Open Data – Metadata, Collaboration and the Importance of Standards

Aug 17

This week I attended an executive breakfast event hosted by Coradix, a boutique consulting firm in Ottawa. Serving Canadian public sector, Coradix has well-established practice areas for ECM, Business Intelligence/Analytics and Security.  I was honoured to be invited to the event by my old boss and mentor, Andrew Pery, who now serves as Executive Director for the Coradix ECM Practice.

The workshop featured a talk on the importance of the global open data initiative and the value that citizens and enterprises can find in the information held in our public sector institutions. Rod MacPherson, CMA, the keynote speaker, offered some unique insights into the open data movement, the parallel rise of big data, the challenges of the human elements in any IT project, and the importance of establishing consistent metadata and shared vocabulary. Founder of the Ottawa DAMA chapter (a global association for data professionals), Rod brought some unique perspectives to this topic,  derived from his experience as a certified management accountant, public sector manager, and independent subject matter expert.

Canada joined the Open Government Partnership in April 2012 and total membership now includes 46 nations.  Governments that join the OGP commit to four key principles: to increase availability of information about government activities, to support civic participation, to implement highest standards of integrity in government administration, and to increase access to new technologies for openness and accountability.

MacPherson did a great job outlining the global themes around open data and open government before outlining the current Canadian “Action Plan on Open Government”. Three key elements of the Canadian plan include: open information, open data and open dialogue. (Sounds like there is a ton of opportunity here for content and information management professionals to play a role…).

This vision, however, is not without its political, technical and change management challenges. I was really pleased to see lots of use of the new AIIM research on big data being used as proof points throughout the presentation. When nearly 1/3 of enterprise data is accessed via spreadsheets rather than analytics or reporting tools, we know there is still a substantial number of information and data silos that are begging to be harvested.

AIIM Big Data Industry Watch - May 2012

One of the points that particularly resonated with me was MacPherson’s statement that open data is not a “what”… it is the “how”. Thinking about data beyond the narrow walls of a particular branch, department or agency is new. Implications about interoperability, consistent metadata, standardized vocabulary as more and more departments release their data sets are at last on the table. The blinders are coming off, in the name of citizen service and economic stimulus. Metadata has to be at the heart of a truly effective open data program. Harmonization of terms and vocabulary across departments, and recognition of emerging international standards are essential for long term success.

The tricky part? This means talking to peers, to other parts of a department, and looking at the end-to-end flow of information. Meeting this challenge successfully is a human issue – not a technical issue. It means thinking horizontally and understanding how information comes into an organization, and how it is accessed and used when it is released. Adopting a more collaborative approach to systems design, metadata management and adopting standards to ensure interoperability is the big challenge we have right now.

I have temporarily posted the slide deck on my Slideshare account here:

I’ll update this link to the Coradix company Slideshare account when I see it go live.

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