Data - The Infrastructure of the Digital World

Governments provide infrastructure, like roads, sewers, and transit systems, that support economic and business development by enabling entrepreneurs to build businesses. The infrastructure of the digital world is data. As Tim O’Reilly says, data is the “lifeblood of the economy and the nation,” and access to this data is the only way businesses can reap value of the data. With the rise of the Internet and technology, governments can again provide new infrastructure to help businesses succeed and thrive.

Near the corner of 12th Avenue and Madison Street in Denver, Colorado, stands a fabulous bakery and sushi restaurant called Glaze Baum Cake Shop, which was founded by wonderful woman and talented entrepreneur named Heather Alcott. Glaze, like many businesses, struggled before it became successful, and in March of 2014 Heather told her story to the audience at the Go Code Colorado Civic Apps Challenge kickoff event.

Heather’s story is not that unusual for others looking to pick a business location. She didn’t have a Zillow for commercial real estate or a commercial real estate scorecard service like Walk Score. Instead, she did what many entrepreneurs do: she grabbed a notepad and her car keys and drove around the city. For Heather, she happened across a mix of shops and restaurants at 12th and Madison in Denver’s Congress Park neighborhood. The spot seemed perfect and soon Heather signed a lease. What Heather didn’t know is that the businesses on both sides of Glaze pulled permits for major renovation, and just as Heather opened Glaze, construction began.

Heather also missed some other important information for her business. She decided not to open her business on Colfax Avenue, a much better location for business discovery and traffic, because the rents were unaffordable. Heather learned after opening that parts of Colfax had been classified as an enterprise zone with tax incentives that would have made the rents equivalent to rent on 12th and Madison. Heather and Glaze succeeded despite these challenges, but many businesses don’t.

For business owners like Heather Alcott, access to government data would have helped her make better decisions about where to locate her restaurant. Open data helped civic innovators Wojciech Magda and Sean Wittmeyer create Beagle Score, a commercial real estate scorecard. Wojciech and Sean used government data to create Beagle Score, which helps business owners make better-informed decisions about where to locate a business.

The release of open data is a relatively new trend that is growing, but many governments don’t know where to begin. Accela President and CEO Maury Blackman said recently that “we [at Accela] believe so strongly in transparency and the power of open data that we created CivicData.” For over three decades, governments have turned to Accela to provide IT infrastructure that allows the public to more effectively and efficiently access government services. With CivicData, Accela is continuing to support governments’ ability to make communities thrive. CivicData enables governments to make data open and available, while sparking civic engagement with their communities. When communities become more civically engaged, they thrive and we see that as the ultimate civic good.