Generation Open

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Open Utility was at the ODI Summit on Tuesday. As #ODISummit trended on Twitter, the day’s speakers largely showcased their ideas and innovations around the summit’s theme ‘Generation Open’: innovators and entrepreneurs, customers and citizens, students and parents who embrace network thinking.

The presentations, stories, art space and startup space showed how open data is touching all spans of individuals, companies, charities and government bodies across the UK, and across the world. Although these talks covered a diverse range of topics and industries, there were common themes running throughout many of the talks.

Decentralised systems are the future

New systems and frameworks often need to be built to support a shift from closed to open data. Decentralised systems are a way to empower users, using a framework to give control back to the source and the end user.

Thingful is building a decentralised data system, enabling data owners to retain control of their data, and for clients to get access on the fly and to get it direct from the source. The system connects devices on the Internet of Things, with an index of millions of devices from across the world, and across the data spectrum. The framework and business model rewards openness.

Jessi Baker, the founder of Provenance, spoke about how centralised systems for transparency are flawed. Centralised systems rely on one company to be all powerful, and 100% trustworthy. The company is using blockchain to place a data layer in between each of the levels of supply, to build a framework and network for knowledge.

Transparency is power

MP Matthew Hancock eschewed the value of open data in the government. He says the role of data is changing the role of the government, and the nature of the economy. When data was closed, the systems relied on top down decisions, meaning ministerial decisions carried unproportionate weight.

Now, as the government works to incorporate open data and build a new national information infrastructure, it is no longer restrained by data scarcity, he says.

“Instead of telling people what to do, we see our role as unleashing human entrepreneurialism. People want to find better ways of doing what they do.

“We provide data to citizens so they can improve. It’s about the incremental constant improvement.”

A cultural shift is coming

In a morning session about ‘What does Generation Open mean to you?’, recent graduate Ben Webb noted that his generation expects systems and data to be open. New to the business world, he finds it intriguing that businesses often take the opposite view – that data is, by default, closed.

Reinforcing this view, but from the business angle, was Blair Freebairn, founder of Geolytix. Blair spoke about the company taking up its role as “data sherpas, helping businesses through a complex world of open and closed data”. The company is working with its clients (which include Barclays, Asda, Whole Foods, John Lewis and Boots), to start publishing open data, he says.

“They’re very scared at the moment. We hope that as they’re our clients, we can help guide them through this.”

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