Open to change: how Open Data will save our oceans

We can choose. Share our maritime data, prosper, create value and safeguard our oceans. Or keep it to ourselves and slowly stagnate, both commercially and environmentally. Steven Adler says it’s time to act.

It’s difficult to eat when you’re discussing a subject you burn for. Steven Adler, a global pioneer in the field of data strategy and governance, has been trying to get a bite of his burger for the last ten minutes. The problem is, every time there’s a break in conversation a new thought fires from his cerebral cortex, reaching his mouth before the rapidly cooling food does.

“Look, people you don’t know will have insights you can’t imagine,” he says, as a slither of lettuce slides out from the edge of the bun hovering in his hands. “There are seven billion people on the planet and I guarantee that some of them will have ideas for your data you haven’t come up with, to do things you won’t be able to do.”

Open data is the subject. Or why, more precisely, the maritime industry must, and he stresses must, follow a wider business and societal trend and share the huge volume of data it collects.

Value creation
“The value of any data is directly proportional to its utility – if you want to increase the value of data you have to increase its use,” he stresses. “One maritime organization collecting data for its own purposes can never maximize the value of that data. For one thing they can only compare it to their own data and, even if you’re a company with a lot of ships, you only have a tiny proportion of the 80,000 vessels in the world fleet. That means your observations and insights will be very narrow.

“What’s more, one business on its own could never anticipate all the uses their data could be put to if made available to others. It’s also a waste of money for vessels to collect the same data as one another. Different ships sailing the same routes, but owned by different companies, could add geo temporal and geo spatial value and create rich new data that could help us all understand how our oceans are changing over time. When everyone shares open data, everyone wins.”

Any shipowners or managers reading this may now be thinking ‘but why should we share our data with the competition, that’s hardly smart?’ But hold on for a second, we’ll get to that.

Leading the way

Adler knows what he’s talking about. A veteran of his field, he spent 21 years at IBM, ending up as Chief Data Strategist, patenting the IBM Enterprise Privacy Architecture and helping lead and communicate the global giant’s overall corporate vision. He is recognized as a prime mover in the establishment of the fields of Internet Insurance, Data Governance, Data Strategy and People Data, and in 2015 was appointed to the US Commerce Department Data Advisory Council (CDAC), the nation’s first Federal Advisory Council focused on how data could improve economic growth. He has also, amongst other roles and achievements, been the Chief Data Officer for the City of Medellin in Columbia, helping it create and implement an open data strategy. It’s hardly surprising lunch is taking second place.

Empowering change
“Look at what the open data movement has achieved in the civic environment,” he says. “This is a simple idea embraced by most major cities around the world – making their data open relating to issues such as transportation routes, public services, arrest rates and so on, so it’s available to anyone that wants to access and use it. Suddenly we see it being leveraged by third parties, for example by software vendors that utilise it to create important new services, jobs, innovations and wealth.

“How? Well, real estate applications that use census data to provide prospective homebuyers with information on neighbourhoods. Or restaurant guides that use food hygiene inspection data as part of recommendation criteria. Or civic planning groups that open up planning applications to the community for opinions and expert input on new developments and their impacts and advantages for local areas. Look at your phone – how many of your apps use openly available data to provide you with valuable services?

“This is a good thing. A very good thing. Societies benefit and businesses benefit in ways that those that originally gave access to the data could never possibly have imagined.”

He notes such examples are public sector entities providing Open Data funded by taxpayers and, in doing so, empowering business to grow.
“Now we need the private sector to step up and publish open data about the oceans in real time… and we need this urgently. If we don’t act, and get a lot of things right in the next 10 years, we face catastrophic biodiversity loss in our oceans.”

Priceless potential
Adler stresses that, with the proliferation of sensors and digital technology now available, more data has been collected on the oceans in the past two years than in the entire history of the planet prior to that. But if it’s not shared then it’s value will never be realized.
On the subject of privacy he is quick to clarify that maritime and ocean businesses will not, and should not, be asked to share either business critical or personal data.

“We don’t want that, we don’t need that,” he states. “We want the information that they, that you, are collecting on our world.”
Adler sees ships as platforms just waiting to be utilised to help us to manage, and essentially save, our fragile ocean environments. He believes the data they collect can be pooled to unlock unique insights into the state of the ocean, the trends in its development, and the ways in which we can exploit resources while actually safeguarding and supporting its well-being.

“The data collected could be priceless,” he opines. “Not only can we continue to refine energy efficiency and performance, but we can gain in-depth knowledge of temperature variations, tidal flows, plastic pollution, weather pattern development, deoxygenation, new marine life… the list goes on.

“We can use existing and new technology to help manage fish stocks, create safer and more efficient vessel movements, position wind and tidal farms, open up new tourism possibilities, develop smart aquaculture, protect urban coastal zones… to develop ocean activity in not only a sensible, responsible manner, but in an informed, intelligent way, with concrete data to enable better decision making. The value of the data is only limited by our imagination. And if there’s potentially seven billion imaginations that can access it, then that value is…”
He stops. Takes a bite of the burger and, smiling, ruminates for a few tantalising seconds.
“…Almost unlimited.”

Inevitable shift
Adler, who stepped down from IBM last year, and now enjoys a number of advisory and consultant roles, is speaking after an invitation from Nor-Shipping to participate in its ground-breaking Opening Oceans Conference (OOC). This focused on developing new, lucrative and sustainable business opportunities within the ocean environment. His message to the audience, and to everyone attending Nor-Shipping next year (taking place in Oslo and Lillestrøm, Norway, from 04 to 07 June 2019), as well as the wider maritime industry, is simple: “Share. And the sooner the better.”

“Within the next three years the maritime and ocean industries will establish a culture of sharing data,” he predicts. “It’s inevitable. The benefits it will bring for sustainability, both environmentally and commercially, are simply too great to ignore. We have the infrastructure to do it today – it’s called the cloud – and the curiosity, talent and determination of countless millions of minds to extract real value from it. So, what are waiting for?
Let’s unleash the power of your data. “Share!”

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