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Data Centre + Big Data
Contributor: Darren Baguley
What will open government data mean for innovation and productivity?

Use GPS to navigate? Check the weather online? Plan a trip using an app? 

Every time you do, you’re using open data, and it’s about to become more useful as the government pushes to release more datasets.

Open data has been around since Ronald Reagan opened up the GPS satellite network in 1983, after a Korean Airlines jetliner was shot down when it accidentally strayed into the Soviet Union’s airspace. Since then, hundreds of companies have developed new ways to leverage the network.

Making the GPS network available to the public was just the start. Companies and citizens now routinely access data that has been collected by the government via websites and apps. Weather data was among the first to be made available and there are now various government initiatives to push departments and agencies – as well as private companies – to share their anonymised datasets with the public.

MGI: US$3 trillion per year

According to McKinsey Global Institute’s (MGI) 2013 report, Open data: Unlocking innovation and performance with liquid information, these open datasets share common characteristics of accessibility: they are machine readable so the data processing is automatic; they come zero to low cost to access; and the data is essentially rights free with few restrictions on use.

The rationale is that companies and citizens can use these datasets to build innovative applications or improve their productivity with a concomitant boost to the Australian economy. The numbers being bandied about are not insignificant. MGI estimates that open data across the seven ‘domains’ of education, transportation, consumer products, electricity, oil and gas, healthcare and consumer finance worldwide could add up to US$3 trillion to the global economy annually.

1.5 per cent of Australian GDP

A February 2016 Bureau of Communications Research (BCR) report, Open government data and why it matters, estimates that open government data in Australia has the potential to generate up to $25 billion per year. As this figure represents 1.5 per cent of Australia’s GDP, it’s no surprise that Australian governments are seeking to expedite open data. 

For example, the NSW Data Sharing (Government Sector) Bill 2015 became law in November last year and Western Australia released its whole-of-government Open Data Policy in mid-2015. In particular, the NSW legislation promises to expedite data sharing by giving the NSW Minister for Innovation the power to order any state government agency, state-owned corporation and local council to provide data within 14 days.

GovHack event produces results

Another initiative fully supported by the Australian government is GovHack, an annual open data hackathon event that gives teams the chance to go through government datasets to find new ideas or ways to reuse the data. It’s a popular event – more than 1800 teams competed in 2015. One of the 2014 stand-out projects was an energy-efficiency calculator, which is an easy way for users to see how much they could save if they swapped their current appliance for a more energy-efficient one.

Companies always talk about innovation, but open data really does offer the opportunity for businesses and individuals to develop useful apps and services.

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