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Open Innovation in the private sector

Amanda Brock
14th May 2020

Businesses embracing the sharing of data are seeing tangible benefits for their organisations and across their entire sectors, more should follow suit, here’s why and how.

It is well known that businesses can create value by using third-party data to develop new products and services. But over at the Open Data Institute (ODI), our recent research has shown that businesses can unlock additional value by sharing data too. While it may seem counterintuitive to share data, to succeed in ever-changing markets, it is important to engage in open innovation and work with others to keep up.

A changing landscape of increasingly competitive markets and complex supply chains requires businesses to rethink how they drive innovation; they can no longer expect competitive solutions to solely come from their internal teams. For example, the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning is leading to increased demands for data, which can be costly for individual organisations to collect and maintain. Businesses need to look beyond themselves into their wider data ecosystem in order to thrive.

Our mission is to help build an open and trustworthy data ecosystem that works for all, businesses, governments and individuals alike. Since 2017 we have been undertaking a large-scale research and development (R&D) programme, funded by Innovate UK, to build on our mission and support innovation, improve data infrastructure and encourage ethical data sharing. To those unfamiliar, a data ecosystem consists of data infrastructure – such as data assets, standards, technologies, policies – and the people, communities and organisations that benefit from the value created by it.

The network of organisations in an ecosystem includes suppliers, distributors, customers, competitors, government agencies, and other organisations involved in the delivery of a specific product or service through both competition and cooperation. Last year, we spent time specifically trying to understand how businesses have been creating tangible value for themselves and the ecosystem by sharing data with others across this network.

The findings from this project thrilled us. Our interviews and research with many organisations found that businesses were creating significant value through open innovation and sharing data more widely. We discovered sharing data can assist companies in increasing revenue, reducing direct costs, and improving efficiency in operations.

Our research has highlighted seven key business benefits of sharing data:

We created a case studies series around these seven values to concretely demonstrate the power of data sharing. Highlights include aerospace manufacturer Airbus dropping design time in some processes from weeks to hours; HiLo Maritime Risk Management providing insights to shipping companies resulting in 65% fewer engine room fires; and leisure and activity provider Everyone Active increasing customers by over 11,000 through one open data partnership alone.

Despite these obvious benefits however, our recent YouGov survey indicates that data sharing by British businesses is still low. We found just over a quarter of those sampled are actively sharing data, and even when they have a data strategy, over half are still not engaged in data sharing. There are several reasons for this, including issues around data discovery and access, concerns around legal and ethical issues, and just not having the skills to create value from data.

To tackle some of these issues, we’ve designed our Data Toolkit for Business to help businesses explore their data ecosystem, address ethical concerns and pinpoint the skills needed to achieve their data goals.

Ultimately, businesses must work together to create a stronger data infrastructure that supports data sharing across sectors. Industry groups must convene businesses and explore the benefits of sharing data and encourage collaboration, while governments need to continue to explore ways to both incentivise and require businesses to increase access to data that can create wider benefits.

So, what’s next for the ODI? We continue to look for ways to strengthen our collective data ecosystems to produce valuable and equitable outcomes for organisations and individuals. Our focus this year is ‘data institutions’, organisations with some level of responsibility for stewarding data, and how they can help build trustworthy and sustainable data infrastructure to help tackle common challenges across sectors that individual businesses cannot.

As mentioned above, we are developing tools to help private sector companies share data to unlock innovation and create value for their businesses. You can access these online, to help you plan and deliver your data strategy.

The ODI also provides training, consultancy, and thought leadership to companies seeking to benefit from increasing access to data. If your organisation is looking to launch a data-sharing initiative or realise the value of data it holds through an open approach, contact us today to discuss how we can help.

If you are interested in learning more, please join me on 24 July 2020 (12–1pm) where I will be discussing this research and more at OpenUK’s Friday Future Leaders Training

Josh D’Addario

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