Open data as disruptive to government as the internet, says Socitm

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Open data as disruptive to government as the internet, says Socitm

Rebecca Thomson

The current movement to open up public sector data could be as disruptive for government as the internet has been for the media industry, according to the Society for IT Management (Socitm).

From January all councils will be required to publish online any data on contracts and spending over £500, as well as job titles and salaries of senior officials. Central government departments must also take part, with orders to upload details of IT contracts and databases.

The work to get data online in a usable form is not easy, but the government is likely to follow up January's deadline with more requirements.

Socitm has published a briefing paper on how to deal with the changes, explaining what they might mean for the way government works in the longer term.

The coalition government carried on with the open data drive after the Labour government started freeing up swathes of data for developers and the public to access.

The emphasis is on increasing transparency, although officials have admitted there are problems with how difficult the data is to understand or use. The idea is that "armchair auditors" will get access to the information needed to challenge spending decisions, and suppliers able to see the value of current contracts will be able to provide more competitive bids.

Socitm said there could be problems with this if suppliers decide to challenge the publication of the data on the grounds of commercial confidentiality, and it predicted the exposure could make public sector work less attractive to suppliers.

One big problem with the transparency drive is the light it is likely to shine on poor data standards and significant flaws in existing data in local government. "These have been there for many years, but it is only now, when councils seek to become more joined up, more efficient, and more transparent, that flaws will become more obvious and their impact more evident in terms of wasted cost and resource," the organisation said.

Chris Head, author of the briefing paper, said public sector organisations will need to improve "corporate understanding" of open data and the issues it raises. He added it will need a pervasive culture of openness throughout an organisation before the project succeeds, and a new approach to information management.


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