The idea of open data – of liberating information for all to learn from – is a worthy ambition. Businesses, however, may struggle to see the commercial gain in providing access to their valued data sets.
Many may start to see the potential, though, when they realise that open data does not necessarily mean free data. As Gavin Starks, CEO at the Open Data Institute (ODI), explains: “Businesses are understandably sceptical about open data but when it can lead to new service that can be charged for, many start to see its power.”
“There are several business models. Insights from open data can be made available for free but then users can also be asked to pay for a service level agreement, if it is critical to them the service is properly maintained. There are also many ‘freemium’ business models out there, where you get some data for free but to get everything you need to pay.”
It is still very early days for open data, and the business opportunities it opens up are only just starting to be uncovered, but Starks suggests that anyone who wants to get an idea of its power takes a look at Thingful.net. There are countless private weather sensors, lorry tracking devices and even tags on turtles and sharks that can be accessed for free.
One early advocate of the power open data could provide to business is Volker Buscher, director of digital at engineering design consultancy Arup. He realised open data could do a couple of things for his business. The most obvious benefit is a new data analytics business which can be marketed to clients around the globe. The second, which has yet to come to fruition, is a tapping in to the wide array of aforementioned sensors to provide the company with a rich source of data for the environmental impact studies it carries out.
Buscher says: “We’ve been able to offer a whole new service by taking readings from sensors and studies published by professional engineers and environmentalists to launch a new service.”
“We’re doing some very interesting work with the C40 Group which has been set up to understand how ‘mega cities’, such as London and Tokyo, perform. They want to see the impact, say, of adding cycle lanes – what does it do to traffic volumes and pollution levels? It’s been a huge success and we’re hoping to move to real time sensor data on it soon.”
Another example comes with an early flood warning system Arup developed for the authorities in Jedah. Though much of the land is desert, high mountain ranges have recently caused meltwater to flood villages below. With strategically placed weather and water level sensors, combined with open data provided by weather services, authorities are now in a better position to forewarn people of potential flooding.
You may have noticed over the past year or two that planning journeys has become a lot easier. Today’s computer booking systems understand how different modes of transport interlink and how delays on one service can impact another. This is thanks to open data and the services it facilitates which to convert openly available transport information in to easy-to-use smart booking systems, such as Transport API.;