The tech entrepreneur, author, and investor looks at how open data is becoming a critical tool for business and government, as well as what needs to be done for it to be more effective. A McKinsey & Company article.January 2014
The value of openness
We’re increasingly living in a world of black boxes. We don’t understand the way things work. And open-source software, open data are critical tools. We see this in the field of computer security. People say, “Well, we have to keep this secret.” Well, it turns out that the strongest security protocols are those that are secure even when people know how they work.
Secrecy is actually, it turns out, a fairly weak way of being secure. And I think in a similar way, we have to understand who owns the rules, how are they driven, how are they guiding our behavior. And there may be cases where you say, “Well, actually it’s a reasonable trade-off to have some degree of secrecy.”
We have this with trade secrets all the time in the commercial world. But there are other areas where we should say, “No, we really need to know how this works.”
A platform for innovation
It seems to me that almost every great advance is a platform advance. When we have common standards, so much more happens.
And you think about the standardization of railroad gauges, the standardization of communications, protocols. Think about the standardization of roads, how fundamental those are to our society. And that’s actually kind of a bridge for my work on open government, because I’ve been thinking a lot about the notion of government as a platform.
So much thinking in government is around, “Well, we’re going to build a program to solve this particular problem.” But the most successful government programs to me seem to be platform kinds of programs. And I’m not talking about, “Oh, well, the government funded the Internet originally.”
I’m talking about things like GPS. The fact is that this is a military program that, through a crucial policy decision, was opened up for civilian use. If this was still just for fighter pilots, we wouldn’t have that Google self-driving car. We wouldn’t have maps on our smartphones. And that’s why I think this idea of a platform and the idea of a market go hand in hand so well. Because when you build a really powerful, effective platform, you do enable a market.