Open and Closed Data: What you Need to Know

There’s a Role For Both to Play in Commercial Planning

Using and combining data sources can help you paint a vivid picture of your customers, prospects, opportunities and the shape of your future business, so you can plan for success and out-performance. But not everyone is a data scientist who’s conversant with all the different types of data. Read on to understand the difference between open and closed data and why you might choose to use either of them.

Let’s start with some definitions.


Open Data

Knowledge is open if anyone is free to access, use, modify, and share it — subject, at most, to measures that preserve provenance and openness.

Open Knowledge, 2015.

Open data is data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone- subject only at most, to the requirement to attribute and share alike.

The Open Data Handbook


Closed Data

Business sensitive data that is not available to the rest of the world. Data can be made closed because of the policies of data publisher and data provider.
Data on the Web Best Practices Working Group 2017

Data that can only be accessed by its subject, owner or holder.
The Open Data Institute

That’s not the whole story though. There is also a middle way. You’ll also need to know about…


Shared Data

[Data that may be] shared only with named people or organisations…. available to specific groups who meet certain criteria… or available to anyone under terms that are not specifically open.
Open Data Institute 2016

If you research open data online, you’ll find many websites and organisations that promote and support open data provision, in academic, public sector and commercial fields. And there are good reasons for that. Open data is generally available without cost. It’s often wide-ranging and may be provided by trusted, national organisations such as the government. In principle, it’s a good idea to make public data available to everyone, for transparency and to avoid giving an unfair advantage or privileged knowledge to some people and organisations.

Examples of open data are property prices and land registry, census and electoral roll information. These data are collected by local and national government.

The closed data you most commonly use may be information you collect about your customers or prospects. It could be sensitive business performance data or details about individual clients, governed by GDPR compliance. You may collect closed data for your own use from surveys or research that you carry out or commission. Other examples of closed data are national security or law enforcement data and medical records. You can buy licensed, closed data from trusted sources like Acorn, Ordnance Survey, HERE, Royal Mail or INRIX. It’s validated, checked and cleansed by the originator and might be provided as anything from a text file or spreadsheet (flat file) to a database, to vector maps or satellite imagery.

Shared data may come from collaborative sources – such as industry organisations or academic institutes. It can include market share data or research information about businesses and consumers collected by third party organisations. You will almost certainly have to pay to get a share of it – either by contributing to the cost of collecting the data or by purchasing it from the data publisher.


Beyond the Definitions: Is Your Data Fit For Purpose?

It’s important to understand what you’re getting, with any kind of data. Free data collected by the government sounds highly trustworthy, but in fact may need filtering, cleaning or combining with additional data before it’s fit for your particular purposes. Your own closed data may be authentic and accurate, but if it only covers existing customers it will likely be limited or biased when you try to use it to forecast future performance or predict the market.

Shared data can be costly, so you need to make sure it is giving you exactly what you need to avoid wasting budget on data for analysis that could be incomplete or discredited.

Most of our clients need data to help them answer important operational or strategic questions – how to operate most efficiently, where to focus resources, how to market effectively or where to target future expansion. The questions may be clear – but to arrive at a dependable answer, you need to choose the right data to scrutinise and the right process and tools to analyse it. That data is likely to come from more than one source – whether it’s open, closed or shared and whether it needs enhancing or cleansing before you can use it.


Working with data professionals like the CACI team gives you access to specialist geodata expertise, so you can rely on your data-driven decision-making and day to day planning. We can empower you to report on your own data or help you construct complex, one-off data queries that provide business-critical strategic insight – get in touch with us here.