Data has been dubbed as the new natural resource and the possibilities it creates are numerous. Its economic value is being tapped into by private enterprises worldwide. They are leveraging data from various sources to bolster their bottom-line through advanced analytics and generating customer insights. On the contrary, governments have been very late to jump on the bandwagon because of the closed environments in which they operate and the opinion that “all” government data is sensitive. While it is known that Governments often have a lot of personal data, a closer look at the public data in the context of relevant use cases will help identify data that can potentially be opened up.
There are a range of different arguments for open government data. It could be used to facilitate government transparency, drive accountability and public participation, support technological innovation and economic growth. The possibilities are immense and the society at large can benefit from making public data available to various stakeholders. Here are a few scenarios:
Government to Government (G2G) – It is imperative that government agencies have to communicate to each other during the course of their operations. This, at most times, involves exchange of information between agencies that is contextually relevant. Traditionally, this has happened through physical paper, phone conversations or emails, at best. For example, the Ministry of Labor (MOL) will need a regular feed of the commercial permits issued within a jurisdictional area by the Ministry of Urban Planning (MUP) and commercial registrations approved by Ministry of Commerce (MOC) to check and ensure regulatory compliance to labor laws by all commercial entities. The time spent by the government agencies in fulfilling these requests is substantial considering the repetitive nature of the requests. This is an ideal scenario to identify such datasets and make them available on a Government Data Exchange (GDX). Each agency exposes the datasets from its in-house databases and makes them available as web services on the GDX. The GDX can be accessed through a portal user interface by any agency to receive latest data that is relevant to their context from other agencies. This will potentially result in operational efficiencies and better utilization of the limited government resources.
The progression to Open Data needs a methodical approach and each government agency needs to scrutinize its data to identify datasets that is sought by other agencies and identifying non-sensitive datasets that can be opened up between each other.
Government to Business (G2B) – The inherent potential of data is only limited by the number of use cases that can be defined. Governments are being forced to “do more with less” in in a challenging economic environment worldwide. With constrained resources, the governments can deliver a limited set of services, thereby cap the potential of Government data. This is where the evolution to the next phase of Open Data initiatives kicks in. A further level of scrutiny of Government datasets is required to identify the subset of data that can be exposed to non-government city stakeholders (private entities, general public).
In today’s world, having a strong API strategy isn’t just good software practice; it’s a powerful business practice. The volumes of data provided through government systems can be leveraged through APIs by various business organizations that will benefit from the information to run their operations. This will be facilitated through exposed APIs that can be consumed by the individual organizations and drive their business-specific use cases by leveraging the data from various government agencies. This doesn’t just create value for business establishments. The government wins as well by expanding the ecosystem, increasing retention, and driving up the value of the data platform. As an example – The student transportation industry depends heavily on real-time traffic conditions to ensure that the students are transported from their homes to schools and back. They can combine and correlate the traffic data, weather data, and planned events data from the various government agencies to plan/adjust their routes. Another example is the 3PL providers who can also leverage the same datasets to deliver their supply chain management functions.
Governments can potentially develop models where they can enrich datasets and make them readily consumable by business entities. Such high quality datasets can potentially be used to generate revenue on an ongoing basis by selling them for a nominal fee to business establishments while the raw datasets are still made available without any fee.
Government to Citizen (G2C) – The digital movement has infused a plethora of rich mobile apps into the citizen’s lifestyle. From finding an ideal road route based on real-time traffic to pay your utility bills – mobile has had a significant impact on our lives and enhanced our living experience. Citizens interact with multiple government agencies as part of their routine and are best equipped to identify challenges that they face during these interactions. Some of them also have potential solutions to these challenges, that when implemented to have a widespread impact on the society. They are however constrained by the limited access to government data. As was done in the case of G2B, government agencies can potentially make data available to the Citizens. This is when the social value of data could potentially be tapped into by the citizens themselves. As an example – Mandi Trades is a Location based F2S (Farm to Shop) Trading Platform for agricultural products. The App provides the daily agricultural commodity prices as updated by Open Government Data Platform in India.
There are many such citizen-centric applications of open data in the emerging markets, developed by the citizens themselves. This drives engagement of citizens and more importantly, it drives social uplift.
Indeed governments need to approach their open data strategies with an open mind. Governments need to take up planned initiatives to tap into the potential of locked up data. The data needs to be pruned and polished to make it more relevant and ease consumption. The potential that Open data holds is immense – no two ways about it.