Fuelling the future – the value of open property data


Posted by Andrew Lloyd, managing director of Legal Futures Associate Search Acumen

Lloyd: Open data is vital

Data is the modern oil – bytes of data streaming in worldwide from every direction to power our economy’s technological revolution. Unlike natural resources, however, we’re at no risk of running out of data.

On the contrary, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day – a number so vast, it would be impossible to process with a human brain.

In the property sector, for example, the monthly statistics from HM Land Registry (HMLR) provide a wide-ranging set of data, giving insight on the latest changes in land and property ownership. Some of its datasets are publicly accessible, while others remain secure and require payment (and in some cases a business account) to gain access.

Questions about access to data by members of the public are as old as the internet itself, but are worth challenging in this new proptech world: should all property datasets be freely available?

Whether Ordnance Survey, Historic England or HMLR, there are many data providers and many arguments in favour of this information being openly available.

Forward-thinking businesses like HMLR are utilising open data and putting access to this information at the heart of their strategy. This approach is enabling business account holders and corporate users to add real value by designing cutting edge solutions.

However, access to open data also comes with a variety of challenges too. If the government began publishing datasets on anything and everything without context, upkeep or interpretation, it would render the data almost useless.

In many cases, having incomplete or incorrect data is worse than having no data at all. Worse still, poorly managed data has the potential to be abused by fraudsters, which is a major concern for the HMLR fraud team.

Government data in particular needs to be controlled and maintained in a way that is accurate and dependable as we become ever more reliant on it. Admittedly, this is no small task for any organisation to deal with, let alone the government with thousands of datasets and many stakeholders to consider.

Without good-quality data, private enterprise will be unable to transform that information into usable solutions for the benefit of business and the economy.

In our sector, open data is vital in powering tools like pre-screening mapping on our ForeSite platform, which produces accurate datasets for our clients to do their jobs. As such, we absolutely rely on accurate and well maintained datasets.

Businesses that are thriving in this new economy recognise and harness properly managed, verified and complete data. In 2019, it’s not enough to just be a data creator – you must also be a custodian of that data’s quality. And we understand that role comes at a cost.

For the UK property market to remain competitive on the world stage, the government needs to take a more proactive approach to ensuring both public and paid data is clean, updated and wholly reliable.

Both the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have expressed a commitment to maintaining open data, which is paramount in supporting the UK housing market fit for the 21st century.

It’s time to consider a national data curator, perhaps the ‘Department of Data Reliability and Security’ to officially regulate all public data.

The costs involved in creating this new department could be offset by increased revenues from those willing to pay a premium for data that forms the basis of new cutting-edge property solutions.

Open data not only supports property transactions taking place today, but fuels new and innovative proptech solutions for tomorrow.

But, for both present and future transactions, we must acknowledge that ‘free’ open data does not mean improved or easier access to information.

In fact, controlling access to data will not only allow for better guardianship of that data on the part of the creator, but it also ensures the purchaser is invested in the custody of the data too.

Data must be maintained, managed and protected if we are to use it to fuel our future. And that may come at a cost – but the benefits will be worth it.

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