“Medium Data” and City Assets

Tech startup leverages an open source system to inventory government assets and bridge the information gap between government and the public.

by Nick Carney, Data-Smart City Solutions / June 4, 2013

This story was originally published by Data Smart Solutions.

In an era of fiscal constraints and austerity, one would assume (and hope) that governments everywhere would leverage every bit of value out of existing resources. Yet that’s easier said than done when governments don’t even have an inventory of all the assets they hold.

Enter OpportunitySpace. A tech startup that is the brainchild of Alexander Kapur, Cristina Garmendia, and Andrew Kieve, OpportunitySpace purports to bridge the information gap, allowing governments to finally maximize the worth of existing assets. Utilizing an open source, web-based system, the company wants to generate property data for the various parcels belonging to its government clients. After creating an inventory of exiting property, the company plans to use its web platform to create a marketplace for these unharnessed assets. The aim, Garmendia says, is to “to enable strategic asset management.”

Currently, “government asset management is very ad hoc with departments all owning operational assets, and those departments separately tracking [their assets] separately in different mediums,” Garmendia explains. But even beyond finding efficiencies within a currently messy system, Garmendia says that they want to “enable regular people to navigate through that government space, to make it easier for them to do so.” If, for example, an arts incubator is looking for specifically for graphic artists, they likely haven’t considered checking with the City to see if they have any available or vacant property; OpportunitySpace’s work would enable that process.

In this way, the team argues, the site will allow interaction between the public and private sectors to remedy underutilized parcels and reform broken land-use trends.

What does this all mean? At heart, OpportunitySpace’s business model is built on correcting a market failure; the company is addressing an information gap between citizens and government. Yet even more dramatically, government often doesn’t have the information either—the company is in a very real way creating a market for previously unexploited assets.

The vision is ambitious, but it seems achievable. The OpportunitySpace entrepreneurs are stepping into a somewhat less glamorous space in the smart cities movement. The phrase “big data” is sometimes thrown about alarming abandon, and OpportunitySpace, Garmendia says, is more accurately working with “medium data.” The company isn’t collecting thousands of data points; it is dealing with discrete sample sizes of anywhere from a few dozen to hundreds of data points.

OpportunitySpace’s work may at first blush seem like more an evolution than a revolution. After all, the process of companies working to remedy such information gaps in the real estate sector is not an inherently new phenomenon. Real estate brokers have been doing a somewhat similar trick since time immemorial. But OpportunitySpace’s systematic, data-driven approach sets it apart. The company still must go through the legwork of mapping out existing properties, sure, but the team then utilizes market analytics to determine the true value of that land and to create the marketplace for these newly inventoried assets.

Without the Internet and digital analytical tools, it is unlikely that a single start-up would have the potential to deliver much impact in this arena. Yet OpportunitySpace seems poised to potentially foster an entirely new market.

In the information age, a small idea can have outsize impact. Whether the data in question is “big” or or “medium” is more a question of degree than influence.
Image from Shutterstock.