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Open data: what does it mean for small business?

Open data: what does it mean for small business?
Enterprise Nation
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Posted: Thu 7th Aug 2014

Author of 'The 10 Principles of Open Business' and business expert, David Cushman, outlines his vision for Open Data and suggests ways in which small businesses can make the most of the opportunity it offers.

Truly Open Data means making your data freely available to those inside or outside of the business who can make best use of it. It's one of the 10 Principles of Open Business described in my book of the same name.

Open Businesses think differently about data. They know that in sharing what they 'own' they create more value - both for themselves and others. Like an idea, data has more value if it is shared.

It is hard to talk about Open Data without referencing Goldcorp at least once (it is a story first brought to my attention by Anthony Williams and Don Tapscott's 2006 book Wikinomics). The Canadian mining company was faced with a rapidly rising cost of successful discovery of new sources of gold on its large landholdings. So, in 2002, it decided to share 45 years of proprietary geographical data with the world.

With a prize fund of $500,000 up for grabs, 1400 individuals and groups from across the globe sliced, diced and otherwise interrogated the data to come up with the right sites to explore. One-hundred-and-ten sites were identified - half of which the company had not known about. Since then four out of five have yielded significant finds. The company's value before the contest? $100m. After? $9bn.

Open Data delivers crowd-sourced innovation. Simply from gathering and analyzing expressed need through what people publish in their social media, for example, it's possible to identify new and emerging needs to service through products and services shaped to fit.

Understanding that data is not something that is best owned by the business is a hard lesson for many entrepreneurs. After all, many were sold on data being the key value they could derive from internet investments - particularly data relating to customers.

But Open is fast becoming recognized as the New Normal. And as with all forms of information, a shared interface, an information architecture, is essential to deliver the greatest benefit.

The work and ambition of London's Open Data Institute focuses on promoting more interoperable data so that more people can access it, understand it and act on it.

At the 2013 G8 Summit hosted in the UK, the Open Data Institute (ODI) (link to www.theodi.org) launched its Open Data Certificates - with the support and agreement of the leaders of the world's biggest economies. A week later the G8 agreed to its own Open DataCharter.

UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said in his closing remarks at the G8 event that "Open is the new normal" - and a commitment to "Open by Default' when it comes to Government data, which we are now starting to see the fruits of (see a recent blog post on Enterprise Nation relating to the opening up of export data from HMRC).

Open Data is not just about the release of individual data sets, health, law, housing, or whatever - it is about how they act together. And then it is about how they act when combined with weather, water, farming etc. Open Data can be the key to identifying benefits by combining them all.

According to the ODI the key to good Open Data is that it:

  • can be linked to, so that it can be easily shared and talked about

  • is available in a standard, structured format, so that it can be easily processed

  • has guaranteed availability and consistency over time, so that others can rely on it

  • it is traceable, through any processing, right back to where it originates, so others can work out whether to trust it.

So what advice does the CEO of the ODI have for those watching the tide rise?

"I'd start by asking what data do you produce which may have value to others? If you aren't using it I would open it up immediately. Even just doing that will be a step towards creating deal flow."

"If someone else can find money in that data, then let's discuss the commercial models under which you continue to make it available. You could licence it out, for example.

"I'd also ask what will happen when what I think of as my proprietary data gets made available for free by a competitor? What do I need to change about my business to account for that?

"What new data sets are going to be made available to create value for me and my customers. How can I plan for that?''

Owning data is a model for the old, closed world. Sharing in its bounty is for the new and future open world.

David Cushman is a business expert and author. This is an excerpt from chapter on OpenData in The 10 Principles of Open Business (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2014)

 
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