Government open data proves a treasure trove for savvy businesses

Hoping to capitalize on free government information, IT leaders are discovering the value -- and vexation -- of converting terabytes of data into new revenue streams

But as government agencies inch toward cleaner, more structured data sets, a handful of startups are offering powerful new tools for dealing with older data. "These intermediaries are going to make open data more accessible to other types of companies because the reality is, open data is still pretty messy at the local, state and federal level," says Gurin.

One of those startups is New York-based Enigma Technologies, which has created a platform that allows users to access open data via an API or a Web dashboard. The company uses Web crawlers that gather public data from sources such as dot-gov websites and FCC documents regardless of whether the information is stored in a Zip file, an Excel spreadsheet or a multigigabyte database. Next, the platform creates a relational infrastructure that centralizes all of the open data and creates links between matching data sets. A single interface offers users access to more than 100,000 sources of finely curated data. And because Enigma's solution is offered as an API, developers can borrow the technology to build dashboards that serve their industry-specific data retrieval needs.

"We're able to provide access to this universe of public data that is otherwise totally obscure and in the shadow," says Enigma co-founder Marc DaCosta.

In fact, there are plenty of ways for IT departments to tap the business value of open data. Some will opt to use tools from companies like Enigma. Others will staff their IT departments with Ph.D.s, develop sophisticated algorithms and build robust storage networks. And some will wait until government protocols catch up with corporate demands. Whatever the game plan, says Gurin: "Open data may not be the way for everybody, but it is the way forward-thinking CIOs are thinking about business."

Waxer is a Toronto-based freelance journalist. She has written articles for various publications and news sites, including The Economist, MIT Technology Review and

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This story, "Government open data proves a treasure trove for savvy businesses" was originally published by Computerworld.

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