By Mike Yeh, Regional Vice President and Director of Corporate, External and Legal Affairs, Microsoft Asia
Asia is brimming with opportunities – this mobile-first, populous region is seeing more data generated than ever before, pointing to huge potential for change and growth.
To facilitate the sharing of data, Microsoft launched open data efforts to maximize the positive impacts of data sharing for our economies and societies – and address some of the biggest health, environmental, security and equality challenges society is facing. – Greater data sharing will unlock the power of digital transformation and create an inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the region already boasts a wealth of examples of governments and organizations delivering practical open data policies and initiatives.
In Taiwan, for example, real-time data sharing and collaboration between the local government and civic tech community inspired social innovations which significantly contributed to the early containment of COVID-19. The collaboration enabled the development of over 130 new applications which helped enhance the rationing of masks as well as aided queuing systems and information sharing.
In projects implemented in Singapore and Indonesia, we have seen how data sharing can support business growth and inform the development of better policies around mobility and infrastructure development. This becomes especially important for the recovery of hard-hit industries in the pandemic, such as tourism. Businesses in tourism have gained access to a wider set of data to enhance their understanding of trends in movement and spending patterns of tourists. This enables them to pilot new strategies for post-pandemic campaigns, as well as strategically tap into the domestic travel market while waiting for borders to reopen.
With the pandemic also adding pressure to job markets around the world, access to a rich regional dataset, such as LinkedIn’s 730-million-member database, will enable governments to better formulate labor market policies. Policymakers are now able to address gaps between unfilled roles and workers and also provide insights into localized trends such as emerging skills and jobs by city. LinkedIn utilizes best practice techniques such as differential privacy to derive valuable insights from databases while protecting user privacy.
New Zealand’s climate data sharing partnership has seen representatives from government agencies, academia, the private sector and the scientific community collect, process and analyze data from their respective remits. When calibrated, this has enhanced climate monitoring research and helped develop more effective climate change mitigation strategies for the country.
In Japan, a group of AI researchers formed a consortium to address limited data sharing in the field, which had impeded the development of deep learning-based AI products and services. Their efforts alleviated some of the institutional concerns about data sharing, for example, by providing smart contract templates that account for legal and ethical issues. Microsoft has been an active partner in this consortium, building on the learnings from global open data use agreements we launched in 2019, in an effort now stewarded by the Linux Foundation. Organizations can access broad sets of data more confidently, without the need to expend resources on managing the finer details relating to legal obligations and contracts. This has increased transparency, preserved provenance and traceability of data, and strengthened overall trust.
While each initiative offers a unique contribution, all share the understanding that expanding access to data – in a trusted and secure manner – brings a wealth of advantages that benefit our economies and societies, as we strive for inclusive growth and development post-pandemic.
Growing momentum in Asia
We are seeking to accelerate the momentum in Asia with our latest report, “Sharing data for impact: Lessons from data sharing initiatives in Asia”. By capturing the following lessons learned by governments and organizations who have embarked on these open data initiatives, we hope that others in the region will be inspired to launch future initiatives, and help shape a more robust enabling data environment:
- Data has the greatest potential for impact when it is shared for the purpose of collaboration. The useability of data is an essential foundation for successful data collaboration.
- Governments have more impact through data sharing initiatives when there is collaboration with the private sector – and private sector data can help generate policy insights for governments. Collaborations create opportunities for governments to harness the data to drive new insights, and grants access to human resources and skills needed to fill gaps in analytics, application development and security.
- A lack of trust can undermine data sharing initiatives – but this can be overcome by addressing commercial sensitivities and through efforts to protect privacy and security. It is important to recognize concerns, establish assurances and remain open to testing new models of engagement.
- Interoperability and usability are supported by the use of data agreements and technical standards. If data is open and available, but not usable, it serves little purpose. Establish commonality in standards to streamline the sharing of data between stakeholders.
- Governments can lead by example in how they share data. Government data sets can be extremely useful when combined with other forms of data; this strengthens transparency, enables cross-government collaboration and drives commercial innovation.
- Governments can strengthen the enabling environment for data collaboration through domestic policy and regulation, as well as cross-border cooperation. This can be achieved with clear domestic regulations and frameworks, national data sharing strategies, and cross-border cooperation and harmonization with other countries.
Already, some governments are leading by example. In India, there is an Open Government Data (OGD) platform that allows government organizations to publish their datasets in open formats for free public use, creating a valuable open data ecosystem in the country. Since 2009, the Australia Government has implemented a series of open data policies, and adapted approaches to sharing government data over time based on industry feedback.
These efforts point to the instrumental role governments can play as the start point and enabler for data collaboration.
Interested parties can access Microsoft’s resources, including licensing, governance and legal tools as well as open data repositories. These are designed to help governments and organizations of all shapes and sizes to realize the benefits of data, with the ultimate goal of closing the data divide.