The release of weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration into the public domain changed scores of industries and even created a new one: the weather industry. That was followed by the release of GPS data, which changed our lives and brought us all of the location services we can't live without today.
In each case, entrepreneurs seized the opportunity to turn a new asset class of government-collected data into life-changing innovations. What's next? Where will the next wave of data-driven innovation come from? And what kind of impact will it have on our collective quality of life?
If weather and GPS data are macro data, the next wave will be found in thousands of micro datasets: crimes in our neighborhoods; real-time bus locations; restaurant inspections; permit and license applications--the list is virtually endless, and so are the applications of this data.
What if it were possible to check a restaurant health rating before making a reservation on Yelp or OpenTable? What if you could get a sense of how safe a parking lot was before you chose it by using a parking app on your smartphone? What if you could see the Energy Star rating of a TV before you bought it?
The impact of this micro data should not be underestimated. A company in Texas called our company's tech-support line one day recently to complain that the permits and licenses dataset the city of Chicago publishes had not been updated overnight as it usually is. It turns out that the Texas company provides a notification service to local contractors around the country based on permits issued in their communities. That dataset from Chicago has been hard-wired into the local economic activity for hundreds of contractors.
This kind of activity is playing out all around the country, providing benefits not only to business but also to the governments that open up their data. By publishing new business-registration data, for example, Oregon's secretary of state was able to turn a manual process into a self-service experience that saved the agency one-quarter of a full-time employee and increased the audience for its data significantly.
We're still in the early stages of what can happen when we deliver valuable data quickly and easily to those who need it. But the momentum is shifting from "Should we do it?" to "How do we make the biggest impact with our data?"
The question of impact is a major thrust of the White House's Federal Digital Strategy, which articulates a new standard for federal agencies' dissemination and use of data. Federal CTO Todd Park and CIO Steven VanRoekel announced the plan at an event rightly called "Disrupt." And disrupt it will. Among other big ideas, the roadmap sets open data--available anywhere anytime on any device--as the new default. This approach will absolutely change the way government handles, leverages and shares data.
The feds are setting the tone. The legacy IT systems of the past, which made sharing difficult and change slow, will be left behind as the tools of the future are crafted, tested and deployed. The data is plentiful, the appetite is abundant and the potential is enormous.
Beth Blauer is director of GovStat for Seattle-based Socrata, an open data platform provider. She served from 2008 to 2012 as director of Maryland's StateStat and the Governor's Delivery Unit for Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.
This column was originally published on GOVERNING.com