How Scrutiny Of Freely Available Data Might Save The NHS Money

Staff Writer | The Economist | December 8, 2012

This week Britons were reminded yet again of the strains on the government’s finances. But another resource—data—is in abundant supply. Like governments in many other countries, Britain’s is turning more and more of its trove of information into “open data”: downloadable at no charge, arranged in neat rows and columns, to be sifted, manipulated and combined with other sources by anyone who is interested. All sorts of nuggets can be found in this informational ore—including ways of making those scarce financial resources go further. A new analysis by one group of data-miners suggests that the National Health Service could be spending a good deal less on drugs.

Part of this team, a start-up called Mastodon C, is housed at the Open Data Institute (ODI), a non-profit company set up by the government, which celebrated its official launch this week. The ODI is due to get £10m ($16m) over the next five years from the Technology Strategy Board, a government agency, to which it expects to add some private finance: this week it welcomed its first slug, $750,000 from Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm. Although lots of countries are opening up all manner of official information, none has anything quite like the ODI. The institute’s purpose is to foster the exploitation of open data—not least by the sort of young tech businesses that are clustered around its office in Shoreditch, in London. Mastodon C is one of four infant firms being incubated under the ODI’s roof...