A Belfast software company has developed a product to help the public read and understand government information as it becomes available. Anaeko, who specialise working with raw data, have developed a unique software product to make public information more accessible to anyone who wants to use it. They are now further encouraged by the recent launch of Open Data NI (www.opendatani.info) – a public website with information from some of Northern Ireland’s government departments.
Anaeko has a staff of 20 and was founded in 2004 by Denis Murphy to address the shortcomings of existing data integration technology.
Colm Hayden, the company’s Technical Director says that information from Open Data NI is just the beginning and sets out some practical and useful ideas for products that could be developed using public information. “A company like Anaeko can take information from government data and mash it up with Google Maps to build a ‘Find my Nearest Doctor’ iPhone application for example.” Another application could be for anglers. “If you had information on the level of water in the rivers collected by NI Water you would know when it is a good time to go fishing. That could be built as a public information application” Another product might be good for business and the domestic user. “If you take information on the tracking of cattle and meat products, then you can ensure food traceability. So there are a range of applications through making public information available through simple technology.” The public will have access to data and a means by which they can understand it and use it.
“As the industry moved to Web 2.0 and cloud based computing, new and unique challenges emerged in data management.” Colm explains. “These include policy based inter-organisational data exchange, open data access and data mash-ups. At Anaeko, we examined how existing technology failed to meet these challenges and developed the Anaeko Data Agility Server (A-DAS) to solve these problems. We are confident that our A-DAS technology is uniquely positioned to become the data fabric for cloud computing.”
The recently launched government website Open Data NI will be one source for information. The website sets out to improve access to government information and data, and stimulate creative use of that information and data beyond the walls of government. It acknowledges that the owner of government information is the public, but sometimes it is all but impossible to get it.
Opendatani includes searchable catalogues that provide access to "raw" datasets and various tools. The information is not available in uniform formats.
“The Anaeko Data Agility Server can provide the tools for government to publish data, and for citizens and private sector to innovate on the government’s behalf. Data formats aren’t standardised. It is impractical, and perhaps even impossible, to standardise data formats across all government departments.”
The system aggregates rather than reorganises the information and as applications develop it is likely that the public will add to the official information available.
Many countries are ahead of Northern Ireland in making government information available but in Colm’s view, there are a few key individuals in government departments here who understand that making more information available as a valuable public service. “There are individuals in the private sector that recognise that if some of this information was made available, particularly research statistics that can drive business models and further develop the NI economy.”
The Anaeko plan is to start with the information that is available but not in an easily digestible format and use that to prove the concept and to promote the use of this information. They hope that the barriers to getting the information will be broken down over time.
“I think that moving beyond the initial data sets in the opendatani.info web site is one move that we need to take and that means speaking to each of the departments evangelising the idea giving them the confidence that this will reflect well on them and then to cultivate a system where all of the creative people can start using that information in creative ways.”
“There is potentially real economic benefit because the information that is collected has a direct bearing on what is happening in Northern Ireland today. It is statistical information that not only reflective of what is happening now, but shows the trends that have evolved over the years.”