The Download: Coalition aims to standardize ‘big data’

A small but growing collection of companies has formed a coalition that will push the federal government to establish a standard system by which agencies categorize their data.

Today’s official opening of the District-based Data Transparency Coalition rides on the heels of the Obama administration’s announcement last month that six agencies will commit $200 million to projects that help them better analyze their information.

And as the government looks to scale back its spending in other areas, some companies are already eyeing the administration’s emphasis on “big data” as a potential new line of business.

“Our members understand that if the government identified its data elements in consistent ways, there would be vast new opportunities for the tools that they are building,” Executive Director Hudson Hollister said.

Multiple methods of classifying information can make it tricky for companies to build software that pulls data from different agencies and compares such information as spending, contract awards and regulations.

Among the coalition’s top priorities will be advocating for the passage of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, legislation that Hollister helped craft as former counsel to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He left the post in January.

“Both members of Congress and the executive branch need to understand that because the federal government is the world’s largest producer and consumer of data, it ought to manage its data,” Hollister said.

The coalition’s members to date include Microsoft, as well as a several data analysis and management firms, including Level One Technologies, Teradata and BrightScope.

Its advisory board includes Earl Devaney, the former chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, and Beth Noveck, the former U.S. deputy chief technology officer.

“For years people in the executive branch have been talking about e-government and big data,” Hollister said. “Those two phrases have become buzz words. The standardization of federal data is what’s needed to make both concepts work.”

Biotech bucks

H.I.G. BioVentures, a Miami-based health care investor with directors in the Washington region, closed on a $268 million fund that could bring much needed capital to cash-strapped biotechnology firms.

Investments in life sciences companies slowed during the economic slump even more than other industries because the firms often require larger amounts of money and time before they bring a product to market.

Bruce Robertson, a managing partner based in Rockville, confirmed last July that the firm was in the midst of raising money, though he declined to specify on the size of the fund at the time.

Last week’s announcement shows the firm surpassed its stated goal of $250 million. The financial backers include public and private pension funds, foundations, funds of funds and large private family wealth managers, according to a news release.

H.I.G. BioVentures is led by Robertson, as well as managing directors Aaron Davidson and Michael Wasserman.

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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