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Unlocking Government Data Poised to Create Whole New Industries -- And Make Washington Work Better

Maksim Kabakou/Shutterstock.com

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By Robert A. Runge September 3, 2014

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Robert A. Runge serves on the board of directors at Socrata, a cloud software company focused on freeing access to public sector data.

Let’s start with the obvious -- government data is unique in the world of data.

The data that’s garnered the most attention over the past generation -- a generation, by the way, that has witnessed the revolution of information technology -- has obsessively focused on running, managing, automating and organizing enterprises in an effort to wring out every last drop of business transaction and process efficiency.

We’ve also seen scientific data in the spotlight, especially in the realm of database management and, more recently, big data.

But government data is completely different.

Why?

Because it’s about running society -- not a business unit or a scientific research inquiry.

And given this vast social context, I believe we need an operating system for government data that will unlock this long-sequestered information and open it to the public -- to citizens, communities and companies all over the world.

This is the driving force behind today’s open data movement.

Open Data Bridging the Chasm from Old World to New

In the end, the net result will be startling, because open data can help government cross the chasm from the old world to the new world; from the 20th century to the 21st century; from collecting census data and putting pamphlets in post offices to providing the cutting-edge impetus for the birth of new companies and fresh industries.

In short, open data can transform government from a mere service dispensary to a breakthrough innovation accelerator.

The living, breathing fact-based and data-driven organism we’ll soon call government will rise above politics. And in technology terms, it will eventually join a new class of vertical-based SaaS – software as a service -- entities.

Imagine a vertical totally focused on government. It would be the largest vertical on the planet -- far bigger than manufacturing or financial services, or even health care.

Just as powerful is the fact that the players inside this massive government vertical won’t compete.

They will actually share best practices in an ongoing conversation. This isn’t Coke versus Pepsi fighting for market share. Instead, it’s the city of Seattle talking to the city of Chicago in an effort to find ways to better manage urban transportation issues, for example.

Government Data Doesn't Exist in a Vacuum

Ultimately, the sprawling government vertical will extend even further, spilling over and gathering in adjacent verticals like health care or insurance, which are tethered to government through programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

This makes sense, because government data doesn’t exist in a vertical vacuum. It can’t be contained or bottled up -- not when it’s helping to run our society.

Our forward-looking vision at Socrata is to have all of this government data -- and government-related data -- available to the world as it flows into our integrated platform.

That’s a lot of information, for sure. But we believe it absolutely has to see the light of day, has to be connected and has to be put to good use by all parties in the public and private sectors in order to help drive prosperity all over the globe.

(Image via Maksim Kabakou/Shutterstock.com)

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