​NAB, Westpac-backed Australian startup launches Open Data Marketplace

Data Republic has launched the Open Data Marketplace, a governed platform for organisations to list, exchange, and collaborate on data projects.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Sydney-based big data startup Data Republic has launched Open Data Marketplace, a digital platform for organisations to exchange data sets under the governance of strict contractual arrangements.

Speaking at the 2016 Hadoop Summit in Melbourne on Wednesday, Data Republic's CTO Ryan Peterson said the concept of the platform originally came from a philanthropic venture, with the team wanting to leverage data to help solve social issues.

"What really started the business process was what we learned about social behaviours and social problems: That we couldn't solve them because it wasn't easy to share the data," he explained.

"For example, we learned through looking at data that in adolescents 14 to 19 years old in Australia, the highest likelihood of death is suicide. It's not just Australia unfortunately, it's the same in the US. In Palo Alto, where a lot of these tech companies exist, one in five [adolescents] attempt suicide."

Peterson said there was no data accessible to help solve such a problem.

"The reason we call this Data Republic is because we believe this is a movement -- you can get all of these people's data together and you start looking at solving some major socioeconomic issues and on top of that, being able to change businesses, we just really haven't scratched the surface yet," he said.

"It really is a fantastic opportunity and we're already seeing such change from this -- it's really exciting."

Founded in 2014, Data Republic is funded by Westpac's investment arm Reinventure, NAB Ventures, Qantas Loyalty, and a handful of private individuals. Peterson said that being backed by such Australian giants has certainly helped Data Republic be trusted by others, but the startup also put in the hard yards around ensuring an individual's data is kept safe.

The Open Data Marketplace is built on top of a legal framework that allows people to exchange data, with personal information stripped out.

"It allows us to get data from party A to party B without ever touching the personal information or revealing something that a lot of people would be concerned about," he said.

"Before we built a single line of code, we spent a year working on the legal agreement; making it so two people can exchange is not so simple, you have to build trust in data exchange, so we started with the legal framework, then working with the privacy commissioner, talking to all of the privacy organisations, especially in Australia, and learning what they would feel comfortable with.

Peterson said that not only were the authorities and regulators comfortable with the data exchange concept, they were excited. He said they know the exchange is happening anyway, and it may as well be organised and governed and have the privacy of individuals as its key focus.

"We have the Australian Bureau of Statistics data loaded and we have the Bureau of Meteorology data loaded, we do get certain data from various organisations in government, too," he said.

The platform itself requires an in-depth approval process, with permitted users still not given complete access to everything. Additionally, Peterson said that every single transaction requires a data request form and the approval by both Data Republic and the original data contributor.

Peterson said that an organisation needs to think about its data as adding to the company's valuation, noting that it should be treated just like an asset.

"There's so much data available that can expand and enrich data sets and we're just taking that next-level," he said.

"The ability to turn nothing into something -- it's a whole new currency, and it hasn't been looked at as a currency.

"We think that's why the banks have been really supportive of us: Money is just the start, now it's going to be data."

The CTO said Data Republic is currently working on a social good program which will give the likes of NGOs and research organisations access to data for their own projects.

"We think that that's going to be the most exciting part of the business and we think it will really get people trusting data exchanges, that's why we want to focus on the social good programs first so it becomes less about you sharing my information and more about solving problems," he said.

Disclaimer: Asha Barbaschow travelled to the 2016 Hadoop Summit as a guest of Hortonworks.

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