Opening public data boosts economy as well as transparency

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Updating the 2003 public information directive to increase the amount of public data that Europeans can access may be perceived as a transparency measure, but it is likely to bring real financial benefits and boost skills in a growing IT sector, writes Dinand Tinholt.

Dinand Tinholt is global account director of the European Union at Capgemini Consulting, where he is involved in the EU's large-scale pilots in the field of pan-European interoperability, e-Government, standardisation, cross-border services and digital Infrastructures.

“It is no surprise that issues of growth and economic stagnation are top of the agenda for governments, especially in the eurozone. Lost in the cacophony is the recent announcement that member states have endorsed the European Commission’s efforts to open-up public sector data for re-use. The directive expands the reach of the original 2003 public information directive and creates new guidelines around pricing and availability of open data. But, what are the benefits of the new directive for the larger European Union?

The dissemination of open data has already helped countries create and grow their information and data industries. The infomediary sector in Spain, comprised of companies selling services on top of open data, generates €330-550 million annually. In the US, the National Weather Service supports a private weather industry worth over $1.5 billion per year, and Garmin, a firm that develops consumer, aviation, and marine technologies, was built using raw government data.

Potential revenue generation can accrue from two broad areas, the charging from data and tax income due to commercial activity on open data. The aggregate direct and indirect applications of open data across the European Union economy are estimated to be €140 billion annually. The corresponding increase in tax revenues is a direct financial benefit. Open data also offers significant potential to generate new employment with the geographic information sector showing its potential. For instance, a study conducted in Australia to understand the impact of open geospatial data discovered that over 31,000 people were directly employed in the spatial information industry.

Furthermore, a larger and more long-term benefit of opening up data is the impact that it has on the dissemination of skills around big data. It is estimated that by 2015, the big data demand will reach over 4.4 million jobs globally, though it is expected that only a third of the positions are likely to be filled. Therefore, opening up government data has the potential to be a driving force for individuals and organisations as they attempt to create value on top of such data.

These benefits bring us to the next question. Can the directive act as the booster pill that EU economies need? There are a number of positive signs. The range of encompassing institutions is now larger – museums, archives and libraries are now included. It creates a right for re-using public information, something that was missing in the earlier 2003 directive. The guidelines around pricing of public sector information follow principles of marginal costing. In the case of digital material, it would be largely insignificant, thereby playing a significant role in encouraging uptake. It exhorts institutions to be transparent with their pricing mechanism for open data, if applicable. Finally, it also proposes new rules that look into technical aspects such as encouraging the availability of data in open machine-readable formats.

In summary, opening up data holds the key to unlocking economic gains. Governments and public authorities should view open data not just as an opportunity to bring in transparency and accountability but also as an enabler of economic growth and a driver of innovation.”

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