In a new report, the McKinsey Global Institute draws attention to the immense business possibilities of open data. The concept had developed as a political initiative, in which governments like those of the UK and the US resolved to share non-sensitive data with the public in volumes that allow big data analysis. But openness was a traditional feature of academia, particularly the scientific disciplines, before it even had a name. Ironically, scientific data came to be sequestered in recent decades as the commercial value of genomes and graphical plots of phenomena was appreciated. Perhaps McKinsey’s insistence, that opening up data will generate more value for stakeholders, will help to turn the tide again.
The report unifies and formalises what has already been projected by big data practitioners. The massive generation and use of open data by corporations and government will open up numerous economic possibilities, from reducing fuel use by foretelling traffic jams to helping companies to reduce product cycles with better-educated guesses about what customers want. McKinsey has headlined benefits to consumers, such as price and product transparency. It also draws attention to business risks, such as the outing of negative publicity and organised consumer backlashes to the data-driven, precisely targeted advertising that is seen on social media.
However, these concerns appear trivial in comparison with the business generation potential of open data. Apart from the predictable efficiencies, it can develop altogether new products whose need is not yet felt and identify new markets whose existence is yet unsuspected. But for this to happen, governments must lay down the law on data protection and privacy and create regulatory frameworks, nationally and internationally. India has been a laggard in both data law and public debate on the subject. To catch the open data wave, it must get up to speed.