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O’Reilly’s Strata comes to Europe, with a very British opening

O’Reilly’s Big Data extravaganza, Strata, left its native U.S. for the first time this week, coming to London for two days of data; the big, the open, the structured, the unstructured, and the undecided.

Whilst many of the companies and issues are the same, whether you’re in London, California or New York City, there are also plenty of ways in which local philosophy, approach, and mindset impact upon what’s possible – and what’s important. O’Reilly delivered this message loud and clear this morning, devoting the first two sessions of the opening morning to stories from the UK’s open data-enthusiastic government.

Rather raw notes follow…

First up, Liam Maxwell (@liammax) from the Cabinet Office. What is the government doing about data, open data, and the role of IT in all of that? We spend 1% of GDP on government IT systems. But we want to deliver efficiencies, and enable the UK economy to grow. Transparency is important; for example, local government must publish any expenditure over £500… originally, it was meant to be £5,000. £500 is better!

Open Government Partnership – open government makes sense. It’s become an orthodoxy.

Also keen on open source. But not because open source is necessarily best. Rather, that approach is fundamental to opening up markets. Coalition Agreement (between Conservative and LibDem sides of the UK government) makes an explicit mention of importance of open source. The only statement of government that does?

Open Standards also important. Done it wrong in the past. Hopefully announcing new – sensible – policy by the end of October.

Most of our IT in the past has been developed on closed systems in a black box. Even the customer hasn’t had the right to look inside. Want to use open data to open up markets. New procurement frameworks and strategies saving 30% or more of spend. Open market to ensure that the best possible people can bid for a project. If the project is too big (like in the old days) then only the largest incumbents can compete.

He mentions last week’s EU cloud strategy [I'm writing a report on that, which will be out in a couple of weeks...] – concerned about the provision to certify cloud providers, as it will reinforce the current dominant players. Microsoft, Amazon et al big and strong enough to waste time getting certified. But what about the nimble startups? Will they even bother? [Interesting perspective...]

“We leave money on the table when we don’t deal with SMEs.” And those SMEs grow to become medium businesses, and then global success stories.

The Government Digital Service (@gdsteam) “is the future of Government.”

The future is going to be digital. We’re falling out of love with our big tin, and moving towards a future that is nimbler and more citizen-focussed. We understand open data, and we understand the use of this stuff to deliver better services.

Next up, Jeni Tennison (@jenit), who has just joined the new Open Data Institute.

Today is her first day… Open Data – dreams to reality.

How do we take freely available data and actually derive real benefit from it.

Open Data + magic = economic growth. Indeed.

Open Data + magic = democratic engagement (“we’ll take open data and it will make people like politicians.”)

Open Data + magic = supreme awesomeness.

But how do we actually make this happen?

Open Data is a tool.

The open data projects that are most exciting to her are the ones with specific goals – to get people riding bikes, to let them see legislation, etc.

Open Data can be used for ill as well as for good. It is just a tool. We need to learn how to wield it responsibly.

It’s a versatile tool (big swiss army knife on screen…).

The web is great now… but we couldn’t have anticipated all its uses ten years ago. Possibilities. Opportunities. We need to experiment, because we don’t actually know where it will lead.

Open Data Institute is where we’re going to think about this stuff in the UK. Set up by Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt.

Our main aim is to collaborate with businesses, government, the wider public sector and academia to realise the benefits of open data – economic, social, environmental.

We’ll address two different sets of people; data owners and  data re-users.

We need to think about how data owners publish their data. How do they develop processes that make sense, that manage the data, that are sustainable, that enable data to flow? The data release needs to fit their business model, and it needs to be sustainable and a reliable foundation for other businesses. Otherwise, it’s just people flinging spreadhseets out there, and that won’t work forever.

For data reusers, we need to think about how the data appears. How it is visualised, but also how it is analysed, described, etc. Conclusions must be statistically significant and replicable. We need to protect too – privacy, data protection, etc. We need to build understanding and capability.

Knowing Jeni, she’ll have that lot sorted by the end of day two… :-)

The event is also live-streaming, at strataconf.com/live – do drop in over the next day and a half.

Image by Flickr user Tim Morris

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Paul Miller works at the interface between the worlds of Cloud Computing and the Semantic Web, providing the insights that enable you to exploit the next wave as we approach the World Wide Database. He blogs at www.cloudofdata.com.