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“The Size of the Prize”: Hidden Benefits of Open Data?

There is no question that Open Data brings enormous value to the scientific community worldwide. But Open Data can also provide myriad benefits to society at large, including significant economic growth in the private sector. That might seem counterintuitive in the business world, where proprietary information and “intellectual property” are zealously guarded. Yet it is the unmistakable conclusion of a study conducted by Capgemini Consulting for the European Data Portal (EDP).

The study, “Creating Value through Open Data,” provides compelling evidence of wide-ranging benefits accrued through the re-use of Open Data. And it confirms the wisdom of legislation that the European Union (EU28+) adopted in 2003, encouraging member states to pool metadata through the Public Sector Information (PSI) Directive.

Among the study’s findings is that member nations will gain almost 25,000 private-sector jobs by 2020 directly related to Open Data. As the data pool broadens and deepens, there’s an ever-greater demand for workers with the education, skills, and training necessary to manage it. In addition, by making this vast new pool of metadata easily accessible, the PSI Directive fosters innovation in a variety of industries, along with the development of new business models.

Open Data also provides benefits that transcend monetary value. Consider: The EDP study has concluded that access to Open Data leads to increased efficiency of public services, including traffic management. That could translate not only to improvements in the quality of life (the EDP study estimated that drivers could spend 629 million hours fewer hours per year stuck in traffic across the EU), but also to the actual preservation of life (improved traffic flow could result in 1,425 fewer fatalities per year in highway accidents).

The study also found that as many as 7,000 lives per year could be saved via quicker responses to medical emergencies that require resuscitation.

Among the study’s other notable conclusions is that “the workforce should be empowered to make the most of Open Data.” For that to occur, however, workers must have the necessary Information Communication Technology (ICT) skills. The current supply of recent graduates with such skills cannot meet the demand. That speaks to a need for universities to emphasize the importance of a baseline ICT education, regardless of a student’s professional aspirations.

Finally, the study emphasizes the importance of standardizing the way Open Data is analyzed, interpreted, and compared across different agencies and governments. In short, all countries need to use the same measuring stick. Only then can we collectively determine what a World Bank report on Open Data’s economic impact aptly termed “The Size of the Potential Prize.”