The notion of open data refers to rather complex technical and organizational aspects. Should this concept be extended to create open services, the result would be particularly important. In fact, an intelligent and standardized sharing of elementary data and functions could play as a driver to develop advanced services for citizens and companies and it would be a turning point also for public administrations. This change could also foster the current demand of broadband, which often seems still weak and immature. (This article is the english version of “Open service nell’agenda digitale“).
Open data is one of the most popular and hottest topics in the debate on innovation in public administrations. The matter involves rather complex technical and organizational aspects and it is particularly important because it could act as a driver and enabler to develop advanced services for citizens and companies. At the same time, it could foster the current demand of broadband that often seems still weak and immature.
OPEN DATA LIMITATIONS
The expression open data refers to clusters of data that can be free accessed by anyone, without copyright restrictions, patents or other control methods preventing them from being totally reproduced. In the promoters intentions, many information owned by public administrations and government-owned companies should be made available to citizens and the whole society according to the open data model, typically through web sites or portals. In this way, it is possible to increase the transparency in the procedures of public administrations. Moreover, citizens, companies and other public administrations are enabled to develop applications that can develop added value services to the whole society.
This approach shows a series of limitations:
– Lack of standards: since open data are provided in a variety of formats, it is difficult to access and enhance them (they are often data files in text format, Excel or Csv).
– Lack of tangible meaning: data provided are rough or hardly intelligible, so it is often difficult to decode quickly these information sets.
– Open data are typically snapshots: open data generally are a snapshot of the administrations data taken in a given moment.
– Unidirectional approach: the adoption of open data makes it possible to access and browse public administrations data sources, but doesnt allow third parties to update them (whenever possible and useful, according to predefined procedures).
Summing up, certainly open data are motivated by noble and extremely important reasons. For sure, in some cases this approach can be helpful and sufficient to foster transparency, information diffusion, and wide involvement of the society.
THE NEED OF EXTENDING A CONCEPT
Nevertheless, open data supporters can only achieve many of their goals by facing some key questions through an integrated and exhaustive approach. Some of these priorities (in particular regarding information meaning and standardization) deal with the consolidation and development of the open data concept. Others necessarily require the extension of that concept and the involvement of more advanced models of information management and sharing.
What would be useful and why?
The concept of open data should be extended to create what we can define an open service. Through an open service, a functionality of a public administrations information system (a command) is made available on the Internet. The system can be directly invoked by other web sites or applications so to extract information or to require the execution of specific operations. From a technical viewpoint, the issue is to create web services (software fragments) exposing on the Internet the functionalities (and not only the data) of an information system.
An example of applications using open services could be a site providing real time information on infomobility through the aggregation and processing of traffic data from different transport system providers (highways, public transports, train, plane, etc.). This site couldnt be realized through the exposition of mere open data by the individual providers (a static picture with information on the status of a transport system in a given moment).
Conversely, if each provider develops an open service able to return, on demand, the system status in that moment, it is possible to implement applications or sites that exhaustively and promptly extract, integrate, and process real time information sets. Besides, open services could increase the single providers databases with further information, gathered, for instance, by the users of the different transport systems. This is exactly the experimentation currently realized for Milans Expo 2015 through the adoption of an extended mash-up system. (1)
What the advantages of open services?
Since an open service can actually include open data and make them accessible, according to a minimalist interpretation an open service could be reasonably considered equivalent to open data. Nevertheless, the concept of open service goes beyond the mere exposition of rough data. It gives the opportunity to define the logic and format according to which information is extracted and made available, enabling the development of dynamic and interactive internet applications and not only the exposure and processing of data clusters. Besides, in accordance with specific controlled and monitored procedures, open services could also update, and not only access, a public administrations database.
Why discussing this topic that seems particularly specialistic and detailed? Because the choice to develop open services and not only to share open data has a deep impact on public administrations policies and strategies. While it is rather easy to make open data available on a web site, it is more complex to share an open service. In brief, creating open data is easier, but less helpful to develop advanced and valuable applications for end-users. Creating open services is more complex and expensive, but provides many more chances and opportunities.
Summing up, the creation of open services requires a governance and an organizational and technological strategy, so to define how to create and make services available. This issue should be therefore one of the key items in a digital agenda programme. In particular, fillinga catalogue with a continuously increasing number of open services should become the reference objective to enable the development of applications and consequently of usefulservices for public administrations, citizens, companies, and the whole society. This would be a disruptive turning point for public administrations and a crucial step for the development of valuable services like smart cities and smart communities. In fact, it is the intelligent and standardized sharing of elementary data and functions that enables the creation of advanced services for citizens, companies, and the whole society.
(1) Mash-up: web site or web application of a hybrid type, i.e., dynamically including information or contents from multiple sources.