Businesses are beginning to see how data innovation can benefit them, says the ODI’s Commercial Director, David Beardmore, the week that senior representatives of 13 private sector organisations gathered to discuss challenges and benefits

Image: Open Data Challenge Series 'Energy & environment creation weekend' (CC BY 2.0)

<article class="article-body">Data’s value for society is becoming more widely established. Many governments around the world are increasingly committing to use and publish more of it openly. With global rankings such as the Open Data Barometer, run by the Web Foundation, we have seen longstanding champions like the UK government continue to lead the way, with others keen to follow suit. We have seen ambition and great potential working with newcomers, such as Malaysia, keen to unlock data’s potential for innovation. We have also seen successes shared and new ideas formed in bringing international open data leaders together to form a network, which is only set to grow.That said, the value of data innovation for businesses has been comparatively less well-documented, both in terms of those publishing it and using it as part of their work.At the ODI, our mission is to build a strong, fair and sustainable data economy by helping businesses and governments get data to people who need it. We believe that to make best use of data, we need bridges between academic research, public, private and third sectors, and a thriving startup ecosystem where new ideas and approaches can grow.We have been committed to investing in open data businesses and enabling them to grow since we were established. In 2015 we saw data’s transformative potential for businesses when we studied 270 pioneering companies – with a combined annual turnover of £92bn and over 500k employees between them – using it to create their products and services. We also studied industry-leading enterprises that embraced an open approach open source, open standards, open data and open innovation, to retain their competitive edge.Our own ODI Startup incubator has fostered open data startups across sectors, and we’ve partnered on others, from ODINE and Data Pitch incubating startups across Europe to the ASEAN Data Startup Accelerator and Labora in Mexico City, enabling data innovation further afield.

Businesses are crucial in the data economy

A core aspect to the work we do is to help businesses both contribute to and benefit from open data and data infrastructure more broadly.

We have worked with businesses like the international consulting firm Arup to connect with world-class innovators to test concepts, technology and data that could revolutionise smart cities and the built environment. Through our partnership, Arup developed their data strategy and hosted graduated ODI Startups, offering new commercial insights and data expertise to apply in areas such as asset monitoring or airport operations airport infrastructure. We can connect with these kinds of businesses on the level they need. As Arup director Volker Buscher puts it: “The ODI is full of creative people who think at web scale – they share our values of a human-centred digital future, open and focused on value creation.”

As well as helping businesses to innovate with data, we help them to play a part in shaping future standards and opportunities. This means convening and collaborating with them to bring about sector-wide change.

Helping businesses pave the way for sector-wide change

Taking an open approach can help improve competition, drive efficiency and stimulate innovation within a sector. We convened the Open Banking Working Group for HM Treasury, guiding the Competition and Markets Authority’s mandate for open data and open APIs. Open Banking will allow personal customers and small businesses to share their data securely with other banks and with third parties, allowing them to compare products on the basis of their own requirements and to manage their accounts.

The ODI is now focussing on the sports sector, working with Sport England to help reduce inactivity in England by making data about physical activities more openly available. Working with organisations across the sector, we are opening up data, improving data literacy, developing standards and stimulating demand. As Lisa O’Keefe, Director of Insight at Sport England puts it:

"We’re working with the ODI and the rest of the sports sector to make booking dance classes, finding tennis courts and taking part in physical activity sessions easier than ever. This collaboration marks the start of a long-term cultural change for the sector in how it uses data to keep pace with the digital expectations of customers.”

We are also currently convening pharmaceutical organisations to work together to openly publish data on the antibiotic drug resistance in order to guide clinicians on their effective use. According to the Davos Declaration 2016, “the increase in bacterial resistance to antibiotics has been dramatic, and combating this growth is a top priority for global policy and public health.” We are bringing together the pharma sector to agree on standards, to openly publish surveillance data and to collaboratively create tools to make this powerful data accessible and available to make a real difference at a global scale.

This week we gathered senior representatives from our long-standing ODI partnerships including Arup, Deutsche Bank, Syngenta and Thomson Reuters with corporates looking to take an open approach to data and innovation including GSK, Sainsburys, CapitalOne, InSpring and Dunnhumby. What the discussion showed was that sectors face similar challenges, such as finding the right value proposition to go open, navigating legacy systems, equipping their leaders and teams with data literacy skills and knowing which organisation for a particular sector should lead a mission-driven initiative that achieves sector wide change, and what platforms and infrastructure they should adopt.

Vision for future

We expect this trend will continue in years to come, with more businesses embracing the opportunities that open data innovation can bring. We are keen to build on our successes and engage yet more businesses as key stakeholders to ‘take up the baton’ and play their crucial part in enabling a strong, fair and sustainable data economy.