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 administration’s 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 doesn’t 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 administration’s 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 couldn’t 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  Milan’s 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 administration’s 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.

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