Open data key to interagency, private sector innovation

By Melissa Dawkins
Special to Federal News Radio

Interagency consolidation of datasets for public and private use is crucial to driving down agency IT costs and forging new technological advances, according to Lisa Schlosser, deputy associate administrator in the Office of E-Government and Information Technology.

“If we’re not thinking about this — how do we innovate with less, how do we free up capital through elimination of duplication, through consolidation, through use of service orientation, through shared services — we tend to end up doing less with less,” Schlosser said at the Federal IT and Networks Summit sponsored by MobileGov in Washington on June 20.

Schlosser said agencies ideally would not have budgets in which IT maintenance costs outstrip development costs, as is currently sometimes the case. To accomplish this, Schlosser said agencies will need to reduce the number of different contracts and IT platforms they use. Consolidating contracts will let save money, which then can be used to invest in new technologies, she said.

When investing in new technologies, Schlosser said agencies should test out the IT through projects that have quick-turnarounds with timely, achievable goals. She said projects with longer lifespans tend to fail.

“Putting in place policies and procedures so that you’re thinking about information, not just systems and building a system and thinking about transactional requirements, but that we’re really thinking about the outcome of what we want to do with information technology, and focusing on the information in information technology,” Schlosser said. “That’s really where we want to go with this.”

Schlosser said, a website dedicated to compiling government data into a searchable catalog, is fueling innovation in both the private sector and across governmental agencies.

“We released hundreds of thousands of data sets,” Schlosser said. “And what’s happened with those data sets — I don’t know if we sit back enough and really think about the innovation that has occurred by simply releasing those data sets in a way that can be consumed and used in a way that can create economic benefit and to help to deliver our programs better.”, launched in 2009, now hosts 75,713 data sets. Of those, 68,477 are federal data sets, according to the website.

One use for public data is the creation of mobile applications, which consumers can download onto smartphones and other mobile devices.

“All because the government released some data, creative people built these creative applications,” Schlosser said.

The Obama administration has placed a high priority on making data more open and accessible since it took office in 2009.

Most recently, President Barack Obama signed an executive order, “Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information,” on May 9 requiring agencies to comply with the Open Data Policy.

In response, the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy introduced Project Open Data on May 16 to provide tools and resources which let developers share and improve code.

“We want to procure and manage our digital assets in smart, secure and affordable ways,” Schlosser said. “And why do we want to do that? We want to consolidate our contracts so that we have more time to experiment with data, so we have more resources available to test new products and to more rapidly bring them and institutionalize them within our business operations, our mission and our organizations.”

Melissa Dawkins is an intern for Federal News Radio

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