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Setting the Scene for the Data Econonmy

In 2001, Francis Kaell, who works with the Administration of Cadastre and Topography, came up with the idea to create a geoportal for Luxembourg. The platform centralizes all public sector geo-data with geographical and spatial connotations, setting a high standard for the country’s open data strategy. In early 2017, Kaell joined the Information and Press Department as Head of the Open Data and Information Access Division with the government. Patrick Weber continues to work on geoportail.lu, is Technical Manager of the open data exchange platform data.public.lu, among others, and is an overall expert in the field.
(Featured Image: Francis Kaell and Patrick Weber / Image Credit © Olivier Minaire)
A mine of information

The open data exchange platform data.public.lu is an essential tool for technically mature companies or startups that wish to access public data, process it and use it to develop new technologies. Projects related to mobility are among the most numerous, along with real estate, health and environmental projects. Thus, the data available at data.public.lu can be accessed by anyone, including well-known organizations – such as Google, who integrates it into its mapping services. Any startup could use the information to create an innovative service.

“I remember that some databases were worth tens of thousands of euros when we had all the data located somewhere in our different departments. It was challenging to make them accessible to everyone.”

“In the past, to get access to public sector data, you had to request it from the relevant authority, and you had to know that it existed! The managers of the various services reserved the right to grant or deny access. Faced with the ever-increasing demands and opacity that arose, the open data principle was implemented and laws were voted on and introduced,” Kaell explained. “The legislation and, especially, the conditions of access and data use were not very clear at the time. Did it cost anything, for example? I remember that some databases were worth tens of thousands of euros when we had all the data located somewhere in our different departments. It was challenging to make them accessible to everyone.”

National awareness

In 2003 and 2013 the Public Sector Information (PSI) Directive on the reuse of public sector information established the principle that all data – except for certain exceptions, i.e. if relating to intellectual property rights, national security, confidentiality of data or personal data – should be made public and accessible to as many people as possible, without limiting their access. Similarly, it stipulated the possibility of reusing this data for commercial purposes.

“The Digital Luxembourg initiative was born with the aim of promoting all activities in the digital domain that help make Luxembourg a Smart Nation. Open Data is a priority, so we have jointly launched the portal data.public.lu,” Kaell said.

“Recently the entire anonymized database of individual cars in circulation in Luxembourg, excluding license plates, has been released online by the SNCA. This survey of more than 530,000 vehicles, along with their technical data, can be reused for statistical analysis, for example,”

“We officially launched it during the Game of Code hackathon in March 2016. The challenge set for the 120 participants of this first edition was to find solutions for mobility. Thanks to the datasets that we had made available to them, they were able to work on concrete applications integrating information in real time. For the second edition this year, we had 150 participants and we hope to see new wonderful projects emerge from the next edition in March 2018,” Patrick Weber added.

Of course, there is still a long way to go. The advantage of a small country like Luxembourg is the short paths between decision makers and the public, which made it possible to quickly democratize open data.

“Recently the entire anonymized database of individual cars in circulation in Luxembourg, excluding license plates, has been released online by the SNCA. This survey of more than 530,000 vehicles, along with their technical data, can be reused for statistical analysis, for example,” Weber noted.

Another example of a new open and innovative dataset is a complete and detailed 3D map of the whole country, which will be completed next year by the Cadastre and Topography Administration and will fulfill multiple purposes in forestry, agriculture, archeology, town planning and more.

A change of culture

“Although many people do not yet understand the principle of open data and why they need to provide data, the benefits will be felt in the future,” Kaell said. All European countries have now adopted this principle and were obliged to apply the directive in 2003. It was made compulsory in 2005.

In 2013, further countries were forced to open. In some countries where ecosystems are more developed, companies derive economic value from the data. In England, for example, a company named Transport API specializes in the collection of transport data and resells processed data. The data economy is a reality.

“With regard to startups, they now have more than 500 datasets and 3,500 resources at their disposal. We’ll continue to harvest it for them, but it’s up to them to reap the rewards. We have to get used to being open!”

“The aim of this directive is to promote ecosystems and enable startups and businesses to derive value from the data,” Weber commented. This change in the economic model reflects a change in mentality and culture, a challenge for those who are still reluctant to make information public.

“We must change the attitude of the general public, and also of the State. This is a job I do every day by meeting the various department managers. We still have thousands of datasets to recover. My role is to make it understood that the State itself is the first to benefit from the accessibility of this data. With regard to startups, they now have more than 500 datasets and 3,500 resources at their disposal. We’ll continue to harvest it for them, but it’s up to them to reap the rewards. We have to get used to being open!” Kaell concluded.


This article was first published in the Autumn 2017 issue of SILICON magazine. Be the first to read SILICON articles on paper before they’re posted online, plus read exclusive features and interviews that only appear in the print edition, by subscribing online.

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