Open data: Bridging the digital skills gap

Many people have set their sights on 2020 as a year the world comes to terms with the digital revolution. It is a revolution driven by data and the proliferation of mobile devices and superfast connectivity. The speed at which we’re hurtling towards an uncertain future is unsettling and chaotic for most people. One of the greatest challenges we face is a lack of knowledge and understanding.

Back in 2013 IBM announced that 90% of the world’s data was produced in the previous 2 years; although this stat has not yet been updated, what we do know is that it is getting worse/better, depending on your views!

-By 2020, data will be created by as many as 50 billion connected devices worldwide (Ericsson)

-Smart cities will generate real time data requiring instant analysis looping back to those 50 million connected devices

-The world’s data will increase six-fold year-on- year for the next two years, while corporate data will grow fifty fold. (Technorati/Cisco)

-By 2020, the average person will maintain 130 terabytes of personal data (Cisco IBSG, 2009)

-Some predict that the first quantum computer (atomic computing, much more powerful, much faster – explanation here) will be in use as early as 2020.

This gap in digital skills is only now being addressed around the world. There is no real value put on platforms and open data, except by the few. By open data I mean information and content that is properly marked up to move around the web and available for reuse.

Why is open data important?

When acting as Commissioner on The Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy I was often asked what was the single most important recommendation we could make. I always replied: open data. Here is why:

Imagine if you go online to buy a pair of purple trousers. You have a bit of a look around and regardless of whether you bought them or not; the purple trousers will thereafter follow you around the Internet. In other words, somewhere on your Facebook page, your inbox, your online news channel, you will see purple trousers suggested/marketed to you.

Through the growth of mobile advertising, we have come to expect this, even though we used to find it unnerving. These learned behaviours and smart algorithms are embedded in every aspect of the online experience and have become something we accept and assume as normal.

This happens because that ‘purple trouser’ data is open to move about. Our learned behaviour pattern means that we are more than likely to miss a piece of information or advertisement if it is not directly placed into our digital space.

For instance, when Parliamentary data is open you will find out about what is happening in Parliament that might interest you, using exactly the same algorithm that is used to serve you every variety of purple trousers.

Bridging the digital skills gap

As we’ve seen, data on consumer online behaviour, preferences and purchasing history delivers invaluable insight to businesses for developing and marketing their products and services. However, once a business decides they need to capture customer data, what is the most efficient, safe and secure way to do this?

For the next ten years or so, there will be a significant shortage of programming skills worldwide, due to high demand, and an insufficient talent pool. Therefore businesses need to consider a short, mid and long term strategy so as not to fall behind and stay competitive that follows:

Short-term: run professionally organised hackathons with your data

Mid-term: invest in training your staff in data science, management and engineering, recruit well

Long-term: build strong partnerships with communities who are working with young programmers to build a solid pipeline of technical talent

The opportunities offered up by the digital renaissance are many, but it will require nerves of steel and grim determination to get through the next few years of unmanaged growth in order to catch the wave of 2020.