Ordnance Survey justifies charging for premium data services

“Where we’re developing premium data, we’re trying to release some elements of open data at the same time," says OS’s public sector director John Kimmance

By Jim Dunton

04 Mar 2016

Charging for the commercial use of government data has knock-on benefits for the general public, according to Ordnance Survey’s public sector director John Kimmance.

Kimmance told the Public Sector ICT Summit this week that the kind of “authoritative, trusted and up to date” mapping data that OS — which is wholly owned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills — produced required the kind of investment that meant not all of it could be free. 

But he said that premium services then drove the delivery of better open data. 

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Speaking at the event — organised by CSW’s parent company Dods —  Kimmance said a new highways mapping project, described by ministers as the most detailed ever, was one example of the relationship between commercial and open-source data. 

“We’ve been doing some work with local government and DfT on creating a highways product, and as part of that we’re creating a premium highways product which can be used by platform providers, commercially and by government,” he said.

“But it can also generate a free enabled version that can be used by anybody. 

“Where we’re developing premium data, we’re trying to release some elements of open data at the same time.”

Last year the Department for Transport announced it was contributing £3m to the project, which is designed to detail information such as road widths, traffic calming measures and height and weight restrictions, and which has the potential to be cross-referenced with data on planned road works and cycle paths.

As well as helping highways authorities maintain and improve roads, the resource can help emergency services find the quickest routes for responding to 999 calls.

Kimmance told the conference that OS was “moving on a journey away from products [and] more to data and platforms to bring everything together” and had created a “sea of APIs” to enable the use of that data.

“It’s about making data relevant to a market and making it available in a way that allows that market to be able to consume it,” he said.

He added that OS’s Geovation Hub in east London made all of its data available to developers free of charge, and that payment was only required when products were taken to market.

Kimmance said OS had seen just under 5,000 commercial orders for its data in the year before it made “a whole load” of its commercial datasets available for free in 2010.

“In the most recent period - from April to October 2015 , 40,000 datasets were downloaded,” he said. “It’s really driven greater access to that data.”

Kimmance told the conference that a map of Great Britain created with Ordnance Survey data in the format of the computer game Minecraft - part of which is pictured above - had “more downloads than all of the other open data released over the previous five years”. 

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