Article
Written by Nick Driver
Posted on 14/10/2015

Data transparency: the case for it and the benefits to business

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The potential for open data and the businesses that exploit it is huge. However, many still need convincing that data transparency should be embraced.

Data transparency is most often associated with governments and the information they release on citizens, policy, spending and other broad matters. The thinking is that by making data freely available to all for any function, authorities become more accountable and citizens are empowered. However, businesses are also being encouraged to increase the transparency of their own operations, impact and income for similar reasons.​

It is unsurprising that some business owners will be staunch opponents of data transparency, citing the effect on privacy, intellectual property and competition. However, with the right approach, any firm can benefit from the information that is shared freely by other businesses and government bodies.

Data drives innovation

If data transparency means more freely available information and knowledge, it should logically follow that this knowledge can fuel business innovation. Firms can learn from each other and use these lessons to solve problems, enhance products or services and improve their business processes.

This benefit is one of the drivers behind the UK government’s own open data activities. For example, the Ordnance Survey (OS) launched a sophisticated digital map back in March with the aim to “generate opportunities for enterprise, drive innovation in the digital economy, increase demand for new apps and services and help data-driven businesses to grow”.

There are many more examples of how government data transparency can been leveraged by businesses for their own development. Data.gov.uk is the UK government’s own open data portal where information on everything from the location of cooling towers to obesity statistics can be accessed. Firms can use these insights to build a more accurate picture of their market, identify revenue driving opportunities and develop appropriate risk management strategies. 

Build trust among stakeholders and shareholders

Alongside innovation, embracing data transparency within an organisation can help to build stronger long-term relationships with investors and stakeholders. The reason for this is simple. Transparency leads to accountability among decision makers and the business as a whole, which in turn encourages them to act more responsibly.

By communicating these responsible practices, firms will be viewed with more trust by consumers and considered a safer investment among prospective and current shareholders. The opposite is true too. Corporations that are reluctant to follow their forward-thinking peers may well be considered untrustworthy. As more companies adopt a transparent approach to data, it becomes the new normal, and stakeholders will learn to expect it. By not following the trend, your business puts itself at a disadvantage.

Promoting cross-departmental collaboration

The concept of open data extends to the free sharing of information within a business as well as externally, and this can empower departments to collaborate with greater success. Once again, opportunities for innovation are enhanced when knowledge becomes freely available.

When each department gains a deeper understanding of all others, they can share a new perspective on how to create value. The coming together of multiple minds from across an organisation also breeds collective intelligence, which is typically more powerful than the input of an individual.

True data transparency will need the buy in of every government, body and business. Achieving this may well seem like an impossible task, but it doesn’t mean your business cannot benefit from open data today. By exchanging knowledge, taking advantage of what is already out there, and imbedding the free sharing of information within your own firm, you can thrive.