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The Next 5 Years in Open Data: 3 Key Trends to Watch (Industry Perspective)

Open data is now table stakes, and any government that is not participating is behind its peers.

2014 was a pivotal year in the evolution of open data for one simple and powerful reason – it went mainstream and was widely adopted on just about every continent. Open data is now table stakes. Any government that is not participating in open data is behind its peers.

You can see the influence of open data all over the world, as both large and small public-sector organizations adopt and embrace data-driven government by harnessing easy-to-use and affordable open data technology.

In the process, these governments are boosting their efficiency, performance, transparency, trust and credibility, while also connecting to their communities, improving the quality of life and creating economic and academic opportunities for legions of citizens.

A recent Government Technology survey indicated the top priority of CIOs in U.S. cities is “Open Government/Transparency/Open Data.” 

Socrata’s 2014 Open Data Benchmark Report reinforces this finding. A full 80 percent of the report’s respondents said their investment and spending on open data initiatives will be consistent or increase in the near future.

The move toward data-driven government will absolutely accelerate between 2015 and 2020, thanks to three key trends.

1. Comparative Analytics for Government Employees

The first noteworthy trend that will drive open data change in 2015 is that open data technology offerings will deliver first-class benefits to public-sector employees. This means government employees will be able to derive enormous insights from their own data and act on them in a deep, meaningful and analytical way. Until only recently, the primary beneficiaries of open data initiatives were external stakeholders: developers and entrepreneurs; scientists, researchers, analysts, journalists and economists; and ordinary citizens lacking technical training. The open data movement, until now, has ignored an important class of stakeholders – government employees.

A big part of this change will be the deployment of comparative analytics that allow government employees to see how they’re performing relative to their public-sector peers across the country and throughout the world, as opposed to settling for insights in isolation. There are a number of solutions that will enable comparative analytics, including Socrata’s Open Data Network (ODN).

2. Increased Global Expansion for Open Data

The second major trend fueling data-driven government is that 2015 will be a year of accelerating adoption of open data internationally.

Right now, for example, open data is being adopted prolifically in Europe, Latin America, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

And, according to a recent report by the Open Data Institute and the World Wide Web Foundation, “In the Open Data Barometer sample of 77 diverse states across the world, over 55 percent have developed some form of Open Government Data (OGD) initiative, with over 25 percent of the total sample establishing initiatives with dedicated resources and senior level political backing.”

An international compression of the open data continuum is intensifying and enriching this global adoption. In the United States, governments have traditionally moved from stage to stage in their open data adoption over a 12- to 15-month period. But, international governments are squeezing this down to six to nine months and catching up to their counterparts in the United States at a quickening pace.   

We will continue to see international governments adopt open data in 2015 for a variety of reasons. Northern European governments, for instance, are interested in efficiency and performance right now; Southern European governments, on the other hand, are currently focused on transparency, trust, and credibility. Despite the different motivations, the open data technology solutions are the same. And, looking out beyond 2015, it’s important to note that Southern European governments will also adopt open data to help increase job creation and improve delivery of services.

3. “Open Data” Will Simply Become “Government Data”

The third trend that we’ll see in the arena of open data lies a little further out on the horizon, and it will be surprising. In my opinion, the term “open data” may disappear within a decade; and in its place will simply be the term “government data.”

That’s because virtually all government data will be open data by 2020; and government data will be everywhere it needs to be – available to the public as fast as it’s created, processed and accumulated.  

To be sure, by 2020, people will have unfettered access to government data, navigating it fluidly, whether it’s a big or small issue or decision, on every type of digital device, including smartphones.

And open data catalogs and portals, as we know them today, will be gone five years from now.

Instead, search engines will index government data and answer questions for people in (near) real time. So, if you want to compare the unemployment rates of Seattle versus San Antonio in 2020, you’ll directly get the answer to that question in splendorous tabular or graphical form in the sidebar on Google or Bing, rather than a list of hyperlinks pointing to a data catalog.

When each of these three important open data trends takes hold – and I believe it’s just a matter of time before they do – we’ll be able to say with complete confidence that governments all over the world are fully data-driven.

Socrata CEO and founder Kevin Merritt

Kevin Merritt is CEO and founder of Socrata Inc., a world leader in cloud solutions for open data and data-driven governments.