Practical Thinking for Open Government Data

By Bill Appelbe, founding CEO and Chief Scientist of the Victorian Partnership for Advanced Computing, Australia

There has been a wider push towards Open Government in recent years, a phenomenon that has grown worldwide.

Personally, I think the current state of "government 2.0" or "open government/data" is still in trend mode, and not developed enough yet to make a business case around (or be strongly accepted in the technology curve). However, there are indications that this will soon change. What matters is not general principles or concepts, but quick deployment of solutions and applications that matter, from which we can leverage more generic platforms ("government 2.0").

There is a definite push to link government datasets together and build vertical applications for such basic and necessary functions as infrastructure planning (ports, rail, road, cycle paths), emergency services response, and tourism and resource management.

The problem with most current efforts in these areas is the fact that data is not accessible in real-time for decision making, except in a limited domain such as road traffic management, where there is a high payoff. This means that planning decisions for long-term infrastructure projects are being made via white papers or tenders (usually within a closed government and not in an "open model"). This makes it difficult to do any kind of optimization or ongoing analysis (changes in circumstances can affect our conclusions, such as changes in population growth, distribution, technology/transport, or infrastructure).

Here in Australia, there is a formative group called VANZI (the Virtual Australia New Zealand Institute) '€” of which I am a founding member '€” which has a couple of larger projects in the planning stages. These include:

  • 3D Melbourne '€” A fully integrated 3D model of the city that is continuously updated and includes historical data and images (not just 3D images, but semantic models showing population, utilities and planning data). The goal is to offer multiple views '€” for example, offering services for tourism or emergency response '€” as well as multiple platforms (iPhones, Virtual Reality, PCs, etc).
  • The Melbourne Intermodal Systems (MIS) Project '€” An effort to model and understand all the flow of freight in the city (rail, sea, roads) in order to improve the flow of goods and alleviate bottlenecks around the port.

Both of these models are designed to be built off existing standards and data, and be open-source, "retargetable" to different jurisdictions across Australia. They are ideal for an "E-infrastructure" provider (such as Cybera or VPAC), as they involve multi-institutional collaboration and IT innovation at the "bleeding edge"), and could offer a potentially major economic and social impact.

These are two examples of using government data to build commercial applications. I would be interested to hear your comments on these, or other infrastructure projects, built using available information.

Bill Appelbe is founding CEO and Chief Scientist of the Victorian Partnership for Advanced Computing, Australia. He is a member of Cybera's International Strategic Advisory Committee.