NOAA embraces the business of big data

Building on a February RFI, NOAA has put together its big data partnership business model, mapping out a way for government and industry to take government data to the next level.

Shutterstock image.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration generated some buzz with its February RFI seeking solutions for how to make its 20 terabytes of daily data available quickly and at scale. Now sharing only about 10 percent of that information, NOAA wanted to hear about ways to get more information into the hands of users – and maybe make a little money on the side.

"We wanted information, we wanted people's ideas -- 'what would you do, how would you expose the data, how would you unlock it, what would that cost and how could we make money from this,'" acting NOAA CIO Zach Goldstein said at a June 19 event hosted by the Office of Science and Technology Policy in Washington, D.C.

The request for information drew 70 responses from individuals, academia and industry organizations before closing March 31. But NOAA's market research is ongoing.

"It gives you a good idea of what they see as a potential for value," said David McClure, lead analyst for open government services at NOAA and the man behind the agency's big data partnership business model, which built on the longtime efforts of McClure and former NOAA CIO Joe Klimavicz.

NOAA big data information graphic, thumbnail.

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McClure said the message was clear: "Start doing it." Which is why his team is now working to roll out the concept "as fast as possible."

Besides providing a useful service, another motivation behind the effort is so NOAA can recover the costs it incurs when opening up its data sets. When President Barack Obama signed the open data executive order in May 2013, no additional funds were provided to support the effort. Money is being spent to open up government data, but nothing was being done to cover that cost.

In the NOAA big data partnership business model that McClure conceptualized, there would be a small public fee for accessing the data. The cost would be minimal -- in most cases zero. People would not be paying for the data, but for accessing the data -- a fine line, McClure acknowledged.

He said the process will give NOAA an opportunity to spend more time enriching its data, providing more value to the public and, theoretically, boosting NOAA's return on investment.

"We're not asking for a donation from private industry, we're asking them to invest," McClure said.

The rollout is incremental, but McClure said demand is high, with industry coming to NOAA with specific dataset requests.

"If we can connect to that dataset, we already have customers lined up," McClure said.

Part of the business model is that NOAA agrees to keep improving both the data and data mining process. Finding better processes -- the "better, faster, cheaper," way of doing things -- will result in additional savings, McClure said, and serve as a model for other agencies interested in commercializing their data.

NEXT STORY: Data mashups on a military scale

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