Andrea DiMaio

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Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
15 years at Gartner
28 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies strategies, Web 2.0, open government, cloud computing, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio

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How Open Data Can Both Be Important and Become Irrelevant

by Andrea Di Maio  |  September 11, 2012  |  7 Comments

In his relentless campaign for the importance of open data, Alex Howard published an interesting article where he mentions a recent press release by Gartner that highlights the “big data makes organization smarter, but open data makes the richer”. The press release is based on a research note by my colleague David Newman (subscription required), which looks at the role of open data across industry sectors and rightly points to some of the great examples from the public sector.

As I have always sounded like a skeptic on open data, and certainly so in my conversations with Alex, I think it is important to make a clarification.

We all agree that open data is important and it has the potential to fuel existing industry sectors as well as possibly create entirely new industries. Examples abound already in government and Alex as well as several others have diligently tracked them over time. David’s call is meant to stimulate private sector companies the benefits that they would get from both providing and leveraging open data.

Where Gartner government research takes a more cautionary attitude is on the fact that open data initiatives have been around for a while.

Federal, state and local governments have launched countless contests to involve and recognize application developers, and this is likely to continue in future, as open government remains an essential attribute of many government digital strategies.

However it would be unwise not to consider the possible fatigue that the continued demand of publishing and using open data may generate inside the agencies that are responsible for that data.

Some do live and breath public data (e.g. departments dealing with research, statistics, culture, tourism), so open data is right in line with their strategic priorities. But for many others data is just the fuel for their services and operations and while they may appreciate the importance of data being open, their short-term priorities and primary challenges keep them away from fully leveraging its value.

This is why I have been saying for quite some time that a more immediate connection between open data and agency mission priorities need to be established as early as possible. If there are problems they cannot solve, or cannot solve in a sufficiently cost-effective manner through traditional means, then open data may prove its value and its success would most likely stick with the agency. A Gartner note published last February says that Survival of Open Government Depends on Short-Term Payoffs (subscription required) and the same argument transpires through much earlier research as well as many of my blog post (just search here under “open data” or “open government”).

Just telling people “If you build, they will come” is a hardly sustainable proposition, for those who struggle with doing more with less in an increasingly turbulent and uncertain environment.

So let’s keep a steady focus on open data, but let’s make sure that rather than calling just for the eye-catching headlines around healthcare or development of new business, government agencies find concrete incentives in trying out open-data-based approaches to run their own business and not to just to work for the common good. The risk is that generic calls on the value of open data will cause several government executives to lose steam and interest, making their agencies lose the long-term opportunities coming from open data.

7 Comments »

Category: open government data     Tags: ,

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Joel Natividad   September 11, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    We should give more credit to government visionaries and technocrats who have been championing Open Data.

    Its still early days and I sincerely hope that they don’t apply quarter-to-quarter thinking in laying down the foundation for Gov 2.0.

    That’s not to say that we should not go for low-hanging fruit that’s aligned with each agency’s mission, but oftentimes, the pressure of day-to-day work and the election cycle prevents agency heads from straying off the beaten path.

    That’s why I’m glad that in NYC, its recently passed Open Data Law mandates each agency to publish data. Granted, there are provisions in the law that agencies can invoke to NOT publish data, but the default position is open, and the burden of proof is on the agency to demonstrate why it cannot share its data.

    Sometimes, compliance is the only way.

    Perhaps, other Gov 2.0 advocates should follow NYC’s lead and push for Open Data laws that cement the mandate rather than making the case on an agency-by-agency basis.

  • 2 How Open Data Can Both Be Important and… « Kind of Digital Exchange   September 11, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    [...] How Open Data Can Both Be Important and…How Open Data Can Both Be Important and Become Irrelevant [...]

  • 3 How Open Data Can Both Be Important and Become Irrelevant | OKFNbe | Scoop.it   September 12, 2012 at 3:08 am

    [...]   [...]

  • 4 Jez Nicholson   September 12, 2012 at 3:25 am

    From a business perspective we are more than happy to make use of open data. The usual stumbling block is getting management to approve a cost, so the statement “its free!” wins straight away. But there is an immediate competition problem: if it is free and accessible to you, then it is free and accessible to your competitor.

    As to business publishing open data, they are dead scared. They worry about giving away value, loss of competitive advantage, exposing their strategy. There don’t seem to be many immediate positives to counter these negative thoughts.

    In the public realm we can argue that it is our data to start with, but in private business it is harder.

  • 5 Joel Natividad   September 12, 2012 at 10:22 am

    @Jez, a lot of information brokers will get disrupted. IMHO, that’s one of the best benefits of Open Data.
    Current information brokers who do nothing more than get public data and package it with minimal value add will be left in the dust, while those who are prescient enough and willing to cannibalize their own products, will reap the benefits and reduce cost.

  • 6 Andrea Di Maio   September 13, 2012 at 2:59 am

    @Joel and Jez. Thanks for chiming in. You both highlight very well both potential and challenges for open data. I guess most agree that a new data economy is emerging and the increasing availability of open data will disrupt traditional business models. This has the characteristics of disruptive innovation, where the availability of much cheaper (or even free) technology changes the market landscape forever. My worry is that governments will have to carry the load for a long time before the private sector really understands whether and how to open its data. reality os that opening data is not a mission priority for many agencies, and it is essential to find ways for them to keep the momentum, so that open data reaches such a critical mass that it becomes a self-sustaining initiative. I believe we are still quite far and compliance can only do so much to solve the problem.

  • 7 Viewing Open Gov from Multiple Vantage Points - semanticweb.com   September 14, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    [...] Andrea Di Maio has written an interesting response to Alexander Howard’s recent article, Here Comes the Data Economy. Di Maio writes, “In his relentless campaign for the importance of open data, Alex Howard published an interesting article where he mentions a recent press release by Gartner that highlights the ‘big data makes organization smarter, but open data makes the richer.’ The press release is based on a research note by my colleague David Newman (subscription required), which looks at the role of open data across industry sectors and rightly points to some of the great examples from the public sector. As I have always sounded like a skeptic on open data, and certainly so in my conversations with Alex, I think it is important to make a clarification.” [...]