State rolls out open data portal

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Collins

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The State of Delaware introduced its open data portal  https://data.delaware.gov  to a packed house late Wednesday afternoon.

The event was held at the 1313 Innovation business incubator at Hercules Plaza in downtown Wilmington.

The site offers about 30 data sets ranging from restaurant inspection information to data on education and economic development.

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Prospective parents will even be able to find out popular baby names.

30 data sets offered

The kick-off event was hosted by the Technology Forum of Delaware and Open Data Delaware, a group that advocates the use of data that can be easily accessed by the public and business.

The data comes in formats that allow the use charts, graphs, and other visual tools, rather than spreadsheets. The goal is to have users view the data with an eye toward improving operations.

The release of such data in Canada led to billions of dollars in savings when citizens found fraud and other problems in payments to contractors and others doing business with the government.

Silicon Valley bike ride

Gov. Jack Markell told those attending the press conference he became interested in open data while visiting the Silicon Valley of California.  During a bike ride, he listened to his fellow riders discuss the trend.

Markell said he called Delaware Chief Information Officer James Collins and learned that work was already under way on open data.

Since that time, Open Data Delaware and Zip Code Wilmington joined the effort. Zip Code is a coding “boot camp” that can lead to high-paying jobs for those competing for the program.

David Ginzburg of Zip Code Wilmington told those in attendance the data would be used in the curriculum of the program.

 Cloud rules out ‘backdoor’ access to state computers

The vendor for the program is Socrata, a Seattle-based company that is doing open data work for states and municipalities around the country.

Collins said the portal reflects the change in government moving from manila folders to the technology age.

A panel discussion that followed the press conference showed some wariness over data being available online and the possibility of hacking.

Collins noted that the portal is on  Socrata’s cloud-based system and does not offer “back door” access to the state’s  information technology system.

Reluctance to release  data

Delaware Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf said the data sets should also reduce the number of freedom of information requests that take up staff time.

Collins said the reluctance of some state departments to release aggregated data remains an issue.

The state is also proceeding carefully on releasing data sets. The state does not want to post data sets that cannot be easily updated data sets, Collins noted.

Also, a part of the portal is the State Checkbook, which has been around since 2009 and allowed individuals to look at state spending;

Spending watchdog/

The goal is to increase transparency in government,  Markell said.

Supporters of the portal hope crunching of the data can help individuals and agencies do a better job in managing to spend and dealing with tough issues.

For business, the data can aid in determining a location and perhaps building a mobile app that can put the information in a more usable form, panelists said.

Markell, a long-time technology advocate, said at the news conference that the use of technology could have unexpected benefits.

For example, the Uber and  Lyft ride-sharing apps have helped reduce the number of people driving under the influence, he noted.

Markell supported efforts by Uber and Lyft to come to Delaware, a move that was not warmly received by the taxi industry.

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