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September 10, 2014

Why SMBs ‘are suffering from lack of open data consistency’

Does open data need to be released fast or carefully curated?

By Joe Curtis

A lack of consistency in open data is harming businesses, according to the Open Data Institute (ODI).

Government must commit to a common set of standards when publishing datasets to help businesses thrive, the body claimed at a TechUK roundtable.

Companies are interested in adding government-released data to their own information to build services, with a £42m fund announced in July to support Tech City and the ODI among other ventures, but the ODI claimed firms suffer from a lack of common standards.

Technical director Jeni Tennison said: "[Public bodies] all publish largely with different schemas, different structures for the data, they interpret what they need to publish in different ways. Consistency across local authorities is a problem.

"That’s a real problem for organisations trying to build sustainable businesses. Being able to match up data is important so you need to be able to use the same code list, the same geographies to match those up. Getting that consistency across government is a big job."

One initiative that could establish common standards is the National Information Infrastructure, a big net containing open data that could benefit the public, currently in its first iteration.

Tennison added that while government is currently focused on releasing open data, an absence of commitments to continue doing so in future is another concern for companies.

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"Often there will be a big push to publish more open data and then they will stop publishing that data once the magic eye of government has moved onto something else," she said.

"If companies are trying to provide an up to date service there’s a real risk for them that when that data goes away they can no longer provide that service."

The roundtable also heard from Paul Maltby, the Cabinet Office‘s director of open data, who said the Government’s priority was to encourage departments to release data as quickly as possible, rather than making sure it was user-friendly.

"The maxim we have is to get the data out as soon as we can, making it open," he said, but added: "There’s more that we can do to listen to businesses’ needs to make sure that we help prepare in that space."

One example of benefits from this was a student entrepreneur using data published on functioning streetlights to provide an app mapping out the safest routes home for people.

Oracle’s principal sales consultant Chris Royles said the emphasis should be on firms using open data to complement their own information to answer business questions.

"A huge opportunity sits there in terms of organisations being able to answer the question ‘why’," he said.

Harvey Lewis, analytics research director at Deloitte, believed the complexity of open data would spur an ecosystem of SMBs dedicated to providing data-based services to other companies and enterprises less concerned about data quality.

"Some will be specialist open data companies and they will be very successful.," he said. "For other businesses it’s much more of a hybrid approach, it’s just data at the end of the day and if we want to make a strategic decision we will use whatever data helps us reach that outcome."

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