Well, it’s now been about nine months, and time to check in on the gestation of the DATA Act. But before we start on what’s happened since the law passed on May 9, 2014, let’s take a quick look at what it is, and what government organizations have to work with.
This bipartisan legislation – jointly sponsored by two democrats and two republicans – is an effort to modernize the way the government collects and publishes spending information – in particular by establishing standard elements and formats for the data. The new law assigns responsibility for the task, sets out a four-year timetable for implementation, and establishes a strict oversight regime to measure compliance in the adoption of the standards and the subsequent quality and timeliness of the published spending data. That oversight is the big difference between the DATA Act and the previous legislation to improve funding transparency. This time someone is watching, and the law has teeth.
An inquiry call from a digital strategy agency advising a client of theirs on data commercialization generated a lively discussion on strategies for taking data to market. With few best practices out there, the emerging opportunity just might feel like space exploration – going boldly where no man has gone before. The question is increasingly common. "We know we have data that would be of use to others but how do we know? And, which use cases should we pursue?" In It's Time To Take Your Data To Market published earlier this fall, my colleagues and I provided some guideance on identifying and commercializing that "Picasso in the attic." But the ideas around how to go-to-market continue to evolve.
In answer to the inquiry questions asked the other day, my advice was pretty simple: Don’t try to anticipate all possible uses of the data. Get started by making selected data sets available for people to play with, see what it can do, and talk about it to spread the word. However, there are some specific use cases that can kick-start the process.
Look to your existing customers.
The grass is not always greener, and your existing clients might just provide some fertile ground. A couple thoughts on ways your existing customers could use new data sources:
When I was in high school – and admittedly that was quite a while ago — my neighbor quit his job as an insurance salesman to go into the car phone business. My mother couldn’t understand why someone would give up a good, stable job to sell something that she couldn’t imagine anyone ever using. Who would use a car phone? Why would anyone talk on the phone in a car?
Fast forward a few years… (OK, a few more than a few)… and most of us can’t imagine not having our phone with us. We use our phone everywhere… And, yes, according to Forrester’s 2013 Consumer Technographics survey, 68% of US online adults use their phone in the car, and 48% even use their phone from the bathroom. Who’s guilty?! As for my mother, she has still never used an ATM card at a bank and still writes checks for cash at the grocery store, but she DOES have a cell phone and just might have used it in the car once or twice.
Vacations are over – or at least mine is – but I’ve brought home some of mine for homework. Yes, I did a little work while on vacation. While in Costa Rica this summer, I had the opportunity to meet with the country’s Director of Digital Government, Alicia Avendaño Rivera.
Governments worldwide recognize the power of “going digital.” The recently announced US Digital Service and the appointment of its dedicated Administrator illustrate a commitment on the part of the US Federal government. Yet the US is merely joining others who have made similar commitments to transforming government with a focus on efficiency, effectiveness, transparency and empowering citizens and businesses through new digital technologies. Alicia Avendaño has served as Costa Rica’s Director of Digital Government since 2009.
Costa Rica Digital Government initiatives address four main goals:
G2C: Government to Citizen – citizen oriented services
G2B Government to Business – rapid and transparent business services
G2G: Government to Government – efficient and interconnected services
Infrastructure – favorable ICT infrastructure and legal framework
So you need some work done that you’ve never had done before or you need to buy something you’ve never bought before. What should you pay? That can be a tough question. What seems reasonable? Sometimes we set arbitrary rules. It’s OK if it’s under $50 or under $100. But that’s just a reassurance that you’re not getting ripped off too badly. Certainly the best way to avoid that outcome is to know how much that service or thing is worth, or at least know what others have paid for the same thing.
Fortunately now, in the age of the customer, that’s easier to find out. Price information for most consumer goods is easier to come by, making the buying process more efficient. But what about governments? We’ve all heard about the $600 toilet seat or the $400 hammer. Stories of government spending excess and mismanagement abound. Some are urban legends or misrepresentations. Others have legs — such as the recent reports of Boeing overcharging the US Army. While these incidents are likely not things of the past, open data initiatives have made significant progress in exposing spending data and improving transparency. Citizens can visit sites such as USAspending.gov for US federal government spending or "Where Does My Money Go?" for details on UK national government spending, and most large cities publish spending as well.
Last month, GovLabs, a research organization at New York University released a beta version of its Open Data 500 project. The study set out to profile US companies that use open data to generate new business and develop new products and services. Not all of the companies identified have been profiled but the list of 500 provides a wide range of both existing companies and start-ups that benefit from the use of open data.
While the start-ups are interesting illustrations of innovation and economic value-creation, the presence of big, existing companies illustrates how data transforms business.
Insurance companies such as AllState and Allianz no longer only insure people and property.
The city of Santander boasts 20,000 fixed and mobile sensors throughout the city – on buses, in parks, waste bins and in buildings. These sensors capture bus locations, humidity in the air and soil, pollution etc. They tell bus riders when their bus will arrive; they tell city park workers when to water the gardens. They also dim lights when there is no one on the street at night, and turn them on when cars or pedestrians pass. They create a complex internet of things and a rich source of data. Together with the platform enabling the aggregation, analysis and visualization of these data, they (will) provide a valuable tool at the disposal of city leaders, enterprises, developers and citizens. Today Smart Santander is a living lab (with an application pending to be part of the European Network of Living Labs).
Having launched in September 2010 with €6 million budget (primarily from the EU) and 15 partners, the project is now in its 3rd and final phase. With its sensor network, the city demonstrates the benefits of the Internet of Things across several initiatives:
Urban mobility: Sensors on buses and in taxis make it easier for citizens and tourists to find transportation; parking sensors help drivers find available places more quickly.
Water management: Sensors embedded in urban gardens detect soil humidity and enable more efficient watering; the broader water initiative envisions smart water meters in homes and buildings, and use of the sensors by Aqualia, the city’s water company.
How many of you suffer from at least mild “cyberchondria"? Do you run to the computer to Google your latest ailments? Are you often convinced that the headache you have is the first sign of some terminal illness you’ve been reading about?
Well, Symcat takes a new approach to Internet-assisted self-diagnosis. It provides not only the symptoms but the probability of getting the disease, using CDC data to rank results by the likelihood of the different conditions. It then allows users to further filter results by typing in information such as their gender, the duration of their symptoms and medical history. No, that headache you’ve had all week is likely not spinal stenosis or even viral pharyngitis. But if you’ve had a fall or a blow to the head you might want to consider a concussion.
As Symcat puts it, they “use data to help you feel better.” Never underestimate the palliative effects of peace of mind.
I had the chance to ask Craig Monsen, MD, co-founder and CEO of Symcat, a few questions about how they got their start with the business and their innovation with open data.
What was the genesis of Symcat? Can you describe the "ah-ha" moment of determining the need for Symcat?
Smart meters provide consumers with granular data on how they are consuming energy — when is the meter spinning fastest, which appliances are the energy guzzlers, how much energy are those idling appliances consuming? Programs to increase consumer awareness and shift demand to off-peak times abound. I delay the start of my dishwasher to after 11pm here in France to take advantage of off-peak tariffs. Most consumers, however, are not highly motivated by just knowing their own consumption. Good news: Opower, a provider of really smart energy solutions, has cracked the code.
The Opower solution draws on a study of how messages influence consumption. Turns out, if you tell people that they will save money by turning off their air conditioning and turning on a fan during peak hours they likely won’t. Those are typically the times when it is really hot. Messages of “civic responsibility” and “saving the environment” also don’t really register. However, when consumers are told that 75% of their neighbors will turn off their air conditioning and turn on a fan, behavior changes. That message had a 6% drop in consumption. Opower now uses these types of comparisons in all of their offerings.