We don’t just want to lead the world in releasing government data – our aim is to make the UK an international role model in exploiting the potential of Open Data to generate new businesses and stimulate growth.”

These are ambitious words from Francis Maude — the Cabinet Minister entrusted with driving Open Data initiatives in the UK — and it is clear that the UK is one of the frontrunners in Open Data. Our research has shown that the UK belongs to a select group of Open Data achievers—an elite we like to call “Trend Setters”. These Trend Setters display three key characteristics:  political support (100%), sharing of highly comprehensive data (80%), and substantial user participation across their Open Data portals (60%). These three criteria are common for all the high-achieving countries and we believe they are therefore critical for tapping into the economic benefits of Open Data. 

However, Open Data Trend Setters are few and far between — 78% of the 23 countries we analyzed don’t seem to be getting their Open Data act right. What could they learn from pioneers like the UK?

Rule Britannia

The UK is a good example of what a Trend Setter in Open Data should be like – they’ve published over 9,000 datasets and had more than 541,500 dataset views since starting their Open Data portal in 2010. Their portal boasts users who actively participate through discussion forums and blogs – of course, it also helps that they involve Open Data Institute representatives to engage with their users. Ensuring political support is also a top priority for the UK – with Francis Maude, our previously mentioned and senior Cabinet Minister, at the helm of their Open Data initiatives.

They release highly comprehensive data spanning diverse domains, especially the ones that are most commercially viable. A case in point being the UK’s 700-odd public sector organizations that publish highly granular data spanning health, business, energy, and education departments – all high money value areas. They even have APIs on their portal to make data usage a cinch.

Why should we care?

Why is it important to follow the UK example and approach Open Data the “right” way ? Well, Open Data matters. It helps create new firms, reduce costs and disseminate critical skills. Zillow, a Real Estate advertising network, is a notable example of technology startup flourishing on Open Data. The company established a successful business by creating a living database of homes across the United States. This database is built from a range of sources such as county records, tax data, listing of homes for sale or rental and mortgage information. The website combines mapping data with information on local land value and house price to create a service which estimates the value of a house at a given address. The company has over 30 million unique users per month scrolling through its database of more than 100 million homes. Zillow has grown significantly since 2006 with its revenue doubling at $66.1 million in 2011, compared to $30.5 million in 2010 Job creation is a direct and short term economic impact of Open Data – the infomediary sector in Spain—companies that sell services on top of Open Data—employs close to 4,000 people. However, a larger and more long-term benefit of opening up data is the impact that it has on dissemination of skills around Big Data. The opportunities around Big Data are indeed significant. It is estimated that by 2015, Big Data demand will reach over 4.4 million jobs globally. However, globally, there is a significant dearth of skills around Big Data and its application. It is expected that only a third of the 4.4 million positions are likely to be filled. Opening up government data can act as a driving force for individuals and organizations as they attempt to create value on top of such data.

Open Data promises plenty of economic benefits. Unfortunately, not many countries are tapping into these benefits the right way. Find out how countries can sharpen their Open Data initiatives with our paper: “The Open Data Economy: Unlocking Economic Value by Opening Government and Public Data“.


1 UK Government press release on launch of Open Data Institute

2 UK Open Data Portal, Site Usage Data

3 Application Program Interface is a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications. A good API makes it easier to develop a program by providing all the building blocks. APIs can typically be used to extend reach of services, drive revenues and encourage third-party innovation.

4 Company website and press releases

5 Spanish Open Data Portal Annual Report, “Characterization Study of the Infomediary Sector”, July 2012

6 Gartner, “Gartner Says Big Data Creates Big Jobs: 4.4 Million IT Jobs Globally to Support Big Data By 2015”, Oct 2012