Jasmine Whitbread: Public and private sector working together can find data-led solutions for London

Jasmine Whitbread: Public and private sector working together can find data-led solutions for London

The Economist famously claimed that data has replaced oil as the world’s most valuable resource, reflecting a widely held mindset that more and more information should be collected and – more often than not – unfortunately hoarded.

While a mind-boggling 40 trillion gigabytes of data are generated every year, only 0.5 per cent to three per cent are analysed and used for any meaningful purpose. Just thinking about the gigabytes of data that are generated every day in London alone, this seems like a lost opportunity to harness it to transform the way the capital is managed.

Some encouraging progress is being made and London has been a pioneer in using open data to solve problems and improve the lives of Londoners.

Transport for London’s decision to make its real-time data on London’s transport network available open source resulted in hundreds of new apps that have helped to make people’s journeys more efficient, including Citymapper. The London Datastore, 10 years- old next year, has become the repository of the capital’s data. In recent years, the appointment of the chief digital officer – a role championed by London First — and the creation of the new London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) by London Councils have represented huge leaps forward.

But London has not yet unlocked the true potential of data to achieve breakthroughs in the capital’s major challenges, such as skills provision, housing, congestion and overcrowding.

This is partly because much of the focus has historically been on open data. And open data is only the tip of the iceberg. To be a truly digitally powered city, we must also unlock insight from the data held by London’s businesses. That’s why we’ve set up the London Data Commission, working with Arup and Oliver Wyman.

Our aim is to complement the great work on open data being done by City Hall and London Councils and ensure that, in the next 10 years, business works with the public sector to unleash the potential of data to help solve the big issues for London.

We held our first meeting of the Commission earlier this month and asked our newly-assembled Commissioners and key representatives from the Greater London Authority, London Councils and TfL to score how excited they were about the prospect of data sharing. The average score was nine out of 10!

Over the next six months, culminating in London Tech Week next June, we’ll be harnessing their insight to better understand incentives to sharing data, risks and barriers and how that can be balanced with issues around privacy and data ethics. We intend to focus on sharing data for specific problems and identifying pilots where public and private collaboration can provide insights to shape how resources are targeted and deployed – and, in doing so, improve the lives of Londoners.

We’re realistic about the challenges around data sharing – especially commercial and customer data – but we’re hugely optimistic because London First has already had success in working with business to unlock data in the right way. Last year we published Tourist Information, working with Mastercard, Airbnb, and London and Partners, to map international tourist spending and illustrate the economic benefits of encouraging visitors to explore more of our capital. This project demonstrated that business is willing to engage in data sharing where there is a clear outcome and public benefit.

Judging by the rich and lively discussions our Commissioners are already having, I’m confident the next 10 years of the London Datastore will see much more collaboration to generate data-led insights with the potential to transform the lives of Londoners.

Jasmine Whitbread is chief executive of business group London First, whose website originally published this article. Follow Jasmine on Twitter. Photograph: Omar Jan.

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