The Open Group (logo)


A Scenario for Business Benefit from Public Data

Public bodies world-wide are making a wealth of information available, and encouraging its commercial exploitation. This sounds like a bonanza for the private sector at the public expense, but entrepreneurs are holding back. A healthy market for products and services that use public-sector information would provide real benefits for everyone. The Open Public Sector Data Business Scenario throws light on the question of why the commercial potential of the availability of open public sector information has not yet been fulfilled.

Public Sector Information Availability

The EU directive of 2003 on the re-use of public sector information encourages the Member States to make as much information available for re-use as possible. This directive was revised and strengthened in 2013. The revision is the impetus for SHARE-PSI. Countries outside Europe have taken similar measures to make public data publicly available. For example, the U.S. Open Government Directive of 2009 requiries US government agencies to post at least three high-value data sets online and register them on its portal.

Why are governments doing this? There are two main reasons.

One is that it improves the societies that they serve and the governments themselves. Free availability of information about society and government makes people more effective citizens and makes government more efficient. It illuminates discussion of civic issues, and points a searchlight at corruption.

The second reason is that it has a positive effect on the wealth of nations and their citizens. The EU directive highlights the ability of European companies to exploit the potential of public-sector information, and contribute to economic growth and job creation. Information is not just the currency of democracy. It is also the lubricant of a successful economy.

Unfulfilled Potential

The economic benefits of open government data could be huge. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates a potential of between 3 and 5 trillion dollars annually. Yet the direct impact of Open Data on the EU economy in 2010, seven years after the directive was issued, is estimated by Capgemini at only about 1% of that, although the EU accounts for nearly a quarter of world GDP.

The business benefits to be gained from using some kinds of data are obvious. Use of map and postcode data by satellite navigation and other products is a prime example. There are other kinds of public sector data, where the business benefits may be substantial, but they are not easy to see. For example, data is or could be available about public transport schedules and availability, about population densities, characteristics and trends, and about real estate and land use. These are all areas that support substantial business activity, but businesses in these areas seldom make use of public sector information today.

Why are entrepreneurs not creating these potentially profitable products and services? There is one obvious reason. The data they are interested in is not always available and, where it is available, it is provided in different ways, and comes in different formats. Instead of a single large market, the entrepreneur sees a number of small markets, none of which is worth tackling. For example, the market for an application that plans public transport journeys across a single town is not big enough to justify substantial investment in product development. An application that could plan journeys across any town in Europe would certainly be worthwhile, but is not possible unless all the towns make this data available in a common format.

Public sector information providers often do not know what value their data has, or understand its applications. Working within tight budgets, they cannot afford to spend large amounts of effort on assembling and publishing data that will not be used. They follow the directives but, without common guidelines, they simply publish whatever is readily to hand, in whatever form it happens to be. The data that could support viable products is not available everywhere and, where it is available, it comes in different formats. (One that is often used is PDF, which is particularly difficult to process as an information source.) The result is that the cost of product development is high, and the expected return is low.

There is a second reason why entrepreneurs hesitate. The shape of the market is unclear. In a mature market, everyone knows who the key players are, understands their motivations, and can predict to some extent how they will behave. The market for products and services based on public sector information is still taking shape. No-one is even sure what kinds of organization will take part, or what they will do. How far, for example, will public-sector bodies go in providing free applications? Can large corporations buy future dominance with loss-leader products? Will some unknown company become an overnight success, like Facebook? With these unknowns, the risks are very high.

The Open Public Sector Data Business Scenario

The Open Group is responsible for the well-known enterprise architecture methodology TOGAF®, which includes a technique for deriving solution characteristics from high-level business requirements: the business scenario. This technique sheds an interesting light on the question of why the commercial potential of the availability of open public sector information has not yet been fulfilled.

A business scenario is a complete description of a business problem, both in business and in architectural terms, that enables individual requirements to be viewed in relation to one another in the context of the overall problem. It takes a business process, application, or set of applications that can be enabled by an architecture, and describes the business and technology environment, the people and computing components (called "actors") who execute the scenario, and the desired outcome of proper execution. Without such a complete description to serve as context, the business value of solving the problem is unclear, the relevance of potential solutions is unclear, and there is a danger of solutions being based on an incomplete set of requirements that do not add up to a whole problem description.

The Open Group Open Platform 3.0™ Forum focuses on new and emerging technology trends converging with each other and leading to new business models and system designs. Developed as part of this activity, the Open Public Sector Data business scenario builds on the many excellent presentations given at the SHARE-PSI Samos workshop, and complements existing studies and research reports by taking a different approach. It identifies the principle actors concerned with the creation, publication and consumption of public sector information, looks at their roles, responsibilities and concerns, and deduces some top-level requirements for the publication process and environment.

The experience gained by SHARE-PSI will be used by the World-Wide Web Consortium as a basis for standards and guidelines for publication of public sector information. The conclusions of the business scenario are put forward as part of that experience.


© 2014 The Open Group