The term “open data” refers to public information—or information the public has the right to access—that has been made easily available. Public agencies begin open data projects for various reasons, such as increasing transparency, improving public safety, strengthening services, or contributing to larger Smart City initiatives. Whatever the goal, agencies pursuing open data projects often face similar challenges: how to pull data from siloed, legacy systems despite limited technical expertise and tight budgets.
"We believe that unlocking public information can improve quality of life, inclusion, and equal opportunity," says David Thoumas, Chief Technology Officer and Founder of Opendatasoft, an AWS Advanced Technology Partner in the AWS Partner Network (APN). “But the potential of open data can only be harnessed when it is available to everyone—even people without technical expertise."
When the City of Durham and Durham County, North Carolina, launched a collaborative open data initiative, the two governments faced all these challenges and the added complication of combining data held by two discrete governments. Durham city and county officials needed a platform with simple interfaces, fast and automated data publishing, and strong scalability. The solution also needed to make data easily reusable by developers to spur civic innovation.
To build the Durham open data portal, project managers chose the Opendatasoft platform deployed on AWS. Opendatasoft has relied heavily on AWS services since its founding and joined the AWS Public Sector Partner Program in 2016.
"We rely on AWS because of its high standard of service quality and continuity, which is essential to helping us fulfill our mission of offering high-quality, real-time open data to our clients and their constituents," says Franck Carassus, Chief Operating Officer of Opendatasoft and another of its founders. Partnering with AWS has been as beneficial for Opendatasoft as it has been for the company's customers. "The AWS Public Sector Partner Program expands awareness of our offerings and introduces us to new customers," says Carassus. "It is one of the best partner programs I've ever experienced."
The Durham open data portal is based on the same Opendatasoft platform that all the company's customers use, but it is branded for the City and County of Durham. The solution uses Opendatasoft to connect to existing datasets and transform data into consistent formats for use by the solution. The platform holds the data in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) storage buckets, and the company uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances to provide flexible computing capacity that can resize automatically as data volumes grow.
Durham city and county employees with no IT training can use the solution to collect and publish data from almost any repository, including legacy systems not known for wide compatibility or ease of use. Within six months, employees had published 165 data sets, 115 maps, and 115 charts and visualizations. Customers who want to explore the data on their own can use the solution's data catalog and intuitive dashboard interfaces to identify datasets of interest, such as restaurant health inspections, automobile accident statistics, crime reports, and property values. Customers can search these datasets and display results as text, charts, or maps. The solution's API engine exposes published data for reuse by developers or to support bringing the data into third-party applications of a user's choosing.
One of the top priorities for Durham city and county project managers was ease of use, and the Opendatasoft solution delivered. "Before, this data was scattered around different parts of the web and was not easily understood by non-expert users," says Greg Marrow, Chief Information Officer for Durham County. "By deploying the Opendatasoft platform on AWS, we've given citizens an easy-to-view dashboard and a simple process for combining and sorting datasets."
The solution's intuitive interfaces and comprehensive data catalog make it easier for citizens to find answers themselves, without requiring government staff assistance. "The Durham open data portal makes available about 95 percent of the information citizens are typically looking for," says Marrow. "By using Opendatasoft on AWS, we've empowered our customers to answer their own questions while freeing our customer service employees to do more valuable work."
The greater transparency afforded by the new solution is strengthening citizen understanding of the Durham city and county governments. “The work of government is often not readily visible to citizens,” says Kerry Goode, Chief Information Officer for the City of Durham. “The Opendatasoft solution on AWS increases citizens’ understanding of everything we are doing on their behalf.”
Given the success of customers like Durham, Opendatasoft sees AWS as vital to its long-term strategy. "With the help of AWS, Opendatasoft is growing internationally, and the flexibility and simplicity of AWS helps us adapt to our customers' ever-changing needs," says Carassus. "The simplicity of our platform thanks to AWS is definitely a commercial advantage, and there is no doubt that our relationship with AWS will continue to expand."
Opendatasoft, an AWS Advanced Technology Partner, offers a turnkey SaaS platform that its clients use to launch comprehensive data-sharing portals in only a few hours. With this platform, Opendatasoft customers can provide internal and external customers with intuitive, customizable data visualizations, maps, and APIs. Opendatasoft, which employs 50 people and serves about 100 clients in 14 countries, has its European headquarters in Paris and its U.S. headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts.