How Will Open Data Redefine Agencies?

May 9th was a landmark day as President Obama signed an executive order that requires all civilian agencies to produce data in open, machine readable formats to allow for public use and commercial application development.

We have been hearing about Open Data for almost five years now, dating back to the initial days on the job of former U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra. According to the web site, The purpose of [this web site] is to increase public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government.” The idea behind the initiative is that information the government collects for the purposes of management, regulation and security can also be used by private sector and nonprofit entrepreneurs to build products that aid consumers and turn a profit. Looking to replicate the past success of making NOAA data public, the federal government believes that the wide release of data will lead to innovations that create new products and industries.

Our government’s CIO and CTO, with support from additional agencies, is looking to scale open data efforts in many areas to include Energy, Education, Finance, Global Development, Healthcare and Public Safety. After the government releases general data resources – in accordance with policies that rigorously protect privacy – the private sector can create tools to help Americans basically find the right service or product for their need(s). So if you want to go to college, you should be able to find, through newly created tools, a college or university that aligns your budget and desired higher education interests. Or if you’re looking to install a new security system, you should be able to identify the right solution for your home.

But what are these tools we’re hearing about? Perhaps they’re apps. Or online portals. Or maybe very targeted, Google-ized search engines for education, finance, healthcare, etc. But, what does this mean for agency CIOs and CTOs? How will agencies need to adapt and change? In your opinion, will this initiative even work?

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Elizabeth Gray

Yes, some tools already exist: the “business discovery” Business Intelligence tools, such as QlikView, Tableau, Tibco Spotfire. These products offer interactive, easy-to-navigate interfaces that support ad hoc queries, and do not require prior knowledge of data structures or query language. Of course, creating an effective visualization for the user to interact with is still VERY challenging, but these tools make it easy to prototype and iterate until you get a front-end view that is useful and usable. All of these vendors have sample apps on their websites for you to try out.