How to use open data to benefit your business

Advice for CIOs looking to open up their data to the wider world

By Thomas Macaulay
Dec. 12, 2016

open data access keyboard cio

Open data can bring numerous advantages to businesses if outsiders have free access to company information. The government information website GOV.UK has made more than 40,000 data sets available, but the private sector has been much slower to embrace open data than the public one. 

Businesses have traditionally been more concerned with protecting the commercial value of their data, but they're missing out on many possible benefits. 

Open data can help identify new customers and ideas, develop business models, or create a new revenue stream. Providing access to sustainability and supply chains can improve brand reputation as well.

How businesses can benefit from open data

How open data should be introduced into an organisation depends on the sector it serves. Organisations that share a common risk, such as insurers trying to tackle fraud or telecoms companies and developers who want new mobile apps for customers, can benefit from using open data to aid collaboration.

The Open Data Institute (ODI), a non-profit organisations that advises on using government data, is attempting to promote the benefits of open data in the private sector. In a guide entitled "How to make a business case for open data", it suggests to first identify the goals of your organisation, and evaluate how open data can help achieve them.

Show Me the Money was designed to add transparency to build trust among lenders and borrowers. The team behind the project collected data from the three largest peer-to-peer lending platforms in the UK - ZopaRateSetter and Funding Circle - to create an infographic showing how much money was lent to and from different people, with the details mapped across the country.

Privacy protection must not be sacrificed. Regulations around data ownership and sharing must be adhered to, so legal disasters are avoided, and Show Me the Money avoids revealing personal details of lenders and borrowers.  To protect privacy, ensure that any identifiable information remains concealed, or that the information is aggregated to obscure it. 

There may be less attraction for companies that don't prioritise transparency, but it can still be of value for crowd-sourcing to find solution by opening up problems to others.

After evaluating the possibilities of open data for the organisation, the ODI next recommends analysing the current use of data. This covers what is being shared, who it's shared with, the present data problems and what type further data would help.

Partners, regulators, suppliers, customers, competitors, researchers, journalists and government are just some of the potential groups that could be involved in the data flow. All of their roles are worthy of investigation.

By studying the existing data arrangements and requests, the areas of demand and potential for added benefit can be established. Businesses often underestimate the depth of data at their disposal. It can cover administrate data, such as receipts, reference data including product information, and aggregate data used to show trends such as records of total sales.

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