Commerce taps big-data development partners

The Commerce Department's National Technical Information Service has chosen 35 companies and academic organizations to capitalize on the federal government's vast data assets.

Shutterstock image: data wall.

The Commerce Department's National Technical Information Service has selected 35 organizations to help turn oceans of raw federal data into innovative services and capabilities.

It's a big step for the future of NTIS, an agency that pivoted to a new mission to survive. Powerful legislators had wanted to shutter the agency, which was established as a fee-for-service hub for printed technical information. That mission was disrupted by the internet.

In 2015, the agency announced a new focus on government data and earlier this year named Census Bureau CTO Avi Bender to lead the effort. NTIS turned to industry to find partners in improving data acquisition, analysis and application.

The 35 companies, nonprofit groups and academic research organizations NTIS selected will work as joint venture partners on data projects conducted and funded by federal agencies. The companies include a mix of young data-focused firms -- such as Palantir, Govini and Socrata -- and established contractors -- such as IBM, Deloitte and Booz Allen Hamilton. Academic participants include Stanford and Columbia universities.

The federal government collects data in a wide range of areas, including weather and climate, economic statistics, population and demographics. However, the government is often not nimble enough to transform the data into new and useful forms or to combine it with commercial datasets that can make it even more valuable to consumers.

The National Weather Service has been a pioneer in turning federally generated data into fuel for more innovative services. Commercial weather forecasting channels have built their businesses on NWS' raw data on storms, tides and other weather measurements.

The joint venture partners essentially form a list of approved contractors that are eligible to bid when NTIS releases agency requests for data applications.

Commerce officials said the organizations will be able to tap into the vast expanse of federal data, which the agency estimates could generate trillions in investments and innovative commercial applications.

A 2014 study by the agency estimated the federal government's data could spur $3.3 trillion in investments annually in the U.S. and that government data-intensive firms generate annual revenues as high as $221 billion.

"We want to accelerate the data innovation process by quickly connecting private-sector experts with agencies striving to create smart cities, deliver critical public services, enhance operational excellence or improve accessibility and interoperability among national datasets," Bender said in an Oct. 20 statement.

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