Open Data: The Next Phase in the Technology Revolution

Open Data

“Open data” is the new forefront in government tech policy.  Described in the administration’s new Open Data Policy as “publicly available data structured in a way that enables the data to be fully discoverable and usable by end users,” open data is, more simply put, a way for anyone to discover, manage and use government data.

Intellectually, it sounds interesting to be sure. But just how does it apply to you, me, or the person on the street? Well, just check out the apps on any smartphone.  “Big data” – massive quantities of data collected and made available by the government – is used in apps focused on everything from traffic and navigation systems to the weather.  With the availability of healthcare data, entrepreneurs are creating apps that allow users to shop around for better or less expensive medical care.  That’s not all. Location-based services — from emergency services and restaurant reservations to social networking sites — grow out of government-provided GPS info.  The list goes on and on.

But it’s not just smartphone apps that use government data.  Innovators, scientists and entrepreneurs have created and developed new products, businesses and markets with the publicly-available data published on, a GSA-managed website that provides access to government data from across the federal government.  
As President Obama noted in his Executive Order on open data, “Openness in government strengthens our democracy, promotes the delivery of efficient and effective services to the public, and contributes to economic growth. As one vital benefit of open government, making information resources easy to find, accessible, and usable can fuel entrepreneurship, innovation, and scientific discovery that improves Americans’ lives and contributes significantly to job creation.”

The new policy lays out comprehensive policies for government agencies on building and modernizing information systems and related storage and management responsibilities. Importantly, it also sets out requirements for collecting and making data available, and includes directives on privacy, confidentiality, security and related restrictions.

What’s most remarkable about the administration’s open data policy is that it opens the door for anyone to work with the information.  McKinsey & Co. noted in a 2011 report on big data that, “There will be a shortage of talent necessary for organizations to take advantage of big data. By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions.”  The administration’s decision to allow open access to the government’s big data may whet the appetite for those considering working with the information.  McKinsey’s report says, “It may be necessary to retrain a significant amount of the talent in place; fortunately, this level of training does not require years of dedicated study.”

 Open data will be the basis for the next phase of our technological revolution, providing comprehensive, government-wide accessibility to information and services that once were proprietary. Even now, GSA is front and center in this effort through our management of, the go-to site for open data. The site offers more than 75,000 data sets and, in May 2013, marked an estimated 213,000 visitors (more than double its numbers from a year ago.)

We expect the growth on to continue, and to see more innovation, as the open data policy makes even more data sets available for anyone who wants to work with them.