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Project empowers open data in public administration

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Antoni Felguera and Marc Torrent report on a European project to help open up public data

The European Union’s Digital Agenda is committed to aiding the recovery of the EU economy by promoting innovation and by strengthening the technology industry. An important component of that agenda is the role that public administrations (PAs) could play as a stimulus by publicly sharing their data resources to enable innovative products and services.

However, the extensive amount of information available in PA databases is often stored in monolithic and non-open architectural models. This makes it very difficult to share with external parties. The natural evolution of ICT towards open and interconnected systems requires data and services to become more malleable and therefore more easily created, managed, linked, and deployed.

The aims and benefits of opening public data were first addressed by the EU Directive 2003/98/EC on the re-use of public sector information (PSI). This provided the basis for the Open Data Strategy for Europe that was launched last year. Through this directive, the Commission actively embraces the open data movement by encouraging European PAs to make public information available and effectively re-usable as a key factor in realising the vast economic potential that today lies in data.

Specifically, public data released by European PAs should boost the emerging ecosystem around the transformation of raw data into novel and valuable ICT applications and services. Data on public infrastructures, transport systems, economic activity or demography should provide not only a more transparent relationship between government and citizens, but also a major asset for value generation.

However, the implementation of such objectives faces a significant number of challenges. The lack of a shared strategic and technical approach for the implementation of open data initiatives and the lack of a well-established standard lead to obstacles even in innovative cities where open data initiatives have already been launched in recent years. Such obstacles include proprietary data formats, multiplicity of access protocols, monolithic applications accessing their own data silos, and data infrastructures that are not ready for the creation and/or aggregation of new services.

To help address these issues, service oriented architectures (SOA) and cloud computing infrastructures are proposed. These should help data and services to become more malleable and therefore more easily created, managed and deployed.

The Open-DAI project (Opening Data Architectures and Infrastructures of European Public Administrations) was launched at the beginning of 2012 to tackle existing open data challenges and to pilot the potential new services’ ecosystem. Partially funded by the European Commission under the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme, Open-DAI is lead by CSI Piemonte and comprises eleven private and public organisations from four different countries (Italy, Spain, Sweden and Turkey). The project will last 32 months (February 2012 - September 2014) and has a budget of €3,200,000.

The consortium aims to make public-sector information available to the general public through a SOA-oriented philosophy, deployed on cloud computing infrastructures. The final goal is for open data to become the enabler for the creation of new applications and services by public administrations, companies and even citizens, as well as providing a direct feedback information channel from/to public administrations.

In particular, Open-DAI will develop a software platform for opening public data which will benefit from building upon SOAs. This approach will enable new and interconnected services that aim to knock down the existing data silos. To do so, these services will deliver public data in an open and scalable fashion, being fully aligned with state-of-the-art ICT environments such as Smart Cities or the Internet of Things. By bringing a consistent approach on data infrastructures and service integration, Open-DAI aims to overcome the existing fragmentation and lack of interoperability in the PA systems and deploy a new scenario for open government and economic growth.

The resulting software platform will be extended with a set of services and mobile applications covering a wide range of scenarios: traffic monitoring and management, mobility and tourism recommenders, environmental impact with respect to traffic parameters, and new forms of communication between citizens and public administrations.

The complete development will be deployed in the municipalities of Barcelona and Lleida in Spain, Karlshamn in Sweden and Ordu (Turkey) as well as in the Piedmont Region of Italy in order to test the potential of the deployed software. These pilots bring together quite different types of administrations; from big cities and regions, such as Barcelona or Piedmont, to very small villages like Karlshamn.

Moreover, the synergies between cities located in the same region will be analysed in the case of Barcelona and Lleida, both part of Catalan territory of Spain and supported by the same technology provider, Barcelona Digital (Bdigital). The different scenarios provide Open-DAI with a complete set of requirements that will be implemented and tested, and help to ensure that the outcome of the project is applicable to a very wide range of situations.

With a relevant economical impact being one of the core objectives of the Open-DAI project and of the Open Data initiatives themselves, the Open-DAI platform will be entirely based on existing open-source projects. Following the philosophy that Open-DAI embraces, which is the openness of data and the free flow of ideas, the consortium will offer the resulting software to the open-source community, complemented with appropriate ‘How to’ documents.

Opening the developed software will benefit the private sector by increasing their product portfolio as well as increasing the functionality provided by the base platform, while at the same time helping PAs to advance in opening their data. Open-DAI truly believes that the openness of the vast amount of PA data could constitute a big opportunity for the creation of new innovative services, and therefore, a way to create new business opportunities while helping society to profit from it.

Antoni Felguera is head of the R&D Security group at Bdigital; Marc Torrent is head of the Mobility and Energy R&D group at BDigital