Open Data Institute will help aggregate large data sets and developers create new apps

Ottawa and the private sector are putting a combined $6 million into an independent agency to “realize the full potential” of open data from Canadian governments.

The Open Data Institute was announced this week in the federal budget, which will put $3 million over three years into the unit, to be overseen by the Canadian Digital Media Network. Headquartered in Waterloo, Ont., the network is a federally-funded centre of excellence specializing in commercializing digital ideas and research

Private sector partners in the institute, including Waterloo-based software developer OpenText, will put in another $3 million.

The institute will help aggregate large datasets, develop of interoperability standards and push the development and commercialization of new data-driven apps, the budget says.

“This is a strategic investment in Canada’s ability to lead the digital economy,” Dr. Kevin Tuer, managing director of the network, said in a statement. “Similar to how a common system of telephone exchanges allowed world-wide communication, the Open Data Institute will help create a common platform to share and access datasets. This will allow the development of new applications and products, creating new business opportunities and jobs across the country.”

OpenText CEO Mark Barrenechea said in a statement that the agency will serve as a common forum for government, academia and the private sector to collaborate on open government initiatives with the goal of fueling Canadian tech innovation.

University of Waterloo president Feridun Hamdullahpur said the institute has the potential to strengthen the regional economy and increase our innovative capacity.

A number of Canadian municipalities have been releasing datasets for public use for several years. Since his arrival at Treasury Board (from Industry Canada) Tony Clement has been pushing Ottawa to be more active in pushing out non-personalized data.

The feds are promoting a hackathon at the end of the month to encourage developers to use its open data portal.

Few companies here have been able to commercialize what they can get – although they may make good use of it internally. In the U.S., New York University’s GovLab thinks it has identified 500 American companies using open government data, some commercially and others looking for ways to make their apps and services earn money.

Confirmed users include a company that repackages U.S. restaurant inspection data into easier to read formats; a company that processes financial data from the Securities and Exchange Commission; a cloud service that converts paper information into digital data; and a non profit whose mapping tool allows banks, real estate companies and governments visualize data such as census and labour figures. This last effort had revenue last year of about US$2.4 million.

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