Not all data that’s valuable is internal and proprietary. New initiatives by governments as diverse as those of the United States, Mexico, and Singapore are opening the spigots of readily usable public data. Corporate information too is becoming more “liquid,” moving across the economy as companies begin sharing data with their business partners and, sometimes, consumers. Also surging is the richness of the information from data aggregators, which are assembling, rendering anonymous, and selling (to interested third parties) a wide range of data flows. Then add huge volumes of data from social-media interactions, available from providers of digital platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

These new sources of open data represent an expanding trove of largely unexploited value. One everyday illustration of open data at work is a smartphone app that uses real-time data (provided by transit authorities) to tell commuters when the next bus or train will arrive. Using open or pooled data from many sources—all the businesses in a particular sector, for example—often combined with proprietary big data, can help companies develop insights they could not have uncovered with internal data alone.

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