6 ways to harness the value of open data

August 18, 2021

Originally published in CIO.

A treasure trove of free information assets is dispersed across public and private institutions. Here’s how can you use that data to drive business success.

National and local governments as well as NGOs such as the World Bank, IMF and World Health Organization offer web portals to access their datasets. In the US, the data.gov service offers access to 320,000 datasets, the UK’s data.gov.uk has 51,000 and the EU’s portal comprises 1.36 million. These allow the free download of data on consumer spending, weather, mapping, company financials, public procurement contracts and much more.

On top of this are private data resources from companies such as Google and Yelp. Google offers rich data on search behavior from around the world while Yelp offers an open dataset of its 8.6 million reviews on 161,000 US businesses.

The economic value of this data is difficult to calculate but McKinsey has estimated that efficient use of this data could unlock $3 trillion of value across the global economy while the EU believes open data was worth €76 billion to the trading block in 2020.

Here are 6 ways you can put this data to work in your organization to accelerate innovation, cut costs and improve competitive advantage.

Improve understanding of new and potential markets

Consumer preferences and interests can be instantly accessed by interrogating Google’s search data. Google Trends allows users to track the relative popularity of search terms over time and across geographies. Google’s internet search market share of over 90% means it has never been easier to keep your finger on the pulse of consumer behavior. Additional value can be achieved through combining search insights with public data on consumer spending, such as the US Personal Consumption Expenditure quarterly survey or similar data from other countries’ data portals.

Help create data-driven products

In the UK, Tussell offers an aggregated database of public sector contracts and expenditure. This is used to help companies pitching for public business as well as improving the value public bodies get from procurement. For example, Tussell subscribers can receive alerts when a competitor’s public sector contracts are due to expire, giving them a head start in pitching for the business.

US-based Panjiva uses customs data to help US companies improve their international logistics. The company has tracked over 200 million shipments to more than 190 countries and helps customers find global trade opportunities while also mitigating risks.

Build an entire business around open data

UK-based Citymapper incorporates public mapping data and thousands of transport feeds from the US and Europe into an app used by more than 50 million people. While the app is free to use for consumers, the company also licences its data to third parties via an API as well as offering payment solutions for transportation providers. Citymapper recently raised £6.7 million in 24 hours through a crowdfunding campaign, valuing the company at almost £200 million.

Better understand competitors and suppliers

Obtaining data on overseas competitors and suppliers can be difficult, particularly when they are smaller private companies. OpenCorporates can help locate financial information on such businesses as it tracks more than 160 million companies around the world, attracting 1.2 million users a month. Its data is drawn from national registers of company information and is often used by enterprises to determine the stability of potential suppliers, customers, and competitors.

Another method for better understanding competitor strategies is to monitor their online job postings, which can help build a picture of where the company may be going. Companies typically recruit in advance of new product launches as they seek to build appropriate internal capacity. Vacancy aggregators such as Indeed make this even easier through automated alerts and advanced searching.

Build competitive advantage

Monitoring of competitors’ online reviews can be a useful tool for understanding consumer preferences and as an input for new product development. Logistical advantages can be achieved through combining ZIP/postal code databases with open mapping data to optimize delivery routes.

Reduce costs

An inventory of your company’s expenditure on accessing external datasets may reveal opportunities to replace some of them with open data. It is worth noting that many commercial data services are built on free and open data in the first place. If your business has the skills and resources to manipulate public data feeds, then savings can be made on subscription charges. As public data providers increasingly turn to using APIs over flat file downloads, this becomes a more viable solution.

While open data is unlikely to solve all your company’s information needs, it is worth considering whether it should play a part. The role of data in securing business success is only going to increase, so making the best use of data assets, both open and proprietary, is essential.

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