Open Data and Supply Chain Management

I recently went to the extraordinarily engaging event that was the Beyond the Smart City Conference at the Met Office; organised by the three musketeers of ODI Devon – @mistergough (Simon Gough), @jargonautical (Lucy Knight) and @MartinHowitt (errr… Martin Howitt).

This event was ‘Open Data’ focussed, with a specifically rural theme, and developed over the day into a fascinating mix of technological, sociological, behavioural and community discussion. Early on, we were treated to a technological tour-de-force around the Met Office’s supercomputing capabilities and the seriously big amounts of data it produces by Charlie Ewen (CIO of the Met Office). In passing he made a comparison between the industrial economy supply chain (raw materials, suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and consumers) and the much shorter ‘digital supply chain’ (data providers, service/app providers and consumers).

Charlie’s point was about lower cost of entry, but he provided the nudge for me to articulate something that had been niggling me for some time: What does Supply Chain Management look like in a digital economy using open data? To unpack slightly: good industrial businesses will spend time building a relationship with their suppliers (and potential alternatives), carefully managing issues around quality, price, risk and availability. If they have a monopoly supplier the attention given to the relationship is even more important. But very often the providers of a service based on exploiting open data have little or no relationship with the data provider.

So I posed the question as to what happens when a business grows to rely on public sector open data and the provider subsequently proposes to discontinue the supply of that data.  @carlhaggerty, in the chair, described this as a ‘really interesting’ question and Lucy captured it thus:

Two people (sorry – didn’t catch your names) commented, the first stating that this was a risk you had to understand went with the opportunity to start a business with ‘free raw materials’. The second made a strange leap from data provider monopoly to vendor lock-in and offered adherence to open standards as the answer.

But for me this didn’t really address the question of whether any obligation is accepted by a public body that, when they start providing a (non-static) open data set, they have to continue to update it – arguably in the same form against the same schema.  When policy or funding changes, will the public body just change or withdraw the open data supply?  In conversation later with Carl Haggerty he suggested the issue becomes even more difficult if the reliance exists for creation of a social good, rather than economic value.

The Open Data Institute makes the assertion that “Good open data” – amongst other things – “has guaranteed availability and consistency over time, so that others can rely on it”.  A little more research unearthed a typically well thought through piece from @JeniT (Jeni Tennison, Technical Director at the ODI) on the nature of Open Data as a Public Good.  This explores a number of methods for maintenance, including Government funding and volunteer activity.

I think understanding how an open data supply is used is a vital factor in the decision on whether to maintain it. So perhaps a starting point for ‘Supplier Relationship Managment’ would be a standard mechanism for consumers of open data to (voluntarily) log their interests with the supplier?

Jeni’s article sets out some ways to manage the open data supply chain, but the discussion at #btsc15 suggests to me that Lucy’s other tweet is on the nail.

3 thoughts on “Open Data and Supply Chain Management

  1. Really good point Glyn, I agree there is a strong pressing need for some kind of control over data standards and schemas, so that relevance and relationships can maintain. A difficult challenge to make these controls suitably flexible, so as not to undermine the whole ethos of Openess. I agree with your call for relationship management. I think a pragmatic solution is open, frank and free discussion between those who collect/publish the data and those who use it – with a view to finding common value from the end product, and consensus about how it will develop. In the case of government, the will have to open up more and lean towards the data beneficiaries, and those using the data will have to re-invest effort into the relationship and expect the need to adapt. It need not be a zero-sum game if common ground can be found.


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