Open data could save European governments €1.7bn in administration costs by 2020, according to the architects of Europe’s first shared data portal. It’s a stand out figure but a conservative one, says Wendy Carrara, principal consultant at Capgemini Consulting and a key member of the portal project team.
Speaking ahead of her session on the European Data Portal at the European Data Forum on Tuesday, Carrara admitted that the launch is something of an achievement in itself. Persuading 34 countries to share their public data sets is testament not only to Carrara’s project management skills, but also to her team’s focus on the economic benefits of open data.
The portal is part of a three year, €7.5m EU open data project, which will also see programmes to support countries in managing open data, as well as fostering the re-use of open data.
Roberto Viola, director general of the EU’s DG Connect team says: “Public information has a huge but still underexploited potential for re-use, including at the cross-border and cross-sectoral level.” He adds that improved access to public sector information is “an essential component of the EU strategy for stimulating new business opportunities and addressing societal challenges”.
It’s the re-use of open data that brings significant efficiencies as government agencies, NGOs and even businesses gain access to data sets that inform their core operations. That’s the theory anyway. So what is the portal and can it work?
“It’s about the capacity to discover data because if the data is hidden it cannot be used,” says Carrara, who believes that the only real stumbling block in gaining access to different countries’ public data was a fear of lost web traffic. She gets it. She’s a consultant. If someone in charge of an open data project has to hit traffic targets then of course it’s a concern. But Carrara points out that the portal only takes metadata. Any access to the data itself will be handled by that particular country’s own data store or portal. Web traffic issue sorted.
There are more than 240,000 datasets and the data is structured into thirteen different categories ranging from agriculture to transport, science, justice, health and so on. Carrara believes that the breadth of datasets will inspire countries still regarded as beginners in open data circles. There will, she says, be “peer pressure to look good” while the portal will also help provide countries with their own business cases to develop and keep developing open datasets and projects.
For most if not all countries though the emphasis has to be on value and economics is a tangible driver. So how does the portal work in the current climate of restrained public funds?
Carrara says: “In terms of budget cuts, if we want to maintain high quality public services, efficiency gains are going to be needed more than ever and open data can really help here.” She adds: “Europe is trying to develop a digital single market and there is a strong emphasis on sharing data, so by harvesting the metadata of individual countries’ own stores of datasets and centralising it on a European data portal, all of a sudden it gains far more visibility and is accessible in a multi-lingual setting.”
Carrara believes this is a necessary step towards re-use where there will be real economic benefit but she also points towards opportunities for start-ups, particularly in finding ways to standardise and aggregate data both within and across national boundaries. Some of the more data mature countries, or “trendsetters” as Carrara refers to them in the project’s landscaping report on open data maturity, are already doing this – countries such as Spain, France, UK, Denmark, Germany, Finland and Italy.
These countries should be leading examples for the followers (Hungary, the Netherlands, Portugal, Poland, Switzerland et al) and the beginners (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia et al). But given the scope and the varying levels of maturity, is there a danger that despite having visibility through the portal that each country will have its own ideas and approach to publishing and managing datasets?
Carrara says one of the key challenges going forward is interoperability: “If you want to aggregate some of this data, how do you do this without having too many applications, too many different approaches? It’s a clear business opportunity.”
The portal team is also offering support services. Beginner countries in particular can get technical, organisational and legal advice, covering items such as how to structure data categories and how to build API access.
The project team’s Creating Value through Open Data report reveals the importance of all members playing an active role. It also claims that jobs (almost 25,000 extra direct open data jobs created between 2016 and 2020) and overall data market value (€75.7bn by 2020) will be instrumental in justifying ongoing open data development.
But it is the efficiency figure that still hangs large. So how did the project team reach the €1.7bn? Four key indicators were measured; direct market size, number of jobs created, cost savings and efficiency gains. A qualitative approach is then applied (a combination of insights around efficiency gains of open data and real-life examples) and an estimate is reached. According to the report this was based on a model of measurement of public service information developed in Australia by John Houghton.
Open data needs this figure, and others like it, to convince more organisations of its power to transform.