Q & A with David Eaves

March 25, 2015 4:00 am PST | Data as a Service

After his hard-hitting, insightful talk to open data workers about the imperative need to make their operating budgets sustainable, data expert David Eaves sits down for Q&A with his audience.

Goodbye to Big Vendors

The first question gets right down to business: Is Eaves advising open data groups to make themselves sustainable by replacing the big vendor database producers? Eaves responds, “I do believe that cities have been working with systems integrators that are very, very expensive,” highlighting the simultaneous drain on tax dollars and lack of return found in government partnerships with enterprise technologies.

Eaves explains that open data portals offer, “an opportunity to reposition the government in its relationship with those vendors,” because now government agencies can use open data platforms to say, “can you build on top of this data, and can you build systems that will collect this data more effectively.” Eaves calls out this opportunity as, “the most important thing for the sustainability of an open data project.”

How to Do Closed Data

Next, an open data enthusiast points out, to be foundational in a government agency, “you have to work with closed data – what are the tools to do that?” Eaves shares his belief that this is a big part of the answer to budget sustainability. He explains, Socrata can handle closed data and open data equally, “so you can simply say, ‘Here’s a dataset that we want to make available internally but I don’t want to make it available externally.’

 Kevin Merritt, Founder and CEO of Socrata, steps in at this point to offer inside perspective. “The most significant proportion of Socrata’s growth in revenue is actually for internal use cases,” Merritt says. He frames the open data opportunity for governments as, “shifting the multiple millions of dollars that we’re spending on enterprise data technology that is frankly 25 years old,” to a cloud-based platform where datasets can be made usable and pliable, yet also remain internal and closed.

Merritt explains the fundamental change this brings to operations around government data. In his example, a project can go from “costing $2,000,000 in a year and a half,” to being turned around with applications sitting on top ready to use, after “$75,000 in six weeks.” Eaves concurs, adding, “Open data awakens the senses of government CTOs and CIOs about the data assets that they have, and totally changes the way that they think about it.”

Creating a Data Team

The next audience member wants insight into the characteristics of a successful data team. Eaves contends that it’s largely about analytics. Open data portals with the highest success have a designated analytics team, “that is actually going around figuring out how to save agencies money.” The efficiencies discovered and the business problems solved enable open data workers to demonstrate their value, Eaves notes, underscoring the stability agencies create for themselves – compared to waiting and hoping members of the public will visit an open data portal.

Still, Eaves advises audience members to help teams build people skills, to focus on soft skills rather than hard skills. The number one job, Eaves states, is to, “charm the lawyers, get people to love you and be inspired by your vision.”

Success Stories

The last question hits on metrics: How do open data enthusiasts within government agencies catalogue use and show the success that comes from making data accessible? Eaves says the real key to metrics lies in the stories you can share. “The moment you can turn around and say ‘how much money did we save, how many lives did we save’” from the information found while analyzing data, is the moment agencies demonstrate the value of open data – as well as the importance of their work. Discovering life-changing trends and solutions is, “what happens when you start bringing data onto a portal where people can begin to play with it,” Eaves states, noting, “sometimes that’s going to happen in public, sometimes that’s going to happen within city hall.”

One or two success stories of that level, Eaves asserts, will cause bureaucratic heads to turn and say, “maybe this is actually way more strategic than we thought, maybe this is not just being a photocopier.”

Eaves brings Q&A to a close by returning to the theme of his talk, encouraging open data workers to see the opportunities for sustainability and government transformation within their reach. “I wanted to come here and say, ‘wake up to this much, much bigger opportunity, wake up and don’t let it slip you by.’ “

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