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What's the next open data success story going to look like?

What type of innovation can we create from data that’s already collected?


Huge strides have been made across the country to place data collected by the government back into the hands of the public. It’s all about transparency and public access to a public resource. What would it look like if data collected by the government could work for entrepreneurs to build business?  What type of innovation can we create from data that’s already collected? Federal efforts like data.gov, USAspending.gov and the recently introduced OPEN Government Data Act legislation mean a bright-looking future for open data and innovation.

Colorado, in its typical pioneering fashion, has been at the forefront of the open data movement on a state level. The Governor’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) stood up a statewide open data repository, the Colorado Information Marketplace (CIM) in 2012, and the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office launched its statewide business apps challenge, Go Code Colorado in 2014. These programs, and others, are driving use of public data and proving the business case for making public data more easily accessible.

The government collects mountains of data in the course of regular operations. That data has tremendous potential beyond the primary purpose for which it was created. But it’s difficult to find the data you might need for your idea; more difficult to find it in an user-friendly format; and still more difficult to discover useful data that you weren’t specifically looking for.

State law classifies most government data as public, but only requires it be made available upon request—and doesn’t dictate that it be made available in formats that are useful for creating technical solutions.

In addition to hosting an annual app challenge to engage Colorado’s tech and entrepreneurial communities, Go Code Colorado also works throughout the year to publish data, in user-friendly formats, to CIM. The Secretary of State’s office contracts with a firm that specializes in data management—Xentity Corporation—that reaches out to Colorado government agencies to collect data, clean it and then place it on the open portal in a usable format for Go Code Colorado participants. The data team created a fly-over perspective of data that was relevant to this year’s app challenge, but could prove useful for all kinds of innovative ideas. There is information on census, transportation, registered businesses, energy usage and data from many other agencies.

The public and the private sector are much better positioned to define the value of open data and its use accordingly. The government collects all kinds of data, from census information to public health. Someone looking at the data with a fresh new perspective just might come up with the next big idea to solve a problem or create a new service.

Placing data in the hands of the people has already sparked some great uses of public data to solve business problems. Beagle Score is a company out of Fort Collins that participated in the Go Code Colorado apps challenge, and won in 2014. Their app is simple and effective: want to open up a business but not sure about the right location? Just plug in the address and Beagle Score will pump out a score for that location based on public data broken down into five categories: infrastructure, neighborhood, taxes, competition and regulations. From there you can drill down further to explore data associated with each category or look at the data directly.

The number of practical applications for open data are increasing every day. From civic participation to A to B navigation, the use cases keep growing for maintaining and updating accessible portals for public information.

Before open data initiatives exploded onto the scene, only individuals who were in a position of knowing what data was available could capitalize on its potential. Former law enforcement agent Sean Bair saw an opportunity to create crime analysis tools to be used within police departments and other defense agencies. Bair had access to crime data and had the skills to develop software that made that raw data meaningful. BAIR Analytics launched in 1997, providing analytical software and services needed to assist in collaborating and analyzing real-time data to strengthen Intelligence Led Policing efforts.

Twenty years and more than 50 employees later, Bair sold his Highlands Ranch analytics firm to business research and risk management firm, LexisNexis. Today, Bair has mentored participants in the Go Code Colorado challenge, inspiring them to create the next open data success story.

The World Wide Web Foundation ran a survey to determine how many countries are opening useful data sets. They concluded that only 8 percent of the countries surveyed made their data sets available. There is still work to be done. But the number will change as we continue seeing the public create innovative solutions built on public data.  

Data has become an extremely powerful tool, and publicly available data can now illuminate solutions to challenges like no other time in our history. The world-wide Open Data movement asks government entities of all sizes to make their data available to developers and entrepreneurs so its potential can be realized. Coloradans should be proud that we are a leading player in this movement—with the best yet to come.

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Andrew Cole

Andrew Cole is the program manager of Go Code Colorado with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. Cole has spent a decade creating and executing public policy on both the state and federal level. He can be reached at andrew.cole@sos.state.co.us

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