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Open Data - A Developer's Perspective

Posted by Dominic Byrne on Fri, 01 Jun 2012 12:27:46 BST

Guest Blog by Cianan Clancy, Discover Fingal who was overall winner of the apps4fingal competition.

Data is the new oil.  It is the commodity of the digital universe and the smart economy, growing exponentially as entrepreneurs come up with greater ways to entwine our everyday lives with the digital world.

It is estimated that between now and 2020 the amount of data created is set to grow by a factor of 44 as we consume and share more information with the digital world that is all around us. Consider the vast amounts of information we now share on Instagram, Facebook, Gmail and Twitter: Pictures, words, recordings, video -  This information will become even greater as a world always connected through mobile apps will begin to eat into the analog world. 

While the development and collection of personal data will continue to grow,  it is public data (data held by government institutions and agencies) that will be the most important open data for two reasons: 1) because of its potential to aide accountability and transparency and, 2) from its potential to drive significant economic value.  Public data has the ability to be collected, analysed and shared in large data sets. These sets relate to all functions of governments and their citizens.  However, in order for this public data to be accessible we need initiatives like Open Data and Open Data champions both on a national, EU and global level.  

Open Data allows the possibilities from entrepreneurs, journalists, in fact everybody, to generate new and innovative uses for public data. Increasingly this is coming in the form of apps for mobiles and the web. It also appears in the form of tools which allow public participation and collaboration in reviewing government data, thereby allowing for greater transparency and all the while promoting efficiency and effectiveness within government.

However, many challenges still remain, particularly around getting the data into the public domain with issues such as privacy, cleansing, accuracy and reusability being of critical importance. It also requires a fundamental change of mindset within government departments and public agencies who often fail to see the benefit of risking the release of large datasets into the public domain.

These challenges can be overcome and I believe open data has a bright future with the potential for public agencies not only to deliver new insights but also tangible results directly from these new insights as well as new products and services which can benefit society at large.

According to the EU Open Data Strategy Group, information from the public sector already generates €32 billion of economic activity each year. By granting public access access to this data this, there is potential to double that value to €70 billion.

Large figures such as €70 billion are hard to visualise without tangible examples. 

Apps4Fingal_DiscoverFingal Cianan Clancy, VisitSkerries Tourism Committee receiving the Overall Award in the apps4fingal competition for the Discoverfingal app from Mayor of Fingal, Gerry McGuire

As Chairman of the VisitSkerries Tourism Committee, I was delighted to be involved with the Apps4Fingal competition which was a tremendous success. With over 23 apps created and 36 ideas developed, we showcased the true benefits and innovations that can be achieved from open data. 

Fingal County Council have been so instrumental in leading the open data initiatives in Ireland and helping show the value of public agencies taking the leap to open up their data.  They were also instrumental in establishing Dublinked, a Data Innovation Network across all of Dublin’s local authorities.

With DiscoverFingal we have just one very simple example of how open data can be put to beneficial use, delivering economic value to Skerries, a small town in Fingal.  DiscoverFingal is an innovative Mobile Website which been designed to use the power of open data, social networking and gamification to turn Fingal into an interactive information playground in which visitors and locals are challenged to discover three historical sites.   If they succeed they are awarded with a free tea or coffee voucher which can be redeemed in the award winning historical Skerries Mills. This is a very simple and enjoyable task based on Fingal's Heritage Venues dataset, which clearly shows the tangible benefits of open data.   We look forward to working with Fingal County Council as DiscoverFingal expands to include more datasets.

On a personal note, we still need to do more in Ireland and Europe to release more data. The more data the better and the most valuable public open data is real time data. In Ireland, if we want to be at the forefront of global open data initiatives which drive significant economic value in terms of job creation and new start ups, we need to begin to release high value real time datasets from several government and public agencies.  This will be vital to generating economically viable start-ups either based on this open data or based on the advanced analysis of this data.  This will be key to positioning Ireland as a leader in open data, data mining and data analytics. 

I am delighted that the Irish Government,  through the state agencies of IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, has prioritized a new enterprise led Technology Centre in Data Analytics which will be established in 2013 to help address some of the fundamental issues facing global industry in the data mining and data analytics space.   However, as a small nation we need to go further, fundamentally transforming the Technology Centre models to research within these centres being commercialized into collaborative start-ups made up of multinational companies, SME’s and government agencies. Only then will we have an opportunity to catch up with global countries leading the way in open data, data mining and data analytics.

Guest Blogger:

Cianán Clancy is Chairman of VisitSkerries Tourism Committee which won the inaugural Apps4Fingal Open Data Competition with DiscoverFingal.


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