Open data will help drive economic development and innovation for Delaware

This past month, the State of Delaware launched its Open Data Portal – an interactive, online repository of state issued datasets. While this may seem to be a small step forward for the state, the Open Data Portal has the potential to be a driver for economic development and innovation.

The open data movement, which traces its roots in the United States to the Freedom of Information Act of 1966, has gained substantial momentum across the country over the past decade. Open data, as defined by Open Knowledge International, is data which “…can be freely used, modified, and shared by anyone for any purpose.” Typically, as is the case in Delaware, this implies the release of public information held by government agencies – whether local, state, or federal – in an easily accessible fashion with no restriction on its use by individuals or businesses.

Superficially, this can appear as simply a mechanism to build transparency and trust between governments and their constituents, a worthy endeavor in its own right. However its potential for use as a tool to aid communities and enterprises is much more significant.

The key benefit provided by open data lies in its ability to be reused and repurposed. This means that businesses – regardless of size– can access and manipulate the data for any reason that they choose. Open data portals help make this possible by making data accessible electronically using consistent, standard formats in centralized collections. This allows the data that guides business decisions to be automatically refreshed as soon as updates are published, giving decision makers and analysts more freedom to build data-driven models that answer business critical questions with the most up to date information. Many companies take this freedom one step further, by empowering their technology teams to build tools which derive new insights from patterns that emerge over time or across seemingly unrelated datasets.

For the entrepreneur, leveraging open data could mean solving problems that they may not have been able to previously, unlocking untapped markets. Throughout the country, hundreds of businesses have been built, grown, and thrived as a result of this new opportunity. These innovative companies have turned community-focused outcomes into economic drivers.

Some of these innovations have come from the release of national level datasets that we are all familiar with, particularly GPS and weather data. Without these innovations we would not have companies like Uber or the Weather Channel. While national level data may be useful, local level data, such as that which is available in the state’s Open Data Portal, is just as valuable. Companies such as Zillow have used local level data about quality of life indicators to build their business. Data focused on local real estate, education, and crime are potent sources of innovation for local communities.

For the small business, open data means optimization. This could mean everything from optimizing delivery routes with open transportation data to optimizing the location of a new retail location by using open demographic data. While many larger corporations have the tools and resources to gather this data on their own, small businesses often lack this ability. Open data can help small businesses bridge the resource gap between themselves and larger corporations.

The only limits to what can be accomplished with open data are imagination and the granularity of the data that is available. As the amount of data that is released grows, the potential for innovation and economic development grows with it. As a business leader, take a moment to look through Delaware’s Open Data Portal. Look at the data available today and ask yourself, “How could my business use this information right now?” Perhaps there is data that you would like to see on the Open Data Portal that is not yet available. Nominate a dataset and it will be considered for inclusion in the near future. Using open data as a community will help to drive innovative ideas and economic growth for Delaware.

This article appeared in the Nov. 8, 2016 issue of the Delaware Business Times.

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