Open Sesame on Open Data
The only time I can recall exclaiming “Open Sesame!” was when I was a young lad. Quite often the expression had to do with opening a secret passage to a hidden world. There was also bit of magic attached to those words. Today, in many ways, there is that same bit of magic attached to Open Data. Not many truly know what it is, and those that do seem to have the keys to a hidden world. So, let’s begin by shedding some light on what open data actually means.
Demystifying Open Data
Open data can be defined as data that can be freely used, shared and built-on by anyone, anywhere, for any purpose as explained by the Open Knowledge Foundation.
But what does that really mean?
The idea is to package information in an easy–to–digest format. This addresses three main issues:
- Users can save time by having the data that they need to complete government projects
- They can accomplish this without having to find and format their data from scratch, and
- This, in turn, eases the time that it takes to transfer information from the municipality to the end user.
I’ve sat through hundreds of requests for information from private contractors, realtors, historians, engineers and countless others. Inevitably, custom responses took far longer than what the municipality could ever collect in user fees, leaving them in a loss position.
How Open Data Works for You
Open Data changes this by organizing robust data sets that can be accessed in a single click. By shifting away from the old-fashioned data gathering and hand–delivering it, organizations will be able to focus on their core services. This shift is huge. Simply stated, it means that entire government departments can reorganize and prioritize their workloads because they will save a tremendous amount of time.
The development of platforms that simplify the process will be critical, because the weakest link is in how data is organized and made more accessible. Tools that can find, filter and sort data will be in high demand.
But what about Google?
Google is great tool for finding information – but one of the biggest issues with this platform is finding too much information.
Google’s algorithm does not sift the data to get you to the best information, but instead it ‘carpet bombs’ a user with millions of results that are an untidy mix of AdWords and links.
No More Indiana Jones
Great tools that eliminate data treasure hunting and replace it with fast, efficient results will be one of the greatest outcomes that Open Data can achieve. If a tool can pre-populate data that is important, you will find yourself light years ahead of your current process.
So, the next time that you cry, “Open Sesame!”, consider the fact that we are in the early stages of Open Data. Similar to unlocking a secret entrance to a treasure trove of information, serious thought is required around how we receive the most out of Open Data, so that we are not overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data that is on the horizon.
About the Author
Paul Salvatore, CLGM is the VP of Member Relations of BoxOfDocs a municipal software solution that municipalities use to find best practices as they craft new policies and approaches to do better work for their organizations and the people that they serve. His award-winning experience spans 20 years in government service and has been part of many award-winning technology projects.