Data is the new oil. Like oil, data also needs to be refined for productive use. Advances in digital technology are making it possible to collect, store and process ever-expanding amounts of data. This explosion of data holds vast potential to boost innovation, productivity, and ultimately, economic growth and social value. Governments, especially city administrations, need to explore options to monetize the data, both structured and raw, so as to create revenue sources that would help cities become self-sustainable. It is all the more important for India, as cities are trying to optimize their urban service delivery by implementing “Integrated Pan City Smart Solutions" under the Smart City Mission by generating huge volumes of data. Meeting the operational and maintenance cost of digital infrastructure, estimated at 15-20% of capital annually, will be a daunting task, unless we monetize city data.

Copenhagen was the world’s first city to monetize public and private data through its City Data Exchange in 2016. It has set up a city exchange in collaboration with a private partner to create a marketplace for processed city data. Some of the data sets available on the platform relate to traffic and route planning, advertising, use of public spaces, tourism, cultural events and location-specific offerings. The exchange brings suppliers and consumers of data together and acts as a data market. Data suppliers monetize existing data and find new channels for information and services. Similarly, data consumers find access to multiple data sources, which enables new and improved applications as well as new inputs (for a price) for planning and forecasting. However, certain information that’s useful to citizens is provided free.

Depending on the size of a city, its population and infrastructure, the opportunities for data monetization could be enormous. Data monetizing platforms (DMPs) can be created at city levels in India by integrating various data sources. These DMPs can act as data markets for the exchange of processed and analyzed data. For example, any data related to the environment or traffic may be useful for a research scholar, who could avail of it via the platform by paying a nominal amount. Similarly, geo-spatial data related to utilities will be useful to planners and developers, who will be willing to pay a premium for such data. Analytic firms and app developers can use raw city data to create applications and analytics, which can be used for business development.

Different types of data sets generated both in geospatial and non-spatial form by different smart solutions or utilities are to be classified as either shareable or non-shareable data. The former could be “open access", offered over the internet in a user-friendly format without any process of authorization; access could be given through a prescribed process of registration. Line departments in city governments could prepare a “negative list" of non-sharable data, which would be periodically reviewed.

A state-of-the-art data warehouse and archive with online analytical processing capabilities may be created. This integrated repository of data will encompass data generated by various departments.

Keeping in view the competence required in terms of analytics and marketing, it is essential to have a Data Monetizing Agency (DMA), to be selected through a competitive bidding process. A long-term concession agreement could be executed between the DMA and a city government. The terms could vary, and revenue sharing mechanisms could also be worked out.

Data prices should depend on the category of information. Some of the open-source data can be free of cost, whereas registered source data can be charged. The charges should keep in view the overall business model of the DMA and its sustainability over a pre-defined period. The government may have the right to collect a share of revenues, depending on the profitability of the system.

It is important to address privacy issues related to data before setting up DMPs. India is moving towards having a comprehensive Data Protection Act. City governments, as data fiduciaries, should lay down appropriate policies and safeguards to ensure that the rights of citizens (as data principals) are protected with regard to personal data, in consonance with existing laws. The proposed Data Protection Bill provides for some exemptions for the processing of personal data for research and statistical purposes. Data anonymization must be done prior to offering data on city platforms. The objective of the policy and regulatory framework should be to facilitate access to anonymized and aggregated non-personal urban data and information in both human- and machine-readable forms. The policy should pay particular attention to the overall readiness for such initiatives.

The Government of India has been successful in creating an Open Government Data (OGD) platform, data.gov.in, for the support of open data. This platform lets government organizations publish their data sets in an open format for free public use. Till now, about 300,000 resources have been uploaded to the platform, which has gathered over 22.4 million views. Many of these data sources can be refined and customized. The government, through a transparent process, can find a technology partner as a DMA to monetize processed data. Expanding the present open data platform into a data monetizing platform provides a great revenue opportunity for future.

Bibek Debroy and Sajeesh Kumar N. are chairman, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, and director, ministry of railways, respectively. Views expressed are personal.

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