What do we need to foster Open Data in B2B?

Occurrence of newspaper articles writing about “open data”, based on current Implisense news index for Germany
Occurrence of newspaper articles writing about “open data”, based on current Implisense news index for Germany

Being a leading B2B Sales Intelligence and Marketing Automation provider in Germany Implisense offers services critically relying on public and open data, e.g. company websites, register data, industry data and geo-data. With our ODINE-Project, the European Company Explorer Platform, ECEP, we want to offer our users a new analytical tool to monitor existing trends and to detect new trends in the European company landscape.

Due to the present and future importance of open data for ECEP – and Implisense in general – it is critical to us to have a solid and concurrent understanding of the European open data landscape. This contribution marks the beginning a series of blogs centred around open data in Germany. It is based on our experiences when building our open data network. It shall also raise the concerns of a previously rather silent, but important group of open data stakeholders: small innovative businesses.
Next in this series, we will use our Big Data Analytics to identify and analyse further companies and firms being part of the German Open Data ecosystem.

Open Data Ecosystem in Germany

Engaging into open data we have encountered different types of players in the German open data ecosystem. We distinguish between politicians and clerks, civil organizations, small innovators and large enterprises just starting to discover the potential of open data. Hence, we will use this distinction to discuss the current status of open data provision in Germany.

Politicians and Civil Servants – Decision Makers

In recent times, we have experienced a noticeable uplift in open data activities in Germany, especially after the constitution of G8 Open Data Charta. Politicians start to treat this topic more seriously. Both the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure have launched large-scale funding programs for data-driven projects and companies partially covering open data business models: the Smart Data fund and the mFund programmes. The first draft of the Open Data Law has been worked out and we are feverishly awaiting its release. Given the rising popularity of Big Data Analytics more and more large enterprises begin to realize the potential of open data as one important source of intelligence for their businesses. 

Yet, from our point of view as a B2B startup, there are several serious problems with opening data in Germany, which partially drives us to expand to a new market, the UK, as early as possible.

In particularly, we struggle with:

  • the lack of economically highly relevant open data, e.g. financial company data
  • the restricted coverage or depth of relevant open data, e.g. industry import-export statistics on for different levels industrial classification
  • the lack of legal clarity regarding the provision of certain open data, some data are announced to be fully open soon, in practice however there are still barriers to their access, e.g. company register data
  • the lack of “open data thinking”, understanding open data as a comprehensive concept and setting open data defaults, rather than a random provision of very different data sets

From our perspective many reasons for these shortcomings lie the nature of the German political system, depend on the individual skills and motivation of the responsible civil servants and are boosted by the undifferentiated public privacy concerns about publishing data of what kind so ever.

For instance, we experienced various workshops on open data where communal politicians complained about the lack of incentives for providing open datasets to the public. Typically, it is done by enthusiastic civil servants, who are willing to invest the final hours of a long working day to create some additional benefits for the community. There is no legal obligation for doing so as the current norms only recommend public authorities to provide data in an open format and if this is in line with the feasible expenditures of doing so, see this PDF. In addition, communal clerks often lack the skills or an easy-to-handle platform to make the data available in a suitable way.

Moreover, due to the federal system the responsibility to open up administrative data is scattered over several ministries, of which some are state specific. This leaves always the option to deny the responsibility for stagnating open data provision and multiplies any effort to engage into a full scale coordinated open data agenda.

The case of the company register data illustrates some additional problems. The intention to provide register data is prominently stated by the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs. However, the provision of the company data is split across various local courts, the data input is manually maintained displaying countless spelling mistakes and inconsistencies. The task of providing an access to the data is delegated to a commercial provider having a monopoly for the register data, especially financial company data. Hence, preserving a totally outdated and unproductive business model at the cost of slower innovation through analytics with company data.  

Nonprofits – Facilitators

The second group of open data players in Germany are non-profit institutions and foundations. There is an increasing number of think tanks, NGOs and such alikes that discover this topic for themselves. These players try to help politicians to address the issues above. However, for us Berlin based non-profit institutions and foundations played a key role in creating an open data network. For instance, one of the most active local institutions in the field of Open Data is the Technologiestiftung Berlin. It hosted numerous events around the usage and provision of open data, like the OD-Day Berlin in may 2016. Moreover, it has published some often referred to publications on the value (“Digital Gold”) and practical use of open data (“Open Data in Practice”).

Recently, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung has also engaged into the topic of open data. The KAS is the party foundation of the Christian Democrats. It focuses on the overall economic value of open data and on Open Government topics. The involvement of a think tank so close to the biggest German party is important for the provision of open data. It also shows that this topic is at the verge of being taken seriously by politicians.  

One of the first institutions working on the subject of open data was the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung in Berlin. To our knowledge this foundation engaged into the open data with a workshop in fall 2015, primarily focusing on Open Government and the issue how to open German administrative data faster. This foundation operates on federal level and was able to bring together some interesting Open Data stakeholders from civil society and politics.  

There are many other institutional players that we have encountered on various events. Some of them concentrate not only on the promotion of open data but also provide, use and / or generate public value from them, e.g. Wikimedia or the Forschungszentrum Informatik in Karlsruhe, providing research for the Smart Data Program by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs (BMWi). We also do not to mention the critical efforts of the Open Knowledge Foundation in developing an open data ecosystem in Germany.

Small Companies and Startups  – Value Creators

These businesses typically generate value from open and public data by providing analytical services or simply information for specific B2C, B2B use cases. There is an increasing number of publications on this subject. For instance, the study by the Technologiestiftung mentioned above or the “Open Data”, a publication by the KAS including positive examples on the use of OD. Many of these companies create value out of open data and naturally have a strong interest in a better provision of these. Yet, they are tentatively small and have few influence on this process. Apart from Implisense a strong interest in the provision of machine-readable register data could have similar B2B Analytics providers. Examples for such businesses are Kantwert, a company focusing on link graph analysis of firms, and IPlytics, a market intelligence platform focusing on IP. Importantly, one should also account for other startups creating innovation using services based on such data and, hence benefiting indirectly from them, for instance, Spotfolio, a matching platform for high tech companies. There are also international stakeholders to opening German company register data, like Dato Capital or Open Corporates.

As opposed to these rather innovative companies, there is a not too small group of SMEs which is still building their business models simply on reselling links to company data available at the company register, e.g. unternehmensverzeichnis.de and moneyhouse.de. More surprisingly, even leading German business information providers, like Bürgel Wirtschaftsinformationen, are still relying on manually verifying company information through interviews instead of focusing on analytics and data mining.

Yet, particularly companies without extracting additional public data pools and or providing additional analytics, i.e. not innovating, are prone to changes in this domain. Accordingly, they are potential opponents to the provision of more open data.

Large Companies – Consumers (and Suppliers)

There are two types of open data players in this segment. Firstly, large companies actively exploring the disruptive potential of open data, for instance, Deutsche Bahn with DB Systel. Secondly, we consider large companies that start to realize the potential of open data to boost the efficiency or effectiveness of their core enterprise functions. This group of stakeholders is nicely reflected by the leads of our business, large enterprises from ICT, finance and publishing.

The establishment of our company was favoured by the realization of the potential of (big) data analytics for sales departments. This, in turn, led to the acceptance for analyzing external data sources for internal MI and BI purposes. Now, we observe that open data being part of our analytical services are increasingly recognized as a valuable source helping to establish a more effective sales process. To be more clear, more open data, like information on financial statements, could contribute to a more accurate segmentation of potential B2B customers for our clients. A better segmentation leads to higher conversion rates. Rising the conversion rates for a few B2B products of a large scale company by a few percentage points can quickly turn into two-digit million dollars of additional profits. In short, there is a free lunch waiting for the big boys, and they are just realizing it is there.

Accordingly, we believe that large enterprises could be key stakeholders to opening up more data in Germany. Whether it is for the increase in efficiency in B2B sales or a higher usability for private consumers as long as large companies are beginning to understand the value of open data to their businesses the demand for the provision of open data will increase as well. At the same time these large companies have the political weight to affect the political process of opening data sustainably. Examples for such companies can be found by looking at the mFund and Smart Data programs.

Some Lessons Learned

We do not claim that our experiences are fully representative. Yet, we think that they offer a valuable first impression about how the German Open Data ecosystem looks like. From the perspective of a B2B startup we arrive at the following key insights:

  • Despite a positive dynamics the process of opening more data in Germany lacks political coordination and incentivization. Especially, in the B2B domain this favours outdated business models, hinders innovation and the creation of economic added value. This is particularly the case for company register data. This does not only apply to technologies directly using open data, but also for any downstream innovation building on these services, for instance in the case of Spotfolio.
  • There are also implicit barriers to this process, particularly the lack of open-data awareness both in the private and the public sectors. Companies do not realize open data as a coherent concept. They use open data without referring to them as such which gives away an opportunity to highlight the benefits from open data. Meanwhile, the public administration works towards a broader open data provision without having a comprehensive strategy. Thereby, they miss out on the opportunity to set defaults for providing the existing data in a higher quality (coverage and depth) and opening up more data sources with maximum social and economic utility in the future, e.g. by harmonizing data standards and data provision processes as well as linking future (non-administrative) open data sources.
  • Large enterprises might play a key role in fostering the provision of open data, as they are in the process of understanding the value of open data. They would have the necessary resources, incentives and political weight to do so.

Note that there is a lot that could and should be done in the political domain about a better provision of open data. However, there are also responsibilities and opportunities that lie within the private sector.

In our next blog article, we will show results from our prototypical “Open Data Radar Germany”. For that we will analyze our open and public company data sources to find further companies and institutions being part of the German open data ecosystem. We also will show what distinguishes them from other companies in Germany. If you have any feedback on this article, do not hesitate to contact us. You can also meet us in person at the this year`s IOCD in Madrid and the ODI-Summit in London.

Written by Alexander Pankratov

Implisense at the IODC 2016 in Madrid

From 6 – 7 October 2016, the Implisense ECEP project team will attend this year’s International Open Data Conference IODC in Madrid. The IODC tries to bring together the relevant actors in the dynamic field of Open Data and to discuss progress and challenges in the provision and use of Open Data. In Madrid we will discuss our open data application ECEP for interactive market and trend analysis of the German and English company landscape with the participants. We are especially looking forward to suggestions for further development and the possibility to enjoy some sun & tapas shortly before autumn : -).

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