27.2. 2015 Blogi

From openness to innovation

”If an authority or other player does not understand the usefulness of the data possessed by it in the broader context and does not want to open up its materials which are public as a rule, it effectively prevents the innovation activities in its own environment”, reminds Kalle Luhtinen who works at open data in Turku Science Park.

The openness and transparency of activities are frequently spoken for in the media, and as a general rule it’s not a bad thing at all. In the Finnish culture the citizens want to know where their tax money goes, and in the end it is told to them.

It is obvious that business secrets, individual patient records or geographical information of individuals must not be published arbitrarily but shall be kept confidential. However, it’s a different thing to illustrate the spreading of influenza cases in real time or determine the average speed of the traffic flow from point A to point B at a certain time of day.

Open data in the right format

Although there is limitless amount of information around and available to us, we need to be able to manage, store and share it in a specific format, so that processing it further into new services is possible and meaningful. In order to store the information concerning, for example, a city’s decision-making, health care services or physical exercise of local inhabitants in a usable format, we first need to build functioning systems and methods. In addition, in some cases different sensors and cameras have to be installed in the studied objects (e.g. buses) or near them, which will always generate some resistance. The resistance usually stems from the fear for loss of privacy and disclosure of private affairs. However, when handled and presented correctly, open data does not conflict with those in any way.

The purpose of the development of new, information-based services and applications is to make our life easier and richer (point of view of a local inhabitant). On the other hand, we would also like to understand in the longer term how a disease spreads or why a stretch of a road is jammed (municipal or societal point of view). For companies and software developers various data materials serve as raw materials for generating new business, which in more detail means new products, applications sold and new customer relationships (business point of view).

Information opens doors to innovations

It is part of the ideology of open data that the data is easily available (online), free of charge, and can be freely modified and used. When these terms are met, companies and developers are free to use the data and create something new. It’s important to comprehend that if an authority or other player does not understand the usefulness of the data possessed by it in the broader context and does not want to open up its materials which are public as a rule, it effectively prevents the innovation activities in its own environment.

In technical sense, there are no obstacles to opening the data, but work still remains to do with the mental side. When you figure out the big picture and see everything that the open model enables, it’s very hard to give reasons for not working according to it in the future.

It shouldn’t harm anybody if I can check from my smartphone whether a train or bus is late or on which beach the seawater is the warmest.

Kalle Luhtinen
The writer works in Turku Science Park Ltd and promotes the use of open data in the business of enterprises in the Turku region. A joint project of Finland’s six biggest cities aimed at utilisation of open data commenced in December.