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Government Opens Door To Open Data Institute

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

The government has revealed plans for a Open Data Institute (ODI) to be based at Silicon Roundabout

Sir Tim Berners Lee will co-direct the government’s newly created Open Data Institute – plans for which were released today.

The Open Data Institute (ODI) is part of the government’s long-term strategy concerning open data, as it struggles to deal with the increasing amount of data it collects. The ODI aims to be up and running by the Autumn.

Silicon Roundabout

In last November’s Autumn budge, the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne revealed the government plans for the Open Data Institute, which has been established near London’s Tech city (otherwise known as Silicon Roundabout).

The ODI has been assigned £10 million in funding to help find opportunities in sharing  public sector datasets.

Led by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, and Professor Nigel Shadbolt of Southampton University, it will “help business exploit the opportunities created by release of public data”. In an interview with Techweek Europe in May, Sir Tim Berners-Lee called on businesses to be more giving with their data.

But what essentially is the Open Data Institute all about?

Well, its principle objective is to incubate new business start-ups where economic growth will be driven by the use of Open Data. It also hopes to support and encourage the use of Open Data in business, and develop the economic benefits case, impact analysis and business models for Open Data.

To this end it will “enhance Public Sector use and understanding of of Open Data”, as well as “undertake research and support development of standards necessary to exploit Open Data to the full.”

“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,” said Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude (pictured).

“The Open Data Institute is a big step towards this. Establishing a centre of excellence and expertise in the heart of technology start-ups will support the very best UK talents to innovate and drive value from the data this government is opening up,” Maude added.

Skills Question

Besides the ODI providing technical and organisational support for startups, the ODI also plans to hold ‘Total Immersion events’, such as appathons or hackathons designed to last for more than the usual 24-48 hours.

The arrival of the ODI has meanwhile been welcome by some industry observers.

“The Open Data Institute is a great foundation for the UK to take the lead in how data is being used,” said Geoffrey Taylor, head of academic programme, SAS UK & Ireland. “There’s no doubt that businesses as well as the government can derive huge benefit from big data, but a more important question is: do organisations have the skills to turn this tide of data into economic opportunity?”

“Our own experience confirms widely held views that there is a huge chasm between the amount of people needed to analyse data, and the amount of talent trained in the art of analysing it,” said Taylor. “Open data is a huge opportunity for many, but conversely, a worrying prediction for unprepared organisations. Unless the analytic skills gap is addressed by government and businesses alike, we risk missing out on the opportunities data can offer.”

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