Data is infrastructure. It underpins transparency, accountability, public services, business innovation and civil society.
Data such as statistics, maps and real-time sensor readings help us to make decisions, build services and gain insight. Data infrastructure will only become more vital as our populations grow and our economies and societies become ever more reliant on getting value from data.
A data infrastructure consists of data assets, the organisations that operate and maintain them and guides describing how to use and manage the data. Trustworthy data infrastructure is sustainably funded and has oversight that provides direction to maximise data use and value by meeting the needs of society. Data infrastructure includes technology, processes and organisation.
The data assets in our data infrastructure may be in the shared or open parts of the data spectrum. The more open the data infrastructure, the more value it will create. It is crucial that we protect data that needs to be kept private, just as it is crucial that we openly publish data that should be open for everyone to use. Because both privacy and openness help create trust.
It is important to understand who owns our data infrastructure. The data assets in a data infrastructure may be maintained by organisations in the private, public or third sector. They may be maintained by new types of organisations and alliances such as OpenStreetMap. They may be maintained by individuals. A number of maintenance models exist. New forms of technology such as blockchains are emerging that might support new ways to store or maintain parts of our data infrastructure.
A strong data infrastructure will open up new possibilities. Authoritative registers of data will increase trust and lead to better questions. Checking for compliance with tax and regulatory requirements - by any party in a sharing economy transaction - could be as simple as making an API call to check the driving licence of a taxi driver or whether a hotel has access for wheelchairs. Supporting data infrastructure with legislation will help strengthen it.
Data connects multiple sectors. Open weather data will be used by everyone from farmers to the transport industry to individual citizens. Mapping data is published by the public sector and then built on by organisations as diverse as Google, construction companies, and the home insurance industry. Data is infrastructure for our cities and our nation across each and every sector.
Data infrastructure can exist at city, national or global levels. The cities, countries and even continents that build the best and most open data infrastructure will have an enormous advantage in the 21st century economy. We make choices in how we build data infrastructure and how we use data.
Data is infrastructure. Just like roads. Roads help us navigate to a location. Data helps us make a decision.