How UK CIOs are using open data

Open data offers an array of opportunities for CIOs from both the public and private sectors to utilise information from by governments and businesses.

IT business leaders from a range of sectors told CIO UK how they're using open data to stimulate innovation, and some of the issues an open data policy can surface.

Read next: Best ways CIOs can introduce open data into their organisations

Charles Ewen - Met Office

Charles Ewen - Met Office

International collaboration and the exchange of data is crucial to weather forecasting services such as the UK's Met Office.

"For 70 or 80 years now, there's been a formal interchange of open data between about 200 agencies that do weather across the world so that all of us can build a picture of the current state of the global atmosphere," says Met Office CIO Charles Ewen.

"This has been going on for a long time across geopolitical boundaries. It's all orchestrated by the United Nations, through an organisation called the World Meteorological Organisation. They lay out how that interoperability works."

The Met Office exchanges its state of the atmosphere reports with all of the other WMO member nations. It then analyses the data through its Cray XC40 supercomputer to understand the future state of the atmosphere.

Read next: Met Office CIO Charles Ewen on how supercomputers forecast the weather

University of Exeter Chief Information and Digital Officer Alan Hill

University of Exeter Chief Information and Digital Officer Alan Hill

With his military background, Alan Hill, University of Exeter Chief Information Officer, places significant emphasis on robust cyber security processes and believes that the higher education sector as a whole needs to greatly improve its competencies.

While strong cybersecurity measures may seem at odds with open data, the latter is also a policy that the University of Exeter embraces. Hill says that reconciling the two directions prompts a greater analysis of the security landscape the university is situated in.

"Where is our data, and what is important to us? Now, we've got this juxtaposition; I need to protect some data, but we have an open data policy," he said. "Our research data is all open, but there are some things that I need to protect - intellectual property, which is going to make us income."

Ordnance Survey Chief Data Officer Caroline Bellamy

Ordnance Survey Chief Data Officer Caroline Bellamy

Ordnance Survey Chief Data Officer Caroline Bellamy says that a key part of the Ordnance Survey's strategy is developing a more open geospatial data infrastructure that combines accuracy with accessibility.

"You can't simply open up data without assuring its integrity and its underpinning authority and accuracy," Bellamy explains. "So what we have to do is balance the absolute mission to make data available but available at the right quality, the right integrity, and the right depth of information.

"I think there have been examples both in the public and private sector, simply opening up data without underpinning that with the real authority and technical accuracy of that data, that's not helpful. What we need to do is make sure that all the things are in place to make that go right."

In 2018, the government announced plans to make key parts of the OS MasterMap openly available to the public and businesses, estimating that the data could boost the economy by £130 million a year.

"One of the things we have to do is make that data available, but also make sure that the asset is maintained as a strategic asset of value to Great Britain," says Bellamy. "And where we can leverage it commercially for Great Britain and the public purse, we are asked by the government to do that as well."

Natural History Museum CIO David Thomas

Natural History Museum CIO David Thomas

The Natural History Museum is home to more than 300 scientists who publish over 700 research papers a year. They could keep this precious scientific knowledge hidden in the museum's enormous collection, but instead they choose to share it with the world.

"If we took a very closed view of this, then we would never be able to explain probably what we've got and society wouldn't be able to benefit in quite the same way," says Natural History Museum CIO David Thomas.

"That's where we essentially said we're going to be open by default. We are quite careful with some of our most commercialisable assets and our most sensitive assets and we license things like that under non-commercial agreements, but most things are available openly and people can see them. We think of the big picture for society."

Bloomberg CTO Shawn Edwards

Bloomberg CTO Shawn Edwards

Bloomberg CTO Shawn Edwards is an advocate for open data and open source. He spearheaded the development of Bloomberg's Open Market Data Initiative (OMDI) and its Open API framework.

The company uses open source software and contributes to open source projects that are relevant to the business, such as the Apache Solr search engine, for which Bloomberg developed a machine learning ranking system that is embedded into the search results.

"That only happened because we participated with them for quite a while," says Edwards. "We proved ourselves. We were good sponsors. We started showing value, and then we got the rights to be a contributor. Some of these are long-term engagements, and you have to be patient. This is not a vendor relationship. You have to give back and you have to contribute.

"Do it deliberately. Don't do it ad hoc. Build a real programme office and have somebody understand the workings of an open source project."

Lauren Sager Weinstein - TfL

Lauren Sager Weinstein - TfL

TfL is renowned for championing open data, which it has released for developers to use in their own software and services since 2007, and through its Unified API since 2015.

Deloitte estimates that it generates annual economic benefits and savings of up to £130m a year across a vast range of uses, from cutting time off passenger journeys to reducing accidents on the road by identifying risks.

For example, the popular navigation app Citymapper was built thanks to the openness of TfL data.

"It's open to anybody to subscribe, and that allows our reach to be even greater," explains TfL CDO Lauren Sager Weinstein. "It also of course helps the developer community because it gives them a great feed of data to use."

Read next: TfL Chief Data Officer Lauren Sager Weinstein explains how data keeps London moving

Dylan Roberts - Leeds City Council

Dylan Roberts - Leeds City Council

CIO 100 high-flyerDylan Roberts has harnessed open data to develop sustainable public service solutions in collaboration with the local tech sector in Leeds.

Among them is "bus clock", an analogue clock face showing real-time bus arrival times from open data sources that has been installed in locations including community centres and GP surgeries to increase the number of elderly residents using buses and reduce the number of missed medical appointments.

Another is an open data platform called Data Mill North, which brings together information from multiple sectors that citizens can use to understand and access local services.

"It holds hundreds of data sets updated by many organisations," says the Leeds City Council Chief Digital and Information Officer.

"Public, private and third parties have developed numerous innovations using this platform, which reduces the reliance on our diminishing public services – eg transport applications, bin collection and energy usage applications, and data analytics. This platform has also reduced the number of FOI requests submitted to the council by 7%."

Julie Pierce - FSA

Julie Pierce - FSA

As Director of openness, data and digital at the Food Standards Agency (FSA), Julie Pierce uses open data to support food consumers and producers across the UK.

She does this by driving the industry to be more open and transparent with the public by publishing data on meat condition and the campylobacter bacteria, through schemes such as "Report a Food Problem", an early monitoring system for norovirus outbreaks based on analysis of Twitter data, and by publishing FSA data for anyone to use.

"The FSA is looking to transform how the food system is regulated in the UK," says Pierce. "I am leading on the innovation in the way data is available from across the whole of the system and can be used instead of simple physical inspection."

Richard Cross - Clear Channel International

Richard Cross - Clear Channel International

Richard Cross, Chief Digital and Transformation Officer of Clear Channel International and runner-up in the 2017 CIO 100, believes open data can have a major impact on business outcomes when it's used strategically.

"An offering that combines open data sources to view leading indicators, coupled with domain expertise, allows more informed decisions to be made earlier in the project lifecycle to improve predictability of project delivery," he says.

Read next: Atkins CIO Richard Cross drives digital thinking with a startup mindset

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