Economic impacts of open standards

Open standards for data are reusable agreements that make it easier for people and organisations to publish, access, share and use better quality data.

Open standards can create new commercial opportunities and provide competitive advantage to organisations that adopt them.

Standards create new commercial ecosystems

From transit to procurement, health to weather, open standards create new commercial opportunities and ecosystems that encourage competition. By reducing the barrier to entry and cost associated with combining data in a particular sector, standards enable more organisations to enter the ecosystem to provide products and services. These include translation, conversion, combination, reporting, training, analytics, consumer products, business-to-business services, and more.

Case study: General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) and transit

Google took advantage of its position as a market leader in transit to launch the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). It became the de facto standard, overtaking existing standards Transit Communications Interface Profiles (TCIP) and Service Interface for Real-time Information (SIRI). Part of the success of GTFS and its real time extension, GTFS-RT, comes from working with competing and legacy standards using tools to make it easy to convert to GTFS and GTFS-RT.

Standards create new ecosystems

Standards transform published data sets from opaque, bespoke items to commoditised products. Data users no longer need custom code and processes to use new datasets. With a large enough community, organisations can specialise in providing products and services for each step of the data pipeline including:

  • data production to map and convert legacy, closed and shared datasets to open standards

  • data publishing to share data directly with other organisations, through online platforms or by using programmable interfaces like APIs

  • data acquisition to find and update internal systems with the latest version of shared or open data

  • data aggregation to combine similar data from different sources for a wider picture that supports insight, prediction and research

  • data linkage to combine complementary data from various sources and build a richer picture that supports insight and decision making

  • data analytics to provide insight as a service based on combined, enriched data and expertise

Adopting an open standard for data means an organisation can focus on providing value at any stage along the pipeline. An additional benefit can be certification of compliance from standards bodies, which can act as a badge of trust and build confidence.

Case study: OpenOpps and Open Contracting Data Standard

OpenOpps is a platform providing access to worldwide procurement data. It uses open data published in a variety of formats and rapidly adopted procurement data published using the Open Contracting Data Standard. Through its API interface, organisations can access the procurement information they need, speed up insight and reduce their workload.

Standards disaggregate markets

The adoption of open standards for market-critical data can cause a shift of power in the market. Open standards can help to disaggregate authority: stakeholders (including market leaders and authorities) stop using bespoke and proprietary formats and instead use cooperatively produced and shared standards. This levels the playing field for data production and data use, allowing new uses of data and new entries to the market.

Case study: General Transit Feed Specification Real-time (GTFS-RT) and transit

Before Google launched GTFS-RT, other standards supported real time transit information exchange: Service Interface for Real Time Information (SIRI) in Europe and Transit Communication Interface Profiles (TCIP). GTFS-RT and its parent standard, the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), have become de facto for transit thanks to wide adoption and production of open datasets around the world.

The standardisation of global transit data supports trip-planning tools like Citymapper, platforms like Open Trip Planner, research and many other uses. A market has emerged for developing programs that translate from SIRI, TCIP and other transit standards to GTFS and GTFS-RT, and vice versa.

Standards reduce the cost of using data

Publishing and using data is not cost-free. Using data, including open data, needs time and resources to get the data, understand it, transform it to meet your needs, then maintain systems and processes. Publishing data also comes at a cost, from deciding what to publish to supporting use of the data and maintaining systems and processes.

Open standards for data have two main impacts on data use:

  • Reducing the cost of data production — By adopting a standard, data publishers reduce the work of deciding what to publish and preparing custom guidance. A good data standard developed with a community of interest can also reveal gaps in the publisher’s data so they can improve their internal data use. The costs of understanding the standard and mapping their data to it still remain but should be lower than a bespoke publication. Once internal data is mapped to a data standard, data publishers can focus on improving the quality of their data publications rather than tweaking the structure of their datasets.

  • Reducing the cost of data use — Even for a single publication, good documentation and a wide community of support reduces the cost of using data and makes using it easier. The savings increase as more data publications use the same standard. There is no need for data users to re-learn how the data is modelled or change the systems and processes used. Data users can focus on how to use the data for maximum impact rather than re-learning the quirks of individual datasets.

Case study: UK local authority spend

In the UK, every local authority must publish spending over £500. Without a standard, anyone trying to understand regional, national or UK-wide spending has to examine each dataset to combine them. Datasets from the same local authorities are not always consistent over time. This increases the cost of using the data. In 2015, the Department for Communities and Local Government provided guidance on what to include as part of the local government transparency code 2015. The guidance is supported by a standard: the Expenditure Exceeding £500 Scheme.

How to use this guide

There are a number of ways for you to learn more about the creation, development and adoption of open standards for data.

About this guide

This guidebook helps people and organisations create, develop and adopt open standards for data. It supports a variety of users, including policy leads, domain experts and technologists.

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