DATA: Open Data, Transparency, and Efficient Markets

Control of information and data equates to control of people and markets. Warnings from Milton to Orwell and the ideological struggle between capitalistic and socialistic market approaches increasingly result in greater wealth and freedom.

At Chicago’s Techweek 2011  conference, the evolution toward freedom and away from control  manifested in Friday talks through the benefits of greater access to raw data, whether government data or market data. Information drives democracy and business, and the internet economy is “democratizing” the data required for both. “Data is the rocket fuel of the internet economy,” said Aneesh Chopra chief technology officer of the United States at his Techweek keynote speech.

Tapping the vast trove of government data to create applications can help citizens get more from their government at less cost while making government operations more accountable. “Simple information transparency can reduce costs,” he said.

The City of Chicago and the federal government are both using public challenges for apps and other ideas. “We’re crowdsourcing ways to make the city more efficient by providing raw data feeds,” said John Tolva, chief technology officer of the City of Chicago, in his keynote.

Data feeds are updated regularly by the city and made available to app developers. To see what’s available, check out the City of Chicago’s Data Portal. It contains thousands of datasets, maps, files and documents, charts, etc. Just fascinating.

Federal challenges include Health and Human Services’ Community Health Data Initiative , listed through the Administration’s Open Government Initiative.

Open government and data transparency in the context of the Obama Administration’s healthcare IT innovation initiative were the major themes of Chopra’s talk. “We will democratize government data,” he said. As I expect of a representative of the Obama administration, he’s a terrific orator and inspiring speaker, focusing throughout his talk on success stories of individuals while weaving in details of program initiatives.

One hope is that the private industry will follow suit and release more data.  That appears to be the case with the Blue Button, which allows individuals to download healthcare data. It started in the Veterans Administration and has been adopted by other agencies and private health organizations and companies.

It was apparent to me that there clearly is money in healthcare innovation if you can mine data for insight into how to provide better health for individuals, less costly payment options, and more efficient operations for the whole system.

The theme of transparency, based on increased access to data, continued in the afternoon session on financial innovation. Moderated by Jeff Carter, a co-founder of Hyde Park Angles and former CME board member, the panel featured four entrepreneurs creating trading exchanges and infrastructure to support for new markets.

All of the firms are based on the premise that transparency is critical for efficient markets. Markets are not efficient if they are not transparent, and markets are transparent when sufficient data are available on sellers and trades. The availability of market data itself can lead to the creation of trading in markets that did not exist.

“With transparency comes benefits. One of those benefits is a lower cost of capital,” said Nic Perkin, president, The Receivables Exchange. The firm’s platform requires companies wanting to list receivables for sale on the exchange to provide public cash flow and balance sheet data updated quarterly, something the small and medium sized business rarely need to do. “We bring transparency and standardization to market that typically has not had it.”

The data available on private companies in the internet space, for instance, led to the creation of an investment market for those companies, noted Adam Oliveri, managing director at SecondMarket, “a leading online destination for accessing market data”. You could easily see things like membership growth so the private exchange had information to work with.

The word “democratization” and the importance of increased data cropped up in Friday’s talks from Chopra’s to Craig Newmark’s and again in remarks from the financial innovation panelists.  As Perkin said, “The internet democratizes everything.”