The Stack Archive

Gavin Starks of the Open Data Institute: “The scale of growth in data will dwarf the size of today’s web’

Wed 25 Feb 2015

gavin-odiIn this exclusive interview we discuss the benefits to business of unfettered data with Gavin Starks, Chief Executive Officer at the Open Data Institute (ODI), an organisation helping to catalyse open data culture. Starks will be speaking at Cloud Expo Europe at London ExCel on the 11th and 12th March.

What are the difficulties in persuading organisations that their data has more potential than they themselves are able to see?

It isn’t possible for a single company to anticipate all the future potential or development that will be needed. Challenges include convincing people that (a) the sky will not fall, (b) there is value to be unlocked, and (c) more value will be unlocked with an open approach. There is always a sense that there isn’t time to achieve change, so it is important to understand that inaction will leave organisations at a significant disadvantage. The scale of growth in data will dwarf the size of today’s web.

To what extent does an organisation’s wariness about data governance influence its hesitation to become involved in open data, and what can be done about this?

As the public sector releases more open data, private and third sector organisations have a new asset class to engage with. This can be used to find efficiencies, opportunities, hold the state to account or unlock new ideas. In all cases, there are benefits and concerns, but this is the journey we are already helping thousands of people with.

What can be done to ensure that new data sources are founded interoperable, as opposed to bodies such as the ODI needing to provide interpretation or migratory solutions?

We developed the Open Data Certificate to address this issue. This free process enables anyone publishing a dataset to certify it as open. The act of doing so creates a machine-readable certificate that can then be automatically tested against use-cases. For example, we have already built a search engine that enables people to search for open data.

What has been your experience of persuading both governmental and private bodies that their goals will be facilitated instead of hindered by releasing their datasets?

The conversation has shifted dramatically over the last two years. Today, hundreds of public and private organisations around the world are approaching us to start their journey. Many are now actively pursuing ‘open’ as a competitive advantage, training their teams, engaging with startups, and using open data standards.

Increasing interest in technologies such as Hadoop has led to a new interest in making sense of unstructured information. From the ODI’s point of view, is that a step backward?

Not at all. There are many useful technologies. One of our most successful startups, Mastodon C, is a big data specialist using Hadoop and other open source technologies to bring together and analyse a whole range of data, including open data. Their clients reference their open approach as a competitive advantage.

What are some of the most interesting resources which have still not been made available for public use, and what would be the significance of their release?

There are many, which are referenced in the G8 Open Data Charter, and related National Information Infrastructure plans. In the UK, two examples include:

– Boundary data from Ordnance Survey
We should know who owns which parts of the country.

– Data from the Electoral Commission
Understanding how the UK population has voted in general and local elections (by location) could help address low voter turnout.

For more on this, please see http://theodi.org/blog/what-national-information-infrastructure

If there is a training or skills gap in fields related to Open Data, what is it, and what approach would help address it?

Increasing data literacy is essential for everyone. All of our lives are impacted by data in some way. We run courses for journalists, lawyers, technologists, policy-makers and executives, as well as a free series of lunchtime lectures to help address this.

Organisations need to invest in helping their teams gain skills in this area. We also need to see data skills embedded in education.

Has the increased adoption of open source software and frameworks put the prospect of ‘giving information away for free’ in a more constructive light?

Let me start by refining the question. As ‘data’ becomes a commodity, the way it is financed is fundamentally shifting from a paid license to an open license. We have seen this trend in software over the past 20 years: you now pay for software as a service. The intrinsic value in the code has lessened as it is simply part of a much larger remit of service provision.

We see ‘data’ moving to marginal cost in the same way, so providing it under an open license is a natural progression. We see open data businesses generating better services, insight, analytics and impact using (better quality) open data.


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