The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) has worked to improve access to its BioNet database, which includes data on biodiversity, endangered species and native vegetation.
The OEH invests in research and education to provide support to communities, business and government in making positive changes to the environment.
With more than 13 million records since the 1770s, the OEH recognised that its data was tied up in too many disparate systems resulting in limited and difficult access from external stakeholders.
The agency set out to improve the way they provide data as a service by utilising OData (the Open Data protocol).
Users now have a more reliable real-time system, whereas they previously had to go through traditional data requests and manual downloads to keep up-to-date.
OEH partnered with Microsoft for the technology to implement the OData open data protocol (a standard managed by OASIS).
The agency leveraged .NET and Microsoft SQL Server’s native support of OData for the project.
James Bibby, senior scientist, biodiversity information systems, said the key challenges involved in the shift to open data involved reducing the cost and complexity of integration for clients, to ensuring that the data could be correctly and consistently interpreted.
“From what we see in many open government projects around the world, it’s not enough just to offer raw data. For the data to be really useful it needs to be current, in context and properly curated,” said Bibby.
“The only way to really achieve this is through a data service that is part of a well-thought out and flexible data model. OData is an open standard protocol that can support all these requirements.”
Microsoft’s involvement meant the agency didn’t need to invest time in inventing and supporting a new API, as they were able to use existing .NET libraries and SQL Server capabilities to publish the data, Bibby said.
“The key differentiator for us is being able to focus our project resources on where it matters most. That means ensuring that people get the data that they require, so they are using it and it’s not just sitting there,” he said.
“I believe if we can all agree to adopt these kind of open standards, we can reduce barriers to data usage for the betterment of the environment,” Bibby concluded.
Last year Microsoft worked in collaboration with Open Data Institute Queensland to look at the role of open data in a digitally driven economy.