It’s not just for startups: the enterprise case for open data

Recent years have shown that open data released by government can stimulate a vibrant startup economy in the UK. But according to a new report by the Open Data Institute (ODI), large-scale enterprises are also embracing open innovation with very real outcomes.

These include scalable new products and services; better, more accurate data; and collaborative ways of working that enable businesses to be more agile, creative and adaptable to future needs and challenges.

In a study of 270 open data companies in the UK last year, the ODI found that 70% of them were micro enterprises. But nearly 10% of those surveyed were from large companies or enterprises with 251 or more employees, showing that open data isn’t just for startups.

To find out more, the ODI analysed how three enterprises are adopting open approaches. Thomson Reuters, Arup and Syngenta are incorporating open source, open standards, open data and open innovation into their operations in very different ways – to keep pace with change, adapt to new markets and influence whole sectors.

>See also: Why are governments and organisations so scared to open up their data?

They are becoming porous – using open approaches as mechanisms to improve their services, take advantage of new ideas and opportunities, and collaborate with their networks.

News and information company Thomson Reuters has taken what started as an internal data management solution and created a new, collaborative information platform – Perm ID – the data from which anyone can access, use and share.

PermID, which Thomson Reuters unveiled in Autumn 2015, creates Permanent Identifiers – unique machine-readable numbers for more than 3 million organisations worldwide, including each tradable asset and many other data points.

The team behind PermID has heralded it as the ‘barcode for information’, having originally developed it to help integrate vast collections of databases following the 2008 acquisition of Reuters by the Thomson Corporation.

PermIDs have been used internally by Thomson Reuters staff for some time, and now the identifiers and a portion of the associated data have been released under an open licence.

So what’s in it for Thomson Reuters? Firstly they can gain valuable high-quality feedback on their data, from an audience that has a vested interest in its accuracy.

In addition, when others link their own external data sources to the PermID data, it enriches and increases the value of the Thomson Reuters data without the need for additional internal resources. A win-win scenario.

PermID is already being used by companies across a number of different industries to help organise and make sense of a wide range of datasets. One such company using it to help bring order and transparency is Crowdnetic, a technology and data provider to the global crowdfunded equities and marketplace-lending industries.

Crowdnetic is using PermID to record and track crowdfunding transactions, giving investors improved insight into the dynamics of this fast-growing investment area.

Multinational professional services firm Arup is taking a different tack. It is adopting an open innovation approach by working closely with open data startups to quickly benefit from new ideas and technologies and remain competitive over the long-term.

This approach to open innovation and becoming a ‘porous organisation’ is powered by the realisation that rapid, disruptive change is unlikely to come solely from within.

Arup used to complete its R&D in-house, but a collaborative approach means it can experiment with external ideas as well as internal ones. It is currently working in this way with two open data startups previously incubated at the ODI: Mastodon C and OpenSensors.

For Arup, the combination of skills and expertise enables it to scale promising projects more quickly and seize opportunities that similar firms may not even be aware of.

Open innovation also involves accepting that the outcomes are not always clear, and that there’s an element of risk, but that the risk is shared by both parties.

Ultimately, open innovation is about commercial benefits for all involved: exchanging skills, thinking and capabilities means both sides can evolve more quickly.

In April 2015, agricultural technology company Syngenta published a broad range of data on its six corporate commitments from The Good Growth Plan – its drive to make a measurable contribution to sustainable global agriculture by 2020.

The datasets include 2014 baseline information for agricultural efficiency indicators collected on 3,600 farms in 41 countries across Europe, Africa, Latin America, North America and Asia Pacific, representing about 200 crop-climate combinations. It was the first time information at a crop level had been made public in this way by a commercial organisation.

Syngenta wants this data to help empower growers and practitioners to make decisions on what works best for them and their land. The hope is it will eventually be used by farmers around the world for resource efficiency benchmarking.

>See also: How open data is transforming the business landscape

In making these datasets open, Syngenta is also blurring the traditional roles of business, government and NGOs by highlighting the collective responsibility needed to address acute global challenges.

Adopting an open approach has been crucial for addressing the challenges that many enterprises face: how to maintain a leadership position in increasingly competitive markets and how to stay agile as the environment they operate in changes.

But enterprises are part of a much bigger game, the outcomes of which have massive implications for us all: how we feed, house, transport and care for a rapidly growing global population. The chances of any single organisation being able to solve these problems is nil.

Finding ways of collaborating in the open with government, academia and startups, using insightful data and innovative operating models, is essential.

Enterprises face big challenges with open data, but also big opportunities. It is time for them to consider how open innovation will be part of their future.


Sourced from Jeni Tennison, technical director, Open Data Institute

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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