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Each year, CompTIA advocacy members from the State Government Affairs (SGA) National Committee and the State and Local and Education (SLED) Public Sector Council Executive Committee meet to network and hear from speakers on emerging federal and state policy and governance issues impacting the U.S. tech industry. This year’s National SGA and SLED meeting was held November 15 to 16 in Nashville, and offered a range of sessions, including a panel about open data and the intersection of business and government; a fascinating session on the future of human-centered data science and artificial intelligence; a look at the intersection of federal, state and local policies related to unmanned aerial vehicles; and an election wrap-up that analyzed national and state election results.
We kicked off the meeting with a panel titled, “Open Data and the Intersection of Business and Government.” Panelists Timothy Hwang, CEO, FiscalNote, Inc.; Robert Metzger, Shareholder; Rogers Joseph O’Donnell, PC; and Hudson Hollister, Executive Director and founder, Data Coalition, were asked by moderator Ryan Khuri of FiscalNote, Inc., “Despite open data having the potential to spur innovative thinking, job growth and economic opportunity, what hesitations and risks should be evaluated before embracing this modern gold rush?”
Hollister said business opportunities in open data exist for state governments in four areas: spending, business reporting, law, and the publication of regulatory information. He stressed that without data standards, published data might not be useful. He said moving towards standardization is the next stage. He believes governments should adopt non-proprietary data standards to make the information they generate and collect fully interoperable and searchable. Second, wherever government information is legally public, it should be published as open data, freely available in bulk, without licensing or registration restrictions. He said the transformation of government information into standardized, open data improves democratic accountability, enables better public-sector management and allows compliance processes to be automated. For the private sector, the transformation is creating a new industry. Once government information is expressed as standardized, technology companies can build solutions that republish it to improve democratic accountability, analyze it to enable better management and automate compliance processes.
Hwang wants to unlock open data and make it useful across industries by leveraging cutting-edge artificial intelligence and design to connect organizations to the information they need and ultimately empowering these organizations. “Data is the new gold and it’s important to work with the government to determine and prioritize data sets,” he said. He would like to see government leaders publish the data they’re collecting — and citizens everywhere should push them to do so.
Metzger stressed that not all government data is created equal. There is data about money paid by the tax payer, infrastructure data and data available in formats that make the information hard to work with — like PDFs, which are not easily used in real-time web applications. He stressed that we need to distinguish data and beware that exploitation can go too far – that there are risks of open data including violating privacy and possible misuse and misinterpretation of data.
Hollister and Hwang both felt that opening data to the public that has been previously unreleased by government can facilitate government transparency, accountability and public participation as well as support technological innovation and economic growth by enabling third parties to develop new kinds of digital applications and services.