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Ten open data examples to get CIOs thinking

Say hello to open data; the agricultural industry gets "smarter"; and UNICEF innovates: The Data Mill reports.

Not only are businesses figuring out ways to monetize data and sell it outright, they're also culling information from open data sources to create benchmarks, develop predictive indicators, add another dimension to their analysis, and even brainstorm ideas, according to Doug Laney, research vice president for Gartner Inc.

The Data Mill

For businesses still wondering just what to do with open data, here are 10 examples curated from Laney's presentation at the Gartner Business Intelligence and Analytics Summit:

Embedded open content. Legal assistance site has developed an open application programming interface (API) that provides legal and other websites access to its trove of legal articles. Recipient websites can use the API to embed headlines relevant to their audiences.

Open data mashup. Students at Kansas State University put together a series of seven deadly sins maps from open data sources, depicting contemporary crimes of wrath (violent crimes) or envy (burglary, robbery, larceny and stolen cars) across the United States. "It's a clever example of how different metrics can be mapped," Laney said.

Entertainment and open data. is an interactive, visual search engine that gives users a chance to listen to music and see how the style of one band's music is related to others. The data mashup uses content from YouTube.

Real-time open data. @Fbomb_co is an aggregation of people all over the world dropping "f-bombs." Glorifying profanity? Although the example might not seem particularly useful at first blush, Laney encouraged the audience to consider the value something like this could create if the tweets were highly relevant to the company.

Retail and open data. Provenance is an interactive, online platform in England that lets visitors explore a product's "back story," including where the item was manufactured and who manufactured it.

Syndicated open data. Data that's packaged and sold from syndicated providers costs a little more, but, according to Laney, it's also more reliable. Examples include Factual for data on hotels, doctors and restaurants, or Acxiom for marketing data.

Commercializing open data. aggregates what real estate is for sale in a specific area, but it also provides crime statistics, price trends and connections to mortgage information. provides a similar platform for users to buy and sell vehicles.

Open data and gamification. #tweet-a-lot is a platform that enables businesses to run a tweet competition to get an event or topic trending. Anyone who posts a tweet using the designated hashtag is a player, and players play for a prize.

Banking and open data. The Open Bank Project has created an open API so third-party developers can help banks build secure, modern apps for customers quickly.

Open data catalogues. The ProgrammableWeb is one example of an open data catalogue, with more than 10,000 commercial APIs available to download, Laney said. He also pointed to government organizations, such as, which provides hundreds of open data sets to the public. In cases where open data is overwhelming, open data metacatalogues "will tell you where to go for certain kinds of data," Laney said.

A smarter agricultural industry

Another example from Laney's list: open data and agriculture. The Climate Corporation, acquired by the Monsanto Company in October, leverages open soil and weather data to create crop insurance policies for underserved farmers. And, unlike a typical policy, farmers don't have to file claims. "Once the weather gets out of spec of whatever the policy defines, they automatically pay the farmer," Laney said.

Previously on The Data Mill

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Crowdsourcing can smoke out internal data science talent

Will data discovery tools kill the data scientist?

Now Monsanto (as well as its rival DuPont) is making headlines with its "prescriptive planting" technology, which aggregates data to determine seed depth and crop density when planting to increase output. (The technology is causing a stir, with farmers concerned about the sensitive data Monsanto or DuPont will use for prescriptions.)

So what's next for the big data agricultural industry? "I heard from someone that seeds are now being developed that will transmit information about their individual performance," Laney said. He still needs to verify the information, but the idea seems possible. Pharmaceutical companies such as Proteus Digital Health are developing "smart pills" with digestible sensors to keep track of when a patient has taken a pill, so why not "smart seeds" that reveal what's happening under the soil?

UNICEF and wearable devices

Like every legacy company today, the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is striving to become a digital business. In 1950, UNICEF introduced orange trick-or-treat boxes, encouraging children to carry them door-to-door, asking for donations on Halloween. Initially, the program enjoyed great success, but over the years, participation declined.

"The penetration, even in some elementary schools, went from 40% to 5% over five decades," said Rajesh Anandan, senior vice president of strategic partnerships and UNICEF ventures, at the recent Chief Digital Officer Summit. "So we have to reinvent."

Attempts were made to modernize the program with an online Halloween costume contest and a carve-a-pumpkin mobile application, but at a certain point, Anandan said, UNICEF had to stop and think about who the program's real customers were. "In our case, it actually is the elementary school teacher, because that's our channel." The program found ways to engage the teachers, as opposed to the children, and soon saw participation triple, reversing "a decade of decline," Anandan said.

Now, UNICEF is going further by using cutting-edge technology to develop a month-long mobile experience aimed directly at kids. "We're launching our first wearable in January," Anandan said. The wearable device will keep tabs on "every unit of energy" a participant burns and "convert that into a calorie of nutrition for malnourished kids." The digital platform connects participating kids with their less-fortunate peers and empowers them "to take little actions that are going to change the world," he said.

That's a far cry from little cardboard orange boxes.

Welcome to The Data Mill, a weekly column devoted to all things data. Heard something newsy (or gossipy)? Email me or find me on Twitter at @TT_Nicole.

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