The formal launch of the London-based Open Data Institute this week marks an important step forward in preparing for the Internet of Things.
The purpose of the £10m government-primed organisation, the brainchild of Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Southampton University's Prof Nigel Shadbolt, is to come up with innovative and entrepreneurial ways of commercialising open data from the UK government's 37,500 datasets.
That looks set to help extend the UK's lead in open data and put some backbone into a weak market for open data by injecting government data feeds into the heart of business innovation.
Preparation for the Internet of Things Data Tsunami
But much more than that, the guaranteed initial five year funding period for the ODI is the very period when deployment of sensor chips is set to increase exponentially. Some are now saying that the much bandied estimates of 50 billion sensor and actuator devices globally by 2020 may be on the low side.
So the expertise and collaborative open data work, linking government, academia, start-ups and business, will keep the UK at the forefront of this key aspect of the looming Internet of Things revolution.
The ODI offers a physical location in the heart of London's “Silicon Roundabout” where entrepreneurs can set up their desks, meet, chat and work in a collaborative and co-operative environment. Four entrepreneurial companies are already based there - Locatable (which collates feeds to provide better informed home buying); Mastodon C (an agile big data specialist); OpenCorporates (open database of companies); and Placr (public source infrastructure)
The sum is not big - £10m over 5 years but the gearing on that will be huge and the ODI has already succeeded in gaining matched funds this week from two sources, Omityar Network ($750 for two years) and the World Bank.
For me, this represents encouragement for a bottom-up approach to maximise the use of open data. This should be another nail in the coffin of any government sector systems integrators fighting to keep proprietary information who may be continually subtly undermining true openness (see my earlier blogs on the blocks to innovation).
Championing Open Data in an Internet of Things Age
Nigel Shadbolt said that the ODI is a good place for initial conversations to counter a Tower of Babel situation arising when it comes to converging future data such as that from smart cities. “I hope we can help crystallise more structure out of that,” he said.
Open data is a key to accelerating wider benefits of all data sets and data streams now and in the future. Gavin Starks, Chief Executive of the ODI said: “open data needs to be transformed into knowledge, for everyone.”
At the ODI opening, Ian Gray, CEO of the Technology Strategy Board which is the conduit for the £10m, pointed to the limited extent to which public agencies can consume the enormous quantities of data that they already generate, so welcomed the efforts to make that data available. He stressed the depth, quality and scale of data now being re-processed at the ODI: “the full Network Rail signalling system data requires about 5 Mbits of sustained bandwidth to consume", he said.
Shadbolt said the ODI can play an important role in getting tangible evidence of the commercial potential here that corporates are keeping quiet about: “for example, insurance companies don't want to tell you how much they're using prime data to fix street-based insurance premiums.”
Current State of Open Data in the UK
The Deloitte summary survey “Open Growth -Stimulating demand for open data in the UK”, also launched this week, shows that since 2009 the UK government has opened up 37,500 datasets, with 2.7m downloads. It finds that the UK open data sites get more daily downloads than do the larger quantity of US and French open data sets.
It also sets out the core definition of open data as: “a piece of content or data is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and distribute it - subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share alike”.
The report identifies that the government data which can be most versatilely used across sectors relates, in descending order, to: geospatial, environment, economy, transport, energy,resources and utility data, demographics agriculture business and planning.
Web Science: integrating Social, Psychological, Legal and Technical Aspects of the Internet
Another indication of the sea change in maturity beginning to sweep through Internet-related activity comes from the Southampton University hosted Web Science Trust. According to its chairman Sir John Taylor, its Web Observatory to promote open standards in institutional and commercial data sets, leverages research resources of 15 university research departments globally, including MIT and Beijing. It is, says Taylor, “a neutral, open, not-for-profit, honest broker.” Key focus areas include semantics and data provenance.
“A lot of companies have huge data sets but no idea of how to use them,” said Taylor. The Web Observatory is currently getting critical mass together to build the first few big demonstrators, combining social science, psychological, legal, technical and other implications, to show the importance of web science as a game changing commercial activity. Just £100,000 would kick start this. “The only point of getting public and private data together is to create something new,” said Taylor.
As Taylor puts it: “the first railways had no design and no theory - they just ran. And then they built better design. This is just beginning for the web with web science emerging as a discipline.”
It is into this climate of openness and transparency that the Internet of Things (where everything can connect with everything through sensors and actuators) is emerging. Data issues will feature very strongly, especially relating to capture, collection and retention of personal data. Shadbolt is a champion and passionate for the midata movement for consumers to be able to have access to their personal data held by government.
Issues such as these will keep coming in waves as the data from sensor devices increases exponentially and as autonomous decisions start to be made by devices on the basis of the data streams being generated.
So this week marks a positive series of activities coming together in open data which will hopefully serve well as preparation for the truly enormous continuous data streams to come before too long as the Internet of Things takes off.