Open Data and the Internet of Things
How can we build an Internet of Things that works for everyone? With more and more data being collected in our environments, on pollution, traffic, footfall, energy usage and more; one suggestion is that we use open data to really help citizens to get the benefits of a more connected world. Read our latest article, open data and the IoT.
We live in a data-driven economy and society, and the Internet of Things (IoT) means that ever more data is being – and will continue to be – created in staggering quantities. The open data movement advocates that data is released under open licence, so that anyone can access, use and share it. The Open Data Institute (ODI, which was co-founded in 2012 by the inventor of the web Sir Tim Berners-Lee) defines ‘good’ open data as that which can be linked to, is available in a standard, structured format, has guaranteed availability and consistency over time, and can be easily traced.
The philosophy behind open data is that the more data we have access to, the better organisations can plan and deliver effective services, and the better we as citizens can understand why decisions are made and hold the decision-makers accountable. But there is also a significant commercial side to open data that is really coming to the fore in the IoT era.
Transport for London (TfL) is a great example of the benefits open data can bring, both in terms of new services for end-users as well as commercial opportunities for the providers of such services. In October TfL released research based on nearly 10 years of providing data free of charge to developers. Its open data feeds now power over 600 apps which are used by 42% of Londoners. The boost to the capital’s economy is estimated to be worth up to £130m a year, in terms of saved journey time, better journey planning and the commercial opportunities for third-party developers. In addition, partners feed back data to TfL that it does not collect itself, enabling it to gain a better understanding of transport in London so it can improve its operations.
But opening up data is not without its challenges, some of which link specifically into the IoT. Julian Tait, CEO at Open Data Manchester (ODM) discussed some of these with us, including the problems associated with the lack of protocols and standards in the IoT, ensuring data is of good quality, and the challenge of releasing data collected by dense sensor networks: how should it be released, how quickly, and who will pay for it? There are also governance issues around what kind of data – raw or aggregated – should be released and ensuring that the data collected from such networks is only used for the purpose for which it was intended. Says Tait, “A sensor in a location might just give the temperature, but over time or within a dense sensor network it could be used to infer activities or even identify individuals.”
The trick will be to ensure that the data is secure and the sensor is not compromised, while also enabling new business opportunities beyond the original scope of the sensor deployment. Going back to the example of a temperature sensor in a building: aggregated with other data it could give detailed insight into the entire building environment opening up opportunities for energy optimisation or new energy supply models.
Perhaps the greatest barrier to open data is the current mindset of many companies and organisations that they need to have control of their data or risk losing competitive advantage or opening themselves up to unwanted scrutiny. Tait believes companies need to look to the longer term benefit of opening up their data rather than short term gain, and recognise that others may be able to use their data in ways that they would never imagine, for the benefit of all.
Work is underway to help highlight and overcome these issues, with ODM and the various ODI bodies across the UK holding regular workshops and events. And in October, Innovate UK announced £6m in funding over three years for ODI, for six specific projects that will help tackle some of these challenges as well as help public bodies and the private sector alike understand how open data can shape new services and deliver economic growth.
As demonstrated by TfL the potential rewards could be huge. Recent research conducted by Digital Catapult puts the UK data economy at 2% of GDP in 2016, a sizeable, competitive and growing industry even with the currently limited open data. The European Commission estimates that the UK accounts for 22.4% of the European data market, greater than its 17.3% share of GDP.
Digital Catapult is working with ODI Leeds and Bloom to create an open dataset of the companies that are currently utilising or working in IoT that are operating in the UK. Phase two is due to launch in the next couple of months. If you want to know more about this or any of our other initiatives, please sign up for our newsletter below.