Virtual Data Lakes of Opportunity are Filling in All Around Us

According to a new McKinsey report, the availability of Open Data in the Public Sector will unlock as much as $2 trillion dollars in economic value – annually.

No one knows exactly how the future open data world will look, or who will reap the economic rewards, but one thing’s for sure, with 90,000 open data sets already available on the United States’, the sky’s the limit. Public entities, private companies, and citizens should all benefit from the open data movement. 

City Government Use Cases Emerge

GPS (Global Positioning System) was originally a government platform developed for military positioning. It was only opened up for civilian use in the 1980s. Now, many common applications and services rely on the navigational signals (i.e. open data) transmitted by GPS satellites. If you’ve spent time in Massachusetts, then you’ve probably heard about Boston’s Citizen Connect App where, thanks to GPS, citizens can report potholes, graffiti and traffic signals gone dark.

New York City has been holding an Open Data Developer contest called NYC BigApps for the past four years. Last year’s winner was HealthyOut, an application to help New Yorkers find healthy food choices when they eat out. Open data feeds include nutritional and dietary information, restaurant menus and inspection scores, doctors’ opinions, and GPS. All of these open data sources are merged together to inform the mobile application that won. A total of $150,000 in prize money was awarded.

In Louisville, Kentucky, they’re serious about open data too. Their open data portal includes city crime statistics, agency expenditures, WIC usage (a social service program for women, infants, and children), bike routes, snow removal routes, parks, fire, animal rescues and more. Last year they co-sponsored an open data hack-a-thon in partnership with Code for America, a non-profit that brings together local governments and technologists to make better cities for everyone.

States Want In on the Action

In Utah, there’s now a Bill Watch application that allows anyone to follow bills through the Legislature. The open data source is from the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel. In the first year more than 800 users watched 4,617 bills move through the process. Available for both iOS and Android operating systems, this open data application received a 2013 NASCIO State IT award. NASCIO states on its website: “Successful information technology initiatives in state government deserve to be highlighted and shared in order to promote innovation, foster better government, and engage citizens.” Way to go Utah!

The State of California has its own open data portal. Developers and citizens can find datasets, geographical data, APIs, and more.  Hundreds of California state agencies already publish open data. All can be found on this portal. Another virtual data lake just a click away.

The state of Texas offers open data sets too. According to their website “Senate Bill 279 (83R) requires agencies, including higher education, to provide the Department of Information Resources (DIR) with a link and description for their open data set(s) to” There are hundreds of open data sources on the Texas site including nursing license renewals, Texas A&M Agrilife, and the State Fair of Texas timeline. Imagine the data mash-ups.  How many licensed RNs visited the livestock barn at last year’s State Fair? Is there an app for that?

There’s Open Federal Data Too

Just this week the US Federal Government released doctor payment data.  The details of more than $77B in government payouts by Medicare to 880,000 healthcare providers are now open to review and use.  The new data reflect only Medicare Part B claims, which include doctor visits, lab tests and other treatment typically provided outside a hospital. “Providing consumers with this information will help them make more informed choices about the care they receive,” Jonathan Blum, Medicare’s principal deputy administrator, said last week.  Medicare plans to post the data online.

Complementary Market Drivers

There are two primary reasons why cities, states, towns, and universities find it easy to initiate an open data-based application development pilot. First, administrators and agency managers are always looking for ways to lower operating costs. Free data certainly qualifies. Second, citizens and students are demanding more mobile services like they’ve grown accustomed to in other parts of their lives. “If I can buy a movie through my TV remote, why can’t I pay my local excise tax bill from my phone? Or receive an alert when the insecticide spray truck enters my neighborhood?”

The combination of these two market drivers plus the proliferation of open data makes it easy to pilot. Virtual data lakes of opportunity are filling in all around us.

Where’s the Economic Value?

Formal return on investment studies surrounding open data in the public sector are still few and far between, but the payoff will be significant in the long term. Between now and then, though, I expect we’ll see a fair bit of experimentation in all segments of Public Sector.

Why We Can’t Hold Back

We can’t afford to think too small. Now’s not the time to put a limit on our imaginations. Instead we must do all we can to find, incentivize, and turbo-charge our brightest minds and thinking machines to combine data sets and see what we can create. While it’s understandable to be overwhelmed by all this open data, we can’t afford to ignore it.

There’s too much potential inherent in the data – too much promise of a better tomorrow for our children and grandchildren. Combinations no one has thought of yet are sure to emerge. No one had a smart phone 10 years ago. Can you imagine life without one now?

My advice to friends in the public sector is to start with a pilot. Hire the very best talent you can find. Join communities of your public sector peers. Look online for what other municipalities and universities are doing with their open data, and remember to ask your IT vendor partners for help. That’s what we’re here for.

About the Author: Lynn Marquedant