IDO IVRI: Reflections about the Open Data Ecosystem in Cyprus (and Israel)

I was recently invited by Deloitte Cyprus to attend OpenDataCY a two-day Open Data driven hackathon, organized by CrowdPolicy and Deloitte, in collaboration with the government bodies responsible for maintaining and developing the Open Data Portal — Aside from mentoring a few of the teams (and even providing some code snippets to a some teams!), I’ve been able to gain an outsider’s perspective on the current status of Open Data ecosystem, and compare it to the state of Israeli Open Data. Here are my key takeaways from the event: **Cultural difference, similar problems **— the laid back culture in Cyprus might not be similar to hectic Israel, but both countries have similar challenges with respect to Open Data: our governments are only just “warming up” to the idea of creating open repositories; the data, when released, is usually messy and not machine readable, and there are not enough success stories (like companies created) to encourage government officials to create a proactive open data policy. **Overall, the Cypriot Government seems to be doing better at opening up data in comparison to the Israeli one** — For starters, there are a lot more databases available for use (about 750 in comparison to the Israeli 240), they are more diverse, more dynamic (provided via web services vs. static Excel files) and better documented. Additionally, there is much less “paranoia” about privacy, so important data like crime statistics and missing persons, but also population distribution per geographic area are available. Finally, it seems to me that there is an honest effort by the Cypriot Government officials to commit to clear, measurable goals — something that the Israeli government currently neglects to do. The EU has evident influence on the local ecosystem — many of the activities revolving around opening up repositories and incentivizing developers to use them are EU funded. Moreover, there are inter-EU initiatives to consolidate open data efforts (the INSPIRE geospatial data portal is one example), that are contributing to the creation of a local data-savvy community. In my humble opinion, the Israeli Government should explore ways to join in on some of the EU initiatives. **There’s room for collaboration **— A lot of the teams in the hackathon presented MVPs (Minimum Viable Products) that could be developed into companies, but there was not enough focus on that. I think this is area in which Israelis excel, and if there are future collaborations around open data, there might be some win-wins there. **Startup ecosystem**—During the event, I’ve listened quite a lot of people talking about how they wished events like OpenDataCy hackathon could energize/inspire/create local startups and the startup ecosystem. For that reason, I expected pitch delivery to be more business-oriented (problem -> solution -> market -> go-to-market -> team). The pitches revolved around technology and data, but as anyone who’s ever been an entrepreneur knows, correctly positioning a company in a market is sometimes harder than getting an MVP ready — and that part was missing, or sketchy, in most presentations. I guess hackathon organizers focused on actually getting developers to attend (and did a beautiful job at that!), I would add an emphasis on product and marketing in future events. All-in-all, I think the event was a radiant success — having organized a few hackathons, I can appreciate the planning, good organization and the well-chosen venue. But, most importantly, the teams were very strong, developing solutions such as an app that tailors a trail for you to walk/run/bike based on your personal abilities and open geographic data, a service to enable citizens report missing/wanted persons or find out if the license plate of the car they’re about to buy was reported stolen, a website to help you move to a new apartment based on different criteria (proximity to schools, hospitals, etc) and even a platform that helps you analyze where you should open your next store branch based on population density and similar businesses which exist in the vicinity. In my (very humble) opinion, some of the teams have shown strong technical abilities and could become viable companies, and this solely is a significant achievement, even before you factor in the great demonstrations of the power of open data and, well, some good ol’ fashioned fun :) I am honored to have taken part in the hackathon, and really hope I can find a chance to come back to Cyprus for the next one. I’ll also be keeping an eye out for some of those teams, some MVPs become actual products in the near future.