The government started to release large, public data sets through Data.gov in 2009, and since then forward-thinking companies have utilized such data to supplement their own internal business intelligence reports. Two industries in particular – healthcare and energy – now regularly use public data to enhance their business intelligence efforts, and gain competitive marketplace advantages.
Healthcare companies have jumped on data sets made available by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). WebMD, for instance, uses these sources to improve their database of online health information, which improves the quality of their tools, such as the symptom checker. Using FDA and HHS data, correlations between patient symptoms and diagnoses in different populations (as well as reactions to medication) can be accurately identified, and incorporated into their algorithms.
Healthcare providers are taking advantage of such data as well. Cerner, a supplier of healthcare IT solutions, uses data sets from the HHS to supplement their clients’ data. iMedicare uses data sets from HHS and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to help users navigate pharmacy locations, and choose policies with the highest possible reimbursement.
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The energy sector has been no less forward thinking. Using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior, Energy Points, Inc. maps out energy supply chain possibilities and risk factors to help companies operate safely and efficiently. Public data allows Energy Points to factor in the locations of energy sources, protected wildlife areas, and other factors that affect the efficiency of energy supply chains. Such data is difficult or impossible for private companies to independently track. Another company, Solar Census, provides an online shade tool to assist the solar industry in identifying ideal locations for solar power, with the help of data from the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Open Data 500 a site dedicated to tracking the private uses of public data, has catalogued many such examples. In many cases, businesses use the public data in novel, unexpected ways. The real value of public data is the insight it provides private companies who would otherwise have an incomplete picture of their market. The question is whether your company can find a way to utilize such data to learn more about your customers, their locations, and their needs, among other things.
Even if you don’t have an immediate idea of how to utilize such data, a little exploration might reveal a surprising correlation. The data sets are free to download as CSV, Excel, or XML files, so all you need to start is a data analysis tool that can support those formats.
Fortunately, most business intelligence software already supports the inclusion of disparate data for analysis, and with enough interest they may soon support direct integrations with sources such as data.gov. And if you don’t use it, you can bet your competitors will.