using open data for location-focused consultancy.
3. Get hacking
Hacking culture is generally viewed with fear and trepidation by commercial companies as it usually reflects a data security threat. But within the open data community, the hackathon is a core working method. Even better, data practitioners love working this way and the next wave of staff you want to attract - what the ODI Summit is calling “generation open” - will respond very positively if you embed this approach into your own culture. Prototyping is a perfect use of hackathons, since the intense, competitive yet collaborative goal of coming up with a viable new product is what inspires practitioners. The ODI Summit has a day-long hackathon running in parallel to its keynote presentations and will be unveiling outputs by lunchtime as well as the end of the day - a sign of just how quickly data hacks can generate interesting, useful and possibly viable results.
You might not think your organisation is open data-ready yet. But no such state really exists - there is only before and after open data. Taking the first step, big or small, is what matters. Once you do, the impetus from the open data community will likely take you in directions you could not have imagined or expected beforehand.
DataIQ is a media partner for the ODI Summit 2015. To get 15 per cent of your ticket for the event, book online here and use the code odi_dataiq.