Open data is being made more accessible in the European Union with the launch of a web portal that allows people and companies to find public data sets from across the continent.
The European Data Portal was deployed for the European Commission by consulting firm Capgemini and the Open Data Institute, along with other corporate and academic institutions. It harvests meta data from over 240,000 open data sets in Europe.
Currently in a beta version, the portal allows individual citizens, small businesses and large organisations to search open data released by various public sector authorities.
Certain data sets can be integrated into products or used to gain insights into a wide variety of areas, such as crime records in Helsinki and forestry maps in France.
Wendy Carrara, director and principal consultant at Capgemini, told V3 that a single web portal enables access to data from 34 countries without the need for duplicated expensive and extensive infrastructure.
"The advantage of harvesting only the meta data means that we can still pull the data to play around with some visualisations and plot the data on a map. You don't bother yourself too much with huge storage facilities and at the same time the updating of this meta data is a continuous process," she said.
Much of the open data can already be accessed by non-government organisations, but there has not been a single place to search and ingest a wide range of data sets from different nations and organisations until now.
Dinand Tinholt, vice president and EU lead at Capgemini, explained to V3 that the portal offers the advantage of access to masses of open data organised into searchable categories, and allows the data to be connected through APIs.
"Europe in general now is in a good place compared to the rest of the world, and now you have one place you can go to get that data. It enables re-users to get the economic value from it, whether it's [creating] new products or services, or improving decision-making processes," he said.
The portal enables data sets to be compared and put into visualisations to allow analysis by those not skilled in data science.
Tinholt also explained that the European Data Portal is not expected to be regularly accessed by numerous individuals, but has the potential to provide businesses with a valuable source of public data that they can use to better tailor products and services.
The overall goal is to encourage governments to release more data, unless it is sensitive, and in turn raise awareness of how such data can be put to use.
"We're just at the tip of the iceberg. We still have a long way to go to getting much more out there, and this whole project is not just to deliver a portal but to encourage public administrations to publish much more," said Tinholt.
"The other part of the project is to encourage other organisations, whether it's non-government organisations, private sector or even public sector, to get more out of it."
He pointed out that this is an ongoing process as some governments are slower than others at releasing data and providing it in a format and standard that enables easy reuse.
"If you look at the journey of open data there's a different level of maturity across the different countries, so some are quite advanced and others have a long way to go," he said.
"Up till now a lot of effort has been in different fields, whether it's been standardisation or ensuring governments actually publish open data."
But Tinholt explained that the more governments publish open data the more it will be consumed by businesses and the public, who will then put pressure on governments to release more data, thus creating a positive circle of supply and demand.
"Much more could be published and, if data is being collected with taxpayers' money, unless it is privacy-sensitive or privilege information, what's to prevent governments from publishing it so others can reuse it?" he said.
The UK government would be a good example to follow as it has already been recognised as a world leader in open data transparency.
However, more data will need to be made open if the visions of smart cities and the potential of the Internet of Things are to be realised.
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