The USA has now enacted a law that should make government data much more accessible to the public, and in turn, to the many businesses that are looking for ways to improve their own data portfolios. Whether it’s marketers or manufactures looking to find new customer opportunities, or trading hubs that want to sell data-rich services, the act should grease the wheels for any company looking to harvest a lucrative source of information.
Should other countries follow suit, there could be a veritable treasure-trove of data out there that could be used by businesses to improve their IoT positioning. AI and ML tools will prove vital to making sense of these resources, as a means of pulling these data sets into the cloud-based applications that are most likely going to be processing these new datapoints.
The act can trace its roots back to 2009, when the Obama administration issued the Open Government Directive. The Open Data Policy order followed in 2013, which focused on ensuring that government data was machine-readable, so that it could be incorporated into other applications, and now the act has come to the fore with bipartisan support.
The open data element is actually part of a larger bill, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (FEPA). The Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary Government Data Act (OPEN) was housed inside FEPA, as is often the case in US policymaking. OPEN is the Title II part of FEPA. The US Treasury was omitted from the agencies required to make the data open to the public in a machine-readable format, as part of the two-party wrangling.
As of today, US government agencies are required to have Chief Data Officers, according to FEPA, which are responsible for ensuring the federal bodies’ data – and its access. These CDOs will comprise a CDO Council, which is tasked with deciding best practices for generating, creating, and publishing all of their data – that which isn’t covered by any other laws on the books that might prohibit the CDO from releasing it.
From a political standpoint, FEPA and its OPEN contingent is meant to ensure that the government must use factual evidence when creating new legislation, and so there needs to be free access to any data that might end up being used as evidence for new proposed laws.
This open approach to data could be extremely valuable to businesses. The US government generates and handles a huge amount of information that could have commercial value, if it is applied in the right fashion. However, under the Trump administration, many of these agencies have been understaffed and underfunded, so the ability to make these now-mandated changes could be rather limited.
The machine-readable requirement is of particular importance, as it means that the data will be expressed in files that can quickly be absorbed by cloud-based applications – rather than as PDFs or images, these should be CSV files or databases, for example. Furthermore, the agencies are also being required to maintain a ‘comprehensive data inventory of all data assets,’ which will make the resources more easily searchable – good for both interested citizens, as well as businesses and other elements of the US government.
The Data Coalition says that the new act “will provide a powerful tool for open data reforms in every area of the government’s information portfolio.” The Center for Data Innovation said that it was “a major bipartisan victory for open data. It is now the law of the land that government data should be freely available and accessible to everyone by default.” It added that “this law is a major achievement for the open data community, and by passing this law, the United States has established itself as one of the global leaders in open data.”
We know that Terbine is working on integrating US government data sources, into its data marketplace, and this law should be a boon to the company – especially if the machine-readable requirements make it easy to automate the ingest. Here is another company with data marketplace ambitions, and will also be interested in finding the best way to make use of these emerging stockpiles of data.