ISA: Data Procurement Workshop

One of the important takeaways from John Breslin’s recent article, Dealing with Information Overload, is that as we move further into the 21st Century in order to be able to cope with the rampant growth of data, all the services needed to manage it and make it useful will also have to grow at a relative rate.

This rapid creation of data is the most significant phenomena of modern times. (Just for argument’s sake I include Global Warming in that claim as it may be data modeling and prediction that will be what will help us survive and manage the changes.)

But this growth is largely built around innovations that allow for more of the same with less time cost and energy. More transistors on a chip using new materials and manufacturing processes, and so on. Moore’s Law predicts this fairly well.

However, the real quantum leaps in progress will come from new ways of accessing the data that we already have and are adding to daily. By re-collating information and applying it in ways that perhaps were totally unintended to what it was originally collected for we can expect significant new results and insights that can really inform change and development.

These leaps won’t be intentional but will be the inevitable consequence of using better information, more effectively, efficiently and profitably.

The first step is to connect the people who have the data and who want it to be useful and meaningful with the people who can do just that. The former, in this case, is the Irish Government and the latter are the members of the Irish Software Association (ISA.)

The second in a series of workshops organised under the chairmanship of Brendan O’ Reilly from the ISA’s Procurement Group will take place:

ISA Public Procurement workshop – Open Data – Technology in Search of a Problem?
 — IBEC 84/86 Lower Baggot St, Dublin from 11am until 2pm. 
Register via or contact: 01-6051582.

According to Brendan the series of workshops are in the context of, “A focused agenda. What we are always looking to do is improve our market share on behalf of the members with the government. That’s the purpose of the group.”

Over the last two years the members of the Procurement Group of the ISA have been meeting the technical architects or CIOs of various government agencies such as Revenue, Agriculture and Social Protection to discover what is at the top of their list of priorities.

Using this knowledge of what solutions government might wish to procure, Brendan says, “What we then do is run a workshop on each of those themes. It is about what might happen at some point in the future and the products which our members might build. The reason people should attend is for the opportunity to meet government buyers. It is getting people into the same room and talking to one another.”

Brendan is clear about the importance of this sector for software producers. “Data is a very valuable resource. There are various different agencies providing datasets which offer potential for people if they can join them together and add value. But it’s a lot of cost. You have got to invest quite a bit to be able to that and then you have to figure out recover that and monetize the opportunity around open data.

“There are very few people out there attempting to do it but that’s because there’s not enough knowledge out there about how to monetize it.”

18 Hour Open Data Challenge at Digital Hub

Since the EU adopted the directive concerning the Reuse of Public Sector Information, local authorities across Europe have attempted with varying degrees of success to comply with rules that are intended to allow companies to exploit the value of public sector data to contribute to economic growth.

An undoubted leader in this field is Fingal Council in Ireland.

Since the fall of 2010 alone, they have released over 70 datasets.

Many of these were made available for the Open Data Challenge. This was an 18-hour event instigated by the Irish Internet Association and organised by the NDRC. It took place at the Digital Hub in Dublin.

Dr. Teresa Dillon and her team created an environment for over 120 people to come together and assemble themselves into ad-hoc teams to take on the challenge.

In her opening remarks Teresa said that, “There is an essential need for transparency and accountability from our governments. We also have the right to know how and where our tax money is spent.

“We think this area is so exciting because there is the potential for products and services that can draw on and use this data.”

Participants were distributed across tables according to their skillsets.

After briefings from the organizers, the teams discussed the potential ideas that could be had from the datasets that had been provided. These included such areas as water, environment and waste data information.

As evening approached, good ideas were voted in, and bad ideas were voted out and were unceremoniously removed from the workspace walls.

On the second day the focus was on creating a commercially-valid product.

The ultimate winner of the competition was a team called Bizfit consisting of (L-R) Mark Kearns, judging panel, NDRC, Conor Calahane, Robb Mitchell, Annette Farrell, Gary Leeson, Udo Reubach and Sandra Garcia. (Main banner pic by Ian Pearse.)

The idea was for a website that uses demographic and other open source data to match
a business with its optimum location.

Dr. Teresa Dillon commented, “It’s clear that with the right tools and freer access to data, there is the potential for ideas-led business growth. We hope an initiative such as this, sends a message to other Councils and Government bodies that open data is a resource and as such it has economic potential.”

Open Data Challenge on July 4th and 5th

Ireland’s first ever 18-hour Open Data Challenge is being held at the National Digital Research Centre in Dublin this July 4th and 5th. During this free event, which is open to the public, participants will work in groups to try and develop creative and useful business ideas based around open data. The Open Data Challenge is being organised by the NDRC’s Inventorium programme in partnership with Dublin City Council, Finglas Council, the Irish Internet Association, and Microsoft.

Inventorium is one of the NDRC’s three programmes, the other two being the LaunchPad and Catalyser programmes, and it is a three year, European-funded, project that is taking place across Ireland and Wales. Inventorium’s primary focus is “on idea generation, and pre-incubation digital innovation”, according to Dr. Teresa Dillon, who is the programme’s senior content development manager.

The organisers at Inventorium see great potential in Open Data as a basis for creative new business opportunities.

“I think open data is hugely important at the moment. I guess it got a lot of momentum from the Obama election in 2009, but the EU, for example, has had policies in place since 2003 looking at how the governments can make the data they collect on our behalf available to us in an easy to digest format.

“If you’re moving into an area, and you’re wondering, for example, where your nearest bank or your nearest refuse collection is, or is there a safe beach? What are the primary schools like? What’s the level of crime? All these types things are the type of data that the government collects on our behalf.

“I think what we find interesting as well is that this data can also be used to develop new products and services and businesses, because how you actually engage with that data and how you actually might use it is another layer upon just providing it. So the governments and councils are now providing it, but it’s actually how do you use the data after that.”

A number of initiatives at local government level have meant that there is now ample opportunity for would-be entrepreneurs to put this data to good use.

“From the NDRC perspective and the Inventorium perspective it’s about stimulating economic activity”, says Teresa.

“We’re always entitled to see it, and we’re always entitled to ask for it, but it’s actually now being provided. So, Fingal council, for example, have seventy such datasets available now. And Dublin City Council, via their initiative, Dublinked, are also now encouraging all of the four local authorities to make the data that they collect public as well.”

“How can you use this data to develop new businesses and new creative businesses in this space? It’s not just about apps or online web services, it’s also about data visualisation.

“Imagine you’re walking down the street and you actually know how much water is being consumed by every house on your street. And maybe five years down the road your street needs to know how much water it’s using and needs to regulate it. Data visualisation techniques can actually start to expose some of that based on open data sets, and then you start to get into a whole different level of thinking about community and common good and sharing resources and really an awareness of what we’re actually using within our society.”