Clickability tracking pixel

Socrata's Open Data Network: A Hub to Connect the Public and Private Sectors

San Francisco is collaborating with Socrata on a new open data network that intends to be a hub for data sets across industries.

by / July 25, 2014
From left, San Francisco Chief Data Officer Joy Bonaguro talks about smart cities next to Socrata Director of Open Data Ian Kalin. They're joined by Palo Alto Senior Technologist Michael Tsao and panel moderator Melanie Nutter of Nutter Consulting. Jason Shueh

In San Francisco, open data is no appetizer. It’s what’s for dinner.

It’s this sentiment that’s prompted the city to participate in an open data network announced last week by Socrata, the city’s open data portal provider. San Francisco Chief Data Officer Joy Bonaguro said Thursday that the collaborative network will be a boon for the Bay Area and beyond as it links industries to government within the open data movement.

“Mayor [Edwin] Lee just released an announcement about our open data strategic plan, and in that he noted that this is really about pioneering, and creating new uses of the data — including through partnerships with private companies,” Bonaguro said. “So [the network] helps meet that vision.”

Socrata’s Open Data Network intends to be a frontline facilitator to the movement, estimated nationally to one day generate $3 trillion of value per year, according to McKinsey & Company research. To lay the framework, the network divides open data members -- such as cities, non-profits, civic developers and private businesses -- into separate industries. At the same time, the network indexes and catalogues open data sets into a single hub on its site. The idea: to centralize both the movement’s major players and their data in one location.

San Francisco is one of the three cities that joined for the network’s beta launch, the other two being Dallas and Kansas City, Mo. And additional open data is to be funneled into the network from another 24 municipalities. As for private-sector companies, current members include online real estate site Zillow and open data-based companies such as SiteCompli, CivicInsight, Appallicious, BasicGov, Ontodia, DRiVEdecisions and Buildingeye.

Bonaguro said San Francisco is in the process of formatting its housing data to add to the network's open data for real estate -- the first industry for the network's beta version. However, the data set sharing is expected to span various categories as the city continues to participate.

“The vision for this open data network is really to try to solve some of the challenges of opening up data across our data’s entire lifecycle,” she said. “It’s really a forum where we get to contribute not only what our pain points are, but [also] hear the different pain points of all the different people trying to use our data, and not just our data, but in other places as well.”

Safouen Rabah, Socrata’s vice president of product, said the team already has identified 25 to 30 industries to group its developing membership. And if estimates are correct, each data set has potential for major business value. According to McKinsey & Company, the annual open data value potential in the industry of education ranges between $890 billion to $1.18 trillion nationally. In transportation, it represents $720 billion to $920 billion; in consumer products, $520 billion to $1.47 trillion; in electric utilities, $340 billion to $580 billion; and in the oil and gas industry, $240 billion to $510 billion.

Even conservatively, the statistics point to what Rabah labeled as a “very viable” open data industry on which to build the platform.

“We’ve gone from really celebrating an occasional weekend hackathon  -- or apps that get built over a weekend -- to kind of waking up two years ago and seeing companies that are entirely built on open data,” Rabah said.

While an admittedly enterprising venture for Socrata, the network will be mutually beneficial for cities as it stimulates economic growth and supports government services with civic tech companies. Rabah said the venture's three major goals are to produce additional apps for governments; promote mass consumerism through open data, harnessing sites such as Yelp, Zillow and Google; and to increase the use of public and private analytics initiatives that feed off open data.

Ultimately, however, Bonaguro said that from the city perspective, it represents an added tool to complement its continuing mission to unlock open data and support San Francisco services. For her personally, she said, it's another outlet for dialogue, a way to get feedback and another support for the city's developer community. “It’s really about fostering those open data partnerships across the open data ecosystem.”

Never miss a story with the daily Govtech Today Newsletter.


Jason Shueh former staff writer

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.

E.REPUBLIC Platforms & Programs