DataOhio Initiative: Open Data Brings Better Government and Business Opportunities


by Hudson Hollister

Ohio is on the road to open data.

Last fall, state Reps. Mike Duffey and Christina Hagan introduced four bills that they call the DataOhio Initiative. The Duffey-Hagan bills will require Ohio government agencies to publish data in machine-readable formats, set up a website at data.ohio.gov for publication and federated search, and mandate a common data standard for local governments’ financial information.

The executive branch is working on the concept too. Current law (section 701.30 of the budget; excerpt here) requires the Department of Administrative Services and the Development Services Agency to propose common data publication practices and explore how open data might improve government efficiency and service delivery.

Subcommittee testimony: small room, big ideas.
Last Tuesday I had the privilege of testifying before the Ohio House of Representatives on the Duffey-Hagan bills. My testimony is here (PDF).

I told the Subcommittee on Shared Services and Government Efficiency that machine-readable data standards and comprehensive publication carry three benefits:

Democratic accountability. Citizens and watchdogs can track their government if they have access to machine-readable data on its doings. Ohio already publishes its contracts at procure.ohio.gov/. If Ohio chooses to publish checkbook-level payments, as some states have done already, then links the payments to the contracts–a much less-common step–it’ll become possible to follow every contractor’s use of taxpayers’ money.

Government efficiency. Program managers, agency leaders, and inspectors general can’t deploy data analytics if spending and performance information is trapped in disconnected documents and separate systems. Once common data standards are applied, they can. Data analytics save money. Michigan began saving $1 million per day after adopting a common identifier, across 21 separate agencies, for the recipients of state funds.

Automated compliance. If governments used machine-readable data formats, instead of document-based forms, to collect information, software could automate reporting. For instance, our members Level One Technologies (video) and StreamLink Software (video) can help federal grantees complete grant reports with a single mouse click–if the federal government adopts a machine-readable data format for grant reporting. That hasn’t happened yet, but the DATA Act calls for it.

Result: business opportunities. As governments standardize and publish their information, they create opportunities for the tech sector to develop solutions that deliver all three of the benefits we describe.

As our Advisory Board member Joel Gurin observes in his new book Open Data Now, whose release we celebrated last month:
“The value of government Open Data is that it’s a long-term, permanent resource that innovators can use for decades, developing new ideas and new companies as technology makes them possible.”
Hagan and Duffey announce DataOhio. Photo: Ohio House.
In Ohio and nationally, our members are eager to prove Joel right, in all three areas. 

Some of our members republish government data for citizens or investors (BrightScope, Socrata, 3Round Stones); some deploy analytics to help government managers find and stop waste and fraud (Teradata, Elder Research); and some are seeking to create TurboTax-style solutions to slash compliance costs through automation (WebFilings, RR Donnelley, StreamLink Software, Smartronix, Level One Technologies). 

All of these opportunities add value for governments, taxpayers, and regulated entities. All of them depend on machine-readable data standards and comprehensive publication mandates.

These basic steps can’t be taken without strong leadership. As the current disagreement between Congress and the White House over the DATA Act has shown, it’s one thing to declare that government information should become open data, but quite another to actually create the standards, impose them, and publish everything.

We are excited to support the DataOhio Initiative, help Ohio tackle the work ahead, and connect our members to the business opportunities that will result.