Friday, 15 December 2017

Delivering a data infrastructure - appropriation, the value chain and intermediaries

Apropos of not very much and being as it is almost the Friday before Christmas, some ponderings.

There has been a bit of a spat (I caught some of it on Newsnight) about cultural appropriation brought on by a journalist seeking expert input to improve the quality, insight and value of their work/output. I doubt if there is a single Twitter user who hasn't had or seen a similar request across their timeline. Various epithets might be applied to such requests/exchanges: open, transparent, accessible, sharing, what the web is for etc. It sometimes seems that others might equally apply: cheeky, cheapskate, lazy. This is especially true when what one is being asked to impart is part of the value - the knowledge, insight and wisdom that comes with age and experience, of those being asked. So, easy right, don't answer, don't engage and lose the opportunity to be cited, cross-referenced or widen your social and professional graph. Conflicted?

But then does the actual 'community' become 'divided' whether actually (as in parallel universes of people with little engagement - broadcast vs narrowcast) or philosophically (as in incumbents vs disruptors, complacency vs innovation, nasty vs nice or variants thereof). Innovation has been democratising access to knowledge, if not necessarily wisdom!, since we started writing on tablets (Sumeria, not apple), accelerated by the printing press and the web of course.

In the case of a bald request there may or may not be mutual benefit with likely short-term gain to the enquirer and the promise (and remember hope is not a strategy) of a hard to measure and even harder to attribute positive feedback loop in the longer term for the sharer/donor/muppet and even more remotely to their employer. Fora, like stackexchange, or collaborative offerings, like OSM or openlayers, offer more tangible communities of mutual interest where there is an output, a product that continually improves/develops and delivers benefits through wider use and capability.

One question then relates to that value chain, the appropriation (disruption, dilution, diminution?) of the business model on which it is or has been predicated, the intended and unintended consequences both in short-term and maybe necessary "shake-up" of that chain, vertical, industry etc and in the longer term shape and sustainability of what evolves, comes after.

You only have to look at the state of the roads and stare open-mouthed at some of the repair "techniques" to see the consequences of BAFO and other procurement drivers/models in an environment strapped of every penny. With most UK economic forecasters pessimistic for the next decade and with any number of metrics across health, education and social care (to name but 3 at the heart of what it means to be a modern society) demanding investment from central government, it could be seen as ironic, controversial or counter-intuitive that government is being asked to do more (by the NIC) in other areas. But without broadband improvement the UK Digital Strategy will not benefit the many. Without a modern data infrastructure modern decisions and insights are harder or impossible to come by.

A high speed fixed and wireless communications infrastructure, delivered by the private sector, driven by government, is pretty easily understood by every stakeholder, from the citizen to civil servant to the commentariat. A national data infrastructure is an altogether harder proposition to convey, let alone to see constructed. Much has been made of the spewing forth of open data as the basis for that infrastructure, including some pretty interesting assumptions, some suspect models and some eye-watering numbers (anyone recall Francis Maude's £6bn). No wonder the clarion calls continue.

I noted a couple of weeks ago, "The evolution of a more open data world is to be welcomed as it will usher in new products and new services, likely in ways and in markets that were not foreseen. But that access will actually, as with LinkedData and xml, be, directly, for the few, not the many. Genuine actual access to the value of geographic content is in being able to see and obtain that value directly in the products and services sought by markets and users. And that comes back to investment - in tech, in people and in marketing. There are hundreds, 000s of exciting things that can be done with data, full stop; getting them to market to drive a return on your investment and/or to drive adoption and/or integration that changes behaviours, processes and benefits in ways that are tangible and measurable is perhaps an alternative measure of accessibility.

So data infrastructure, by precedent and by extension, demands a coming together of the data creators with those that (or may choose to) provide the tech, skills and comms to enable that exploitation and that value. The role of such intermediaries will be critical, indeed has been critical since at least the launch of Landsat in the early 1970s. Who are the intermediaries? Today it is a growing array of businesses that in geo alone is estimated to employ 40000 people across start-ups, SMEs and larger enterprise, paying taxes, innovating, beavering away, often a tangential but fundamental part of delivering end user value and return on investment.

Many commentators reference the transport sector as an exemplar of what those intermediaries can do for you and for UK plc what with the profusion of apps that materialised following the release of opening up of their data and feeds by TfL. The citizen-centric, ad-supported, often hard to measure impact-wise, app economy is very far from the only game in town when it comes to intermediaries, characterised as it often (mainly erroneously) is by references to Shoreditch, roundabouts and beards! A long established and successful economy of aggregators, processors, analysts and domain experts embraces the data deluge, focused on end user workflows, use cases and processes at the heart of the UK economy, in construction, in land and property, in housing, in asset management, in energy and infrastructure, renewables and agriculture and for the public sector.

This constituency is the heart of web 3.0 or whatever you want to call it, ready, willing and able to perform a critical role at the heart of a national data infrastructure and to talk about how that can be delivered.

So, with apologies to Peter Gabriel "Come talk to me"!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to ponder my musings and for any contribution you make. Although comments appear immediately (i.e. unmoderated) I will remove (or if possible) edit offensive comments.