For governments, there is a clear moral argument for open data. The information has been collected on the taxpayer’s coin, supposedly for the taxpayer’s benefit, so it stands to reason that the taxpayer should be able to access it.
In the business arena, the case for open data is less obvious. So far, the small number of businesses that have pursued open data have done so under the auspices of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
One high-profile example is sportswear manufacturer Nike. Today, the company’s CSR report includes some facts or figures, but it does not make the raw data available in machine-readable format, considered to be a prerequisite for truly ‘open’ data. That may soon change, however, as the company recently appointed its first ‘open data fellow’.
In its advertisement for the role, the company explained that “the fellow will help Nike determine the steps needed to open our sustainability data to communities of data-obsessed programmers, visual designers and researchers”. They would be responsible for “the creation of prototypes that demonstrate how opening Nike’s sustainability data can be a force to drive change”.
In July, it emerged that Nike had given the position to Ward Cunningham, a well-known software development consultant and the inventor of the wiki.
Nike declined to discuss their open data plans with Information Age. Open data expert Chris Taggart believes the company’s motivation is to drive greater transparency – and remove risk – from its supply chain, having attracted negative publicity for allegedly using suppliers that employ child labour.
“Nike is risking its reputation every day by using multiple layers of suppliers,” he explains. “Now it wants to open up its supply chain, and allow people to tell it if there are any problems with those suppliers.”
Here is an example of a global business reducing its exposure to risk by revealing its business practices to the public. Nike may be in an unusual situation, but it nevertheless proves that there can be a business case for open data.