Introduction to Open Data

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Today the world generates vast quantities of data each day that can be used to enhance the quality of living of virtually anyone in the world. Information is power but also a tool for supporting development, knowledge sharing and social initiatives. Tracking natural disasters, crowdsourcing rainfall data and mapping out the night’s sky are amongst a diverse range of open data initiatives.

Three key terms of data are used to describe how available it is to people who wish to access it. There is closed, shared and open data. Closed data is confidential and is not meant to be shared with the public. This can vary from confidential companies’ reports, government security data or any other data that is deemed classified. Open data is readily available to anyone who wishes to access it. Governments and companies have allowed access to various types of data for those wishing to find new solutions to problems that can benefit society. For data to be considered open the owner of the data must specifically state that the data is free to use in any way, shape or form that the user sees fit. In the middle of this spectrum is shared data. Shared data can be accessed and used by specific groups of people, who meet certain criteria, for clear defined purposes. That might include medical data, consumer shopping habits or electoral data.

Open data has potential to create tremendous value and has started to be used on a wider scale. It can also have positive economic and social effects. New products and business models are emerging off the back of the Open Data movement. App developers for example are using weather reports to warn people of pollution in specific areas. Traffic data is being used for real-time traffic reporting to ease congestion in urban areas. Government data is being utilised to track how tax income is being spent. Repurposed open data is helping people improve their household energy efficiency and linking property owners with construction companies that can make it happen.  There are many great examples of how open data is already saving lives and changing the way we live and work.

However with this growth in access to data sources also comes the challenge of managing the growth in volume and variety.  Many organisations have struggled historically to manage and extract value from their own internal datasets.  Fortunately alongside these trends a rapid development of new tools and techniques has also taken place enabling firms with the right approach to truly leverage internal and external Open Data assets.

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