Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has hailed the UK’s drive to open up data to the public by showcasing success stories at a Digital Birmingham seminar today.
Speaking to SMEs, Maude praised how new businesses are being created by exploiting large tracts of open data that have been made available from a wide variety of government departments.
“Britain is leading the world by making ever more data freely available. Today, we are showing how companies including SMEs and start-ups, in Birmingham and beyond, are using open data to improve public services and create innovative products,” he said.
“In the next few months, we will re-launch data.gov.uk – already the largest global resource of its kind – to make it easier to use, so that businesses and entrepreneurs can access free data more readily,” he added.
The government has already made more than 5,400 datasets available via data.gov.uk and is planning to launch a £10m Open Data Institute, headed up by inventor of the internet Tim Berners-Lee, to help businesses maximise the commercial value of open data.
A report released by Chancellor George Osborne during his Autumn Statement last year valued open data in the UK to be worth approximately £16 billion.
One of the main case studies being highlighted to SMEs today was the Birmingham Civic Dashboard, which aims to encourage collaborative working between the city’s residents and Birmingham Council.
The application takes live data from the city’s Customer First contact database and shows trends on a map, allowing the council and residents to identify ‘hotspot’ areas where there are common or recurring issues being reported to the council, such as housing repairs and missed waste collections.
“Putting our data to use in the novel way will enable our Customer First team to look at new ways of involving local people in transforming the delivery of our services, and get to the root causes of customer complaints and particular issues,” said Paul Tilsey, deputy leader at Birmingham City Council.
Independent developer Oli O’Brien, an MSc student at the Centre for Spatial Analysis, University College London, is being showcased as another example. He has developed a mapping tool that collates and visualises data on the location of London’s ‘Boris Bikes’ in real time.
The application, which is available to view online, allows users to identify which areas busiest for bike use and also highlights where free docking stations are. O’Brien is now rolling out the bike map to other major cities across the world for similar use.
Further examples of businesses and public sector bodies using open data is being made available via the Open Data Innovation Community hub.
Theo Bertram, former adviser to government and UK policy manager at Google, has also pledged the internet giant’s support for the open data scheme.
“We strongly believe that the opening up of public information will mainly benefit small and medium enterprises,” said Bertram.
“Through this opening up of public data a range of SME organisations will be created, and existing SMEs will grow, delivering value based on this public information."
He added: “Having this public data enables social enterprises to start anywhere in the country, reinforcing local economies and also enabling a new generation of small businesses to be created.”