Intel searches for the value in open data

For decades, Intel has generated the bulk of its revenue by manufacturing processors and other parts for personal computers, remaining comfortably among the top semiconductor vendors.

Today, it is exploring business opportunities in a new, less tangible area — the free exchange of information between the federal government and the public, often called “open data.”

It is an ongoing research project. Last year, Intel sponsored the National Civic Day of Hacking, during which groups of entrepreneurs and developers across the country were asked to invent ways to use government data — making public transportation information easier to digest, for instance. And in December, the company invited six teams — mostly from these hackathons —to join a “business accelerator,” offering them access to mentors and analytic services.

Intel is one of several large tech companies seeking economic value in open data. A research network called the Governance Lab, or GovLab, at New York University recently began publishing OpenData500, a list of companies using government data to generate new business, including Amazon Web Services, Garmin, IBM and Yelp.

In exploring open data, Intel’s hypothesis is that “any kind of silo-ed, isolated data set is . . . really limited in its ability to discover insights you didn’t know you were looking for,” said Brandon Barnett, director of business innovation.

(Gary Neill)

Adding other sets of data to those provided by U.S. agencies shifts technology “from the era of searching to the era of discovery — you’re finding interesting insights you didn’t know you were looking for.”

The accelerator’s first class included six start-ups: Disaster Recovery Assistance Tool, which connects first responders to resources during emergencies; Logawi, which uses text sentiment analysis to predict a user’s behavior; OMG Transit, which suggests methods by which a traveler can reach a destination, such as public transportation or ride-sharing; Oyster, which combines factors such as a job-seeker’s academic performance, personality and the local job landscape to provide career advice; Public Good Software, which helps donors track the impact of their donations; and Purple Binder, which helps policy makers and needy individuals find local social services.

The accelerator operates largely in a virtual fashion; Intel primarily connected the start-ups to mentors and big-data analytic services provided by ColdLight. The start-ups showed off their progress last week during a demonstration day, but Intel has not made any investments in the firms. (Intel’s venture capital arm did put money into ColdLight.)

From a participant’s perspective, the accelerator is still a work in progress, said Jason Kunesh, co-founder of the Chicago-based Public Good Software. Although the start-up benefited from the analytics services and cemented a pilot project with the Red Cross after an introduction from the Disaster Recovery Assistance Tool, Kunesh said, he thinks Intel will “probably need to help out a little more eventually” to attract more start-ups, perhaps by providing formal funding.

But, he said, Intel’s commitment to the open-data movement could encourage federal agencies to make more information available. “I think people in government are fairly risk-averse,” Kunesh said. “The more you have big partners at the table, the more it can help.”

A McKinsey report last year said that the free exchange between government and consumers could be worth trillions of dollars in economic potential. By helping consumers spend smarter, as well as public and private institutions correcting operational inefficiencies in areas such as manufacturing or scheduling, the amount could exceed $3 trillion annually, according to the report.

“It’s really defining new usages for our data centers, where most of cloud analytics are done,” Barnett said. After working with these start-ups, “in a sense we can understand those usages better, and understand how to adapt and provide our products and services to them . . . these teams represent the cutting edge, the leading edge, of new usage models.”

Mohana Ravindranath covers IT and small business for the Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication.
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