The Open Data Institute called for the UK Government to make it compulsory for mapping apps to share data to enable startups to develop autonomous cars, drones and transport apps. Finlay Clark, head of Waze UK, looks at the initiatives already in place and opportunities for improvement through sharing data around the globe.

The Open Data Institute’s (ODI) announcement followed a report by the UK Government which predicted geospatial data could generate £9-12 billion (10-13 billion) for the UK if the data was shared more widely. Geospatial data, which describes data relating to a geographical place, is not in short supply. Big tech companies such as Apple, Uber, Google and Waze use it to run mapping software — it’s what ensures your parcels arrive at the right place and how your navigation app knows where you are going.

The data helps to inform wider decision making such as advance routing recommendations or which environmental policies to implement, and in the digital age is a vital resource for improving infrastructure and enabling innovation.

Sharing is good

The ODI stresses the need for more companies to start sharing geospatial data. This would benefit not only technology firms, but the data would also help the public sector gain a greater understanding of our environment as well as improve access to health facilities, schools and green spaces.

Currently, geospatial data which includes the address of a building, the boundaries of cities and regions and the extent of floodplains, is not widely available and in most part comes at a cost or is completely in accessible.

The study places a lot of emphasis on large tech companies who don’t share data — it highlights them as “data monopolies” whose information could benefit startups and the Government.

Companies that rely heavily on and continually gather geospatial data such as Strava and Garmin, use the data obtained to create accurate, sophisticated maps of users movements which in some cases, the report explains, far surpasses those of public sector organisations.

There is no reason why data similar to these examples cannot be shared anonymously if the insight would be valuable and beneficial to other organisations in the development and innovation of future plans and technologies.

The ODI calling for the Government to make geospatial data sharing compulsory is a good move — companies with the data have a responsibility to work together to improve the world we live in. Australia, for instance, is leading by example with its commitment to open data.

Its Government has been working on various initiatives since 2010, with the introduction of data.gov.au (a way to find and access various datasets including geospatial data), National Map (an online search of geospatial data) and more recently PSMA Geocoded National Address File.

Waze is committed to sharing its data with cities to help solve transportation issues and improve the lives of billions of people around the world. In 2014, Waze launched the Connected Citizens Program to create a free, two-way data exchange with governments, transport authorities, research groups and councils. So far more than 800 partners have signed up globally.

Finlay Clark

Partnerships are powerful

Waze’s partners include transport authorities such as TfL, which has committed to the syndication of its own data and relies on Waze’s real-time crowdsourced information to help keep traffic flow moving throughout the capital.

The open exchange of data means TfL can be agile as it uses the data to identify and react to incidents or heavy traffic, for example, and respond quickly to avoid the disruption reaching its peak. It’s the perfect example of a successful partnership between a tech company and a transport authority that provides huge benefits.

Other partners include The Alan Turing Institute, which uses Waze data to feed into its own software to improve air pollution in London and EENA, which partners with Waze to improve emergency response times in France, Austria and Italy.

The exchange of data between partners is a natural direction because the best mobility solutions come from technology that empowers people to work together. It makes sense for companies like Waze, Apple and Uber to share data to improve the world we live in by keeping it moving.

If, by sharing geospatial data, big tech companies can help to inform and lead to greater innovation in emerging technologies, then it should be done. In a time where the conversation around data is often negative, we would be acting as pioneers in creating confidence, reliability and authenticity in data-sharing that is trustworthy and beneficial for all.

The sharing of data in even the simplest terms can help shape our future — data is the ‘gold’ of this century and a perfect example of using technology for the good of humanity.

The author of this blog is Finlay Clark, head of Waze UK

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