Expert Interview Series: Nicolas Terpolilli of OpenDataSoft on the Value of Opening Your Data

Nicolas Terpolilli is the Chief Data Officer of OpenDataSoft, where he's responsible for the data network development.

We recently asked Nicolas for his insight on using data for marketing. Here's what he shared:

Can you tell us about the mission behind OpenDataSoft? How are you hoping to impact the world of data?

We do believe data management has been cornered by IT departments and BI experts for too long. We do believe that business people are more able to leverage their data. So we want to create the simplest tool to empower people in managing their data by themselves and we want to build the most easy to use data network. Data are commoditizing very fast: the more we make them move fast between organizations and people, the broader the impact in the world.

What is Open Data? How is Open Data being used?

Open Data is the simple idea of making part of your data available to everybody online. It implies using easy-to-reuse formats, API, licence and tools. Open Data takes its origin in the public sector and, now, most of the Open Data initiatives come from the public sector. But most of the time, developing Open Data has, first, a direct impact in internal issues. Then, in a second time, it helps the organization becoming innovation ready by allowing anyone to develop new solutions to any problems.

Why should an organization consider opening their data? What are the benefits?

The changes coming from the numerical world are both real and hard. Remember that the entire taxi market in San Francisco five years ago was around $250 million a year. Today, Uber generate $1 billion a year in the city, the market has been totally transformed and the actors have changed. There is a pattern that pops up all the time with numerical business models: they generate more value than they capture. Think about how Amazon opened its logistical infrastructure through API, abandoned some of its margin but imposed itself at the heart of the ecosystem.

I thinks that explains pretty well why Open Data should be in the balance for every company. It's better to forget about some part of the value (even if I think in most organizations the data are not valorized that much) than loosing your position at the heart of an ecosystem.

How can businesses use open data to better serve their customers?

There are a lot of different use cases. The most obvious ones are when some business get to know their customers by enriching their CRM data with Open Data. But opening data can be a way to deliver a service to your customer. French rail company SNCF has published a real-time API of every lost object found in the different trains. Forgetting a laptop on a train is a terrible frustration. Having an easy way to be sure it has been found helps a lot!

What are the risks involved with Open Data? What precautions should organizations make?

There is nothing 100 percent risk-free when talking about data online. But I would say opening some data as an organization is a good way to avoid most of the people prone to hack your service. Maybe the most important risk is the regulation one. Regulations on data are not the same depending on the country and they evolve all the time. Staying in touch with them is tough.

What steps should organizations take to open their data?

From our experience there is no good and efficient use case without a kind of data ambassador. Somebody who masters both the data architecture in the organization and all the "political" factors. That's really important, it's not necessarily a tech person or a data scientist. But it's definitely someone who masters human relations and planning. Then usually the next important step is mapping all the data in the organization. Knowing who has what data and how they circulate is key. Usually with those two conditions, our customers develop great use cases.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting ways you've observed open data being used?

Besides what I described as a great Open Data policy, I'm always excited when some network effects take place in the Open Data world. That's really what we are focusing now at OpenDataSoft. And when I observe a project called API Agro, where open datasets about agriculture, chemistry or weather forecast are combined , aiming to help every former, well I'm super-excited!

What trends are you following in Open Data? What are your predictions for the future?

I think the network idea is growing more and more. I think the next big thing in the data world is all about making the data and the network intelligent by themselves. For now I think the semantic web/linked data technologies have made some huge progress but are still only used by experts. The moment it will be democratized, the data networks will be much more powerful.

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