Now that I live in the nation’s capital, I’ve become more interested in federal procurement and federal data sources more generally.  This interest has led me to a largely unheralded aspect of the Obama administration, their Open Government Initiative, which you can read more about on the White House’s website here.

One of the results of the open government initiative has been the creation of a variety of very useful websites, datasets and tools such as www.usaspending.gov, data.gov, and www.it.usaspending.gov.  Great, machine-readable datasets are now becoming available on a remarkable array of subjects from federal procurement to weather data to airline on-time performance.  In turn, entrepreneurs in B2B and B2G are realizing that just because the data is free and readily available, does not mean that it cannot become the basis for a for-profit enterprise.  I’m aware of a few examples of public data being used to form a profitable business and I bet there are many more.

  • Data on almost all purchases the government must put out to bid (that is, above $25k and undirected) are available at www.fbo.gov.  Countless companies have enriched this data with other data sources, added user-friendly notification features, training on how to get federal business, etc. and built businesses selling leads to US companies seeking to do business with the federal, state, and local governments.  Perhaps the two largest companies of this sort would be Deltek and Mediagrif, both of which are public companies.  The latter is a little-known Canadian company that operates a slew of these sites under the names: Government Contracts USA, Governmentbids.com, E-pipeline, Bidnet, etc.  (Mediagrif also runs B2B marketplaces and the stock is up 6x since the market low.  An interesting, and bizarre, little company.)
  • A little company called BrightScope is doing some ingenious work helping consumers and others rate their 401(k) plan’s attractiveness, in terms of fees and investment options, by combining data from the Department of Labor, SEC and other sources.  BrightScope is like a Morningstar for 401(k) plans and can help employees put pressure on companies to improve their plans by adding investment options or lowering costs.  BrightScope not especially popular with plan providers and advisers, as it makes an opaque market much more transparent!
  • Panjiva and many other companies use customs data and other data to provide insights on imports and suppliers in a variety of trade-intensive categories.

I’m sure there are literally dozens of other examples.  With more data being made public  in more usable formats, along with advances in cleansing and enrichment, semantic search, and Big Data, I’m also quite sure we will see many more examples in the future.  If you are in an industry in which the government requires reporting, you should be thinking about what opportunity exists for your company.

(By the way, private companies are starting to use their own data to upstage the government as well.  The most famous example of this is ADP which publishes its own employment data before the Bureau of Labor Statistics does.  I suspect that Concur could tell us a lot about  business travel trends and that GXS or Sterling also could give us real-time data on the economy if they were to open the EDI envelope!)

Now for the headlined idea to make you famous (infamous?) and maybe rich.  There is a ton of data out there on what the government buys and from whom.  But the data on what the government paid for each item does not seem to be immediately searchable, despite its being public information in most cases (I think).  How about a site called “What We Paid.gov” which discloses the prices the government for everything it bought?  It would be useful to citizens negotiating in the private sector and provide transparency to avoid the $100 wrenches we occasionally read about.

I think if we could find prices from GSA advantage purchases, DOD e-mall, fedbizopps winners, P-card purchases and other sources we could find some interesting data.

Anyone out there up for helping?

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