When it comes to data, organizations can profit by embracing a more open model: that’s the conclusion reached by research firm Gartner in a new report. It may also run contrary to some organizations’ visions of data as only valuable when it’s highly proprietary and relatively isolated in a single silo. “For clients seeking competitive advantage through direct interactions with customers, partners and suppliers, open data is the solution,” David Newman, research vice president at Gartner, wrote in an Aug. 22 statement. “For example, more government agencies are now opening their data to the public Web to improve transparency.” More commercial organizations are using open data to gain insights into customers and improve their products, he added. Gartner’s position is that an open data strategy should be a top priority for any business that relies on the Web as a way to deliver goods and services to customers. But what does Gartner mean by “open data”? The firm’s definition is somewhat nebulous (“an informal definition of openness is a level playing field where everyone can play a game that can evolve,” reads the summary accompanying the report), but seems to involve two components: open information goods (such as datasets and code) and information services (including Wikipedia and GPS) shared by a large and diverse community. “From the viewpoint of enterprise information architects,” the report summary continued, “this is known as the information-sharing network effect: the business value of a data asset increased the more widely and easily it is shared.” According to Gartner, organizations can profit from this hose of open data by using it to build innovative platforms and discover trends. In the public sector, open data is increasingly viewed as a good thing. Cities have opened their public datasets to third-party developers, and encouraged the latter to use that information to construct apps for citizen services. In a recent corporate blog posting, Forrester analyst Jennifer Belissent used Palo Alto as an example of a municipality benefitting from opening data such as pavement condition ratings to public use: the result, she argued, was a boost in the city’s image, an increase in cost-efficiency, and a chance to extend “the eyes and the ears of the city” by discovering new patterns in data. In the private sector, any number of proprietary data tools incorporate public data such as census results. That can help clients place their initiatives within a broader context. But open data isn’t without its difficulties. Chief among them, Gartner believes, is the need to keep it accessible to all: “The challenge is to keep the barriers to entry low to enable participation by different types of businesses and streamlined processes for adding and vetting data sources.”   Image: PinkBlue/Shutterstock.com