How open data fuels key business sectors

Participants in the Open Data Roundtable. (Natalie Fertig Photography)

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At the end of July, the Office of Management and Budget and the Center for Open Data Enterprise co-hosted a Roundtable on Open Data for Economic Growth. This event, previously described in FedScoop, demonstrated the Trump administration’s support for open government data as a resource for American business. It was also an opportunity for the private sector to have their say — telling their government counterparts why open data is central to their business and what the government can do to improve their data resources.

Research at the Center for Open Data Enterprise has shown that both new and established companies use open government data in two key ways: to develop new products and services, and to improve their operations, such as supply chain optimization or better targeted marketing. These patterns are clear in the nearly 2,000 use cases developed for the Open Data Impact Map, which tracks the uses of open government data worldwide.

With the support of its open data partners, Accenture Federal Services and Booz Allen Hamilton, the Center for Open Data Enterprise convened more than two dozen business leaders that consider open government data core to their business. The roundtable, held under the Chatham House Rule, included lightning talks from several business leaders and breakout discussions covering five sectors where businesses use open data. Leaders in each sector had compelling examples of how they use open government data, why it is essential to their business, and how better open data would enhance their work. The examples below show some ways this national resource is directly impacting businesses. A detailed report on takeaways from the roundtable is available here.

Consumer and Retail. Companies working in this sector use data on weather, fuel prices, shipping and transportation, as well as international trade data, to manage their supply chains. Population statistics, and social and demographic data, such as the American Community Survey (ACS), help businesses better understand their customers, target their marketing, and inform development of new products and services. For companies in this sector, the priority is to ensure that critical data sources, such as the ACS and geospatial and weather data, remain robust and easily available.

Finance. Financial companies rely on open government data in numerous ways. Some utilize data on federal business loans and other factors to determine the credit-worthiness of individuals and business clients. Many companies in the financial sector use federal data to inform their investment decisions and improve corporate decision-making. This can include data on bank performance, utilities performance, patents, drug approval data and data from the Securities and Exchange Commission. Companies in this sector would benefit from more standardized, timely and discoverable corporate and financial data.

Geospatial. Companies that have built their business on geospatial data draw on vast federal data sets from several agencies: NASA data, weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), GPS data from the Department of Defense, and Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey. These companies use federal geospatial data to create new maps, tools and applications, which their client companies can use to achieve their own business goals. Geospatial data in usable forms helps retailers manage their supply chains and choose sites for expansion, helps farmers increase their crop yields, and helps shipping companies find more efficient routes. Companies in this sector would benefit from more accurate geospatial data, and participants recommended exploring user feedback, crowdsourcing and other approaches to improving accuracy.

Health care. Health care companies have diverse data-driven business models: They may help consumers choose medical care, help businesses manage their employee health care costs, provide predictive analytics on health outcomes or promote drug development. Some of the most commonly used data sources include the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Business participants said they would like better access to Medicare and Medicaid claims data to aid in fraud detection, cost analysis and outcomes analysis to evaluate different providers’ quality of care.

Transportation. This sector includes auto manufacturers, auto insurance companies, companies working to improve public transportation and companies that provide vehicle-sharing and other innovative models. All rely on data from the Department of Transportation, such as data on recalls and traffic density, as well as data on population trends and energy efficiency from other agencies. Businesses in this sector would benefit from more real-time, structured data, harmonized to make it easier to use data from different states.

Beyond these sector-by-sector recommendations, business participants in the roundtable had an overall message for their government counterparts: Make open data a priority and support it by investing in a modern data infrastructure. The current focus on IT modernization is an opportunity to put new resources into government data systems.

The businesses at the roundtable saw several ways the federal government can make open data more available and actionable. They recommended that the government improve data access through public data inventories, APIs and cloud hosting; improve data quality, including feedback loops from data users; and improve interoperability between federal data sets and across federal, state and local data collections.

“Over the past several years, we have seen significant progress in opening data sets in support of transparency and by having a policy of default open access to government information,” Booz Allen Hamilton Vice President Bryce Pippert said after the Roundtable. “However, there is more work to be done to identify and expose value-producing, granular data resources from our government in support of innovation and economic growth.”

That said, the two dozen companies represented at the roundtable were largely optimistic about the potential of open government data, and the benefit of more dialogue and collaboration between the public and private sectors.

“In today’s digital economy, open data is increasingly critical to fuel economic growth,” said Kathy Conrad, director of digital government at Accenture Federal Services. “With strong government leadership, we can make open data even more accessible and useful to create new industries, new jobs and new solutions to improve quality of life and strengthen businesses across America.”

Joel Gurin is President of the Center for Open Data Enterprise in Washington, D.C. The Center thanks its Open Data Partners, Accenture Federal Services and Booz Allen Hamilton, for supporting the Center’s work on the 2017 Open Data Roundtables.

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Center for Open Data Enterprise, Joel Gurin, OMB, The White House