What is the Cost of Accessing and Availing Data?

Introduction

Over the years, data collection experts have been increasingly aware of the benefits of easy access to public sector information. They have also analyzed the available research on data collection and availability (Houghton, 2011). This awareness has been based on well-funded comprehensive research whose findings are worth looking into. The main aim of Public Sector Information (PSI) is to formulate user friendly policies that ensure that data is available, for use and reuse with no cost barriers or other inconveniences (Houghton, 2011). The PSI places three responsibilities upon state agencies responsible for disseminating information. Firstly, they must arrange the stewardship of their data (Houghton, 2011).Secondly, they must ensure that the data provided is easily accessible for use and reuse (Houghton, 2011).Thirdly, they must ensure that their data services are either cheap to access or free (Goodrich, Haar & Mindreau, 1996). This essay will present case studies to explore the costs of data collection and the benefits presented by PSI information strategies. Furthermore, the essay explores user experiences in accessing the available data and the economic impact of open access to public information. Furthermore, the essay outlines possible methods from cost benefit analysis at all levels of the public sector (Houghton, 2011).

This essay shall critically analyze the ideas put forth by Houghton (2011) in his report to the Australian National Data Service titled ‘Costs and Benefits of Data Provision.’ Usually, it is always easier to identify benefits than it is to identify costs (Houghton, 2011). Benefits can be seen in different perspectives. For instance, efficiency gains, cost saving and opportunities of doing things differently while increasing the value of services are some of the benefits that can only be realized in the future (Houghton, 2011). However, it is necessary to start with the most immediate direct and indirect measurable benefits. This study shall explore the impact of cost on the end user as opposed to the agency. Furthermore, the essay will try to explore the impacts on consumer welfare and the estimated impacts of increased access and use. This will be measured by examining the download rates and returns on expenditure.

Analysis

There is a diversity of opinion regarding the availability, access and affordability of data from different authors who have researched the PSI domain. Different researchers espouse different opinions on the optimal way in which PSI should handle data. The multiplicity of opinion makes it difficult to determine what the truth is regarding data availability and cost (Houghton, 2011). Despite the difference in opinion amongst scholars, there is need to conduct comprehensive research into the role of the PSI in data provision and handling. In most cases, the differences in opinion are brought about by the different scenarios that the scholars use as a premise for conducting their research. This makes it difficult to make generalizations regarding the cost and access of data based on the findings of researchers. However, it is possible to generalize the methods of analysis because these are fairly standardized (Houghton, 2011).

Findings

It is possible to use the models and frameworks for analysis to construct a tool that can be used to assess the benefits and costs of research curation and sharing. In addition, the models and frameworks can be used in making an estimating framework for estimating the costs, which is tailor-made for the analysis of costs and benefits provided by the PSI (Rogers, 1997). The tools may compose of draft questionnaires outlining the best questions that can elicit beneficial responses from the end users, a template for data collection, and a simple spreadsheet that can be made available online for the online users to perform a cost-benefit analysis (Houghton, 2011). When constructing an analysis and estimation criteria, all the quantifiable costs and benefits must be included. Determining the weight of all the available quantitative issues is essential in prioritizing data access, preservation and curation services (Houghton, 2011).

There is immense evidence to the effect that Public Service Information plays a critical role in knowledge based economies. A number of studies have been exploring the role of the PSI in the world’s biggest economies (Rogers, 1997). As noted by Houghton (2011), the investment value and the economic value of the PSI in the European Union in 1999 were estimated to be EUR 9.5 billion. By way of contrast, PSI investment in the United States of America is estimated to be EUR 19 billion per year. This statistics indicate that there the US has more open access policies than the UK. Scholars agree that the UK has nothing to lose once it agrees to adopt the American system of free data provision (Houghton, 2011). All that the UK is required to do is double the value of PSI. Every country has its own policies that govern the way information can be accessed or disseminated.

Benefits of data access and re-use

Accessing and reusing information makes it easy for the agency to provide free access to vital information. The surveys are normally used to assess the satisfaction of a few end users whose opinions may also be used to estimate the preferences of a particular geographic region. The estimates are normally based on agency costs and consumers’ willingness to pay for the available services (Houghton, 2011). Houghton combined the measures of investment costs by the agencies and expenditure costs by the PSI users and re-users (Houghton, 2011). From Houghton’s study, it was concluded that the value of the information accrued in a period of one year is far more valuable when re-used. Houghton (2011) reiterates that this data is efficient and reasonable for some PSIs such as for mapping information and weather forecasts. However, he also noted that this statistic is highly inappropriate for research data and publications and it may take decades before its value is realized and commercialized. Even though estimation and attribution are some of the major problems associated with this method, technologists are more concerned with the inflated estimates provided by the Public Sector Information access, which do not give a true picture of the situation on the ground. Moreover in cases where PSI is the only alternative, it becomes more challenging to access quality alternative data (Houghton, 2011).

However there tends to be a relatively minor, one-off cost for agencies that usually take part in the process for change to open access. These usually are the recurring annual costs, for example, agency IT and hosting costs, revenues abandoned and many others. Therefore, it can be said that in most cases, the user costs provide the agencies with an opportunity to have annual savings (Houghton, 2011).

In cases where there is a wider open access to PSI, returns to investment in data production tend to be recurring annual returns, delayed  and rebated over the most important period of the data life using a long lasting and an uninterrupted discovery method (Houghton, 2011). Subsequently, the cost-benefit comparison that has been clearly outlined herein include; annual agency and user costs and cost savings as well as the wider benefits that come into existence from the increased returns to annual expenditure on the production of data (Rogers, 1997). It is necesary for costs and benefits to be compared during the transitional period so that an appropriate level of open access activity at a particular time can be determined (Houghton, 2011).Looking first at PSI producers and users, we can as well suggest that it can be productive to be positive and think about possible cost impacts that will occur in terms of agency and user activities (i.e. an activity cost model) (Todaro, 1994). The activity costs of PSI producers and users may be effected by providing data that is free (i.e. at zero cost or at the marginalized cost of transfer), through use of standardized, unrestrictive licensing procedures, for example, Creative Commons, and using data formats that are standard (open) (Houghton, 2011).

Agency costs may vary from agency to agency. However, below are some of the common elements of data collection, curation and assurance.

Collection

It goes without saying that making data freely available has little or no impact on the costs associated with the methods used to collect or create the data (Houghton, 2011). However, there may be an impact in cases where the availability of free data reduces the feedback from users (Houghton, 2011). On the other hand, agencies are motivated to collect less data if revenue is lost from data sales and hence the costs must be managed. On the same note, data licensing and formats have no major impact on agency collection costs and the systems in place (Houghton, 2011).

Data Assurance

Evidence shows that services that are paid for have a superior in quality compared to services that are accessed freely (Houghton, 2011). However, studies also show that the impact may be positive. Free access to information enhances awareness but at the same time, low qualities of the same data may drive costs down even further. Standardization is also another issue that has been widely assessed (Houghton, 2011). Standardization helps in handling the quality of information disseminated. Nonetheless, standardization may also have a negative impact on the access and availability of data. For instance in countries such as China, standardization means prohibiting access to any data that is seen as being anti-government.

Curation: Standardization or free provision of data access is unlikely to affect the data curation costs (Houghton, 2011). However, associating licensing with particular data sets may make the data easier to success. On the same note, standardization is likely to make digital curation easier and reduce all the available curation costs.

Dissemination: Agencies that provide free access to information are likely to cut down most of their dissemination costs (Moriarty, 1999). The agency may decide to significantly reduce the charges associated with data sales such as e-commerce functions, sales outlets, and all the banking charges associated with sales transactions (Houghton, 2011). Furthermore, the costs of hosting data may go down due to reduced charges associated with access, control and purchase of data. In cases where user charges are reduced, there may be fewer problems associated with and use access is likely to increase. Houghton (2011) reasons that contrary to conventional belief, standardization in licensing reduces all the agency costs associated with managing licensing. It also considerably reduces the user inquiry and support costs (Houghton, 2011).

 

User costs and cost savings

User cost impacts vary from case to case. Nevertheless, there is a commonality in some of the elements as discussed below:

Permission (users): Standardized licensing is likely to help in making it easier for the users to understand the terms and conditions of the license, hence reducing the user costs related to licensing (Moriarty, 1999). Moreover, this reduces the time used to make enquiries pertaining to the licensing procedures. As explained by Houghton (2011), free access to data is unlikely to affect the user’s permissions in regard to costs.

Access (users): Houghton, (2011) further states that free access to important information helps the user to reduce his expenses in regard to the transactional costs involved in the whole process. When user access is limited by standardization, the costs related to data access may also be reduced (Moriarty, 1999).

Use: Free access encourages more users to access information that was not easily available to them. For this reason, data should be in formats that are likely to reduce the costs and hence increase the data use.

Re-use: Both free access and standardized licensing encourage a greater reuse of data on a daily basis (Houghton, 2011).

Efficiency and productivity impacts

Apart from the more direct costs and savings by both the agency and the user, free access and licensing of data formats have had an impact on the efficiency and productivity of free data access. Below is a list of how both the agency and the end user benefit:

  1. agency
  • An increase in the number of users per funding dollar,
  • Enhanced performance
  • Enhanced reputation of the agency due to the positive reviews from the users. This can result in more funding from the government or bring greater demand to the agency’s other products, thereby increasing revenue.
  • The agency can now focus on the core business activities.
  1. users
  • The reduced costs by the agency may encourage the user to use more data and benefit from efficiency gains.
  • Reduced uncertainty over the efficiency of the data provided.

Additionally, there are other important dynamics that may affect the costs and benefits of more open access to Public Service Information (Moriarty, 1999). For instance, the first mover costs for both the agency and the users may make it easy to access data, standardized licensing and cost effectiveness (Houghton, 2011). In a nutshell, benefits enjoyed by first movers may tend to understate the advantages. While there may be efficiency curve effects, with expensive initiatives to start with, the efficiency always improves over time (Houghton, 2011). This means that even though the initial costs of implementation may be high, the long-term benefits make the process worthwhile. Timing impacts and costs are also another major issue (Houghton, 2011). It is very important to determine how quickly data can be made available and how quickly the user can understand licensing. By the same token, there may also be timing impacts that relate to the amount of time required for the user to learn how to access and use the data (Houghton, 2011). As agencies embrace more access and standardized licensing and data formats, users are also to be educated on the new changes.

 

 

Conclusion

It is intuitively doubtless that information regarding the effectiveness of PSI differs considerably. While authors may make sense in the reasons behind their arguments, it goes without saying that they make the whole data access issue more complex (Houghton, 2011). The publications and data that are available due to the publicly funded research tend to be different somehow from the other forms of PSI. Moreover, it would be a mistake to use the available studies to generalize the recommendations of this paper (Houghton, 2011). Nevertheless, when attempting to measure the value of the data and/or the costs and benefits associated with providing open access to it many of the same issues usually occur.

Previous studies provide evidence that suggests the fact that individual cases vary greatly, making generalization become extremely difficult and of limited value. However, what could be of more use could be the use of generalized methods of analysis (Houghton, 2011). For instance, it would be useful to combine both the frameworks and models and use them in assessing the costs and benefits of updating the information in the available research data and sharing information so as to further develop the framework useful in estimating cost benefits that have been outlined in this study. This in turn helps in the production of tools that are tailored to the analysis of the costs and benefits aiming at providing open access to PSI (Houghton, 2011). These tools might probably consist of a data collection template, a draft questionnaire which outlines the questions that are required to deduce the necessary information, and asimple spreadsheet-based online model that can enable people toperform a cost-benefit analysis (Moriarty, 1999).

The models should also include all costs and benefits that are quantifiable , but must also includeissues that are qualitative so as to helpin the prioritization of data preservation, accessibility and curation projects (e.g. incorporate a score card that is balanced in order to approach a mechanism of weighing the more intangible benefits) (Moriarty, 1999). Studies of the costs and benefits are usually associated with open access to publications and data that arisesfrom the publicly funded research suggest that benefits can be significant and the costs absolutely small (Houghton, 2011). Investment in curation and open accessibility of data usually produces greater returns when the data are long-lived, as the returns are recurring during the productive life of the data, although the time lag between investment and return (cost and benefit) can be substantial (Houghton, 2011).This study demonstrates that the direct and measurable benefits of making PSI freely availableand unrestricted certainly exceeds the costs. When one includes longer-term benefits thatcannot be fully measured nor even foreseen, the open access case tends to be strong (Innes & Simpson, 1998). In a nutshell, free or affordable data access should not be exempted for a chosen few but be considered a right of every user. For years, data providers have been exploiting users by selling data to them at exorbitant prices without their knowledge. However, with recent changes in the contemporary ICT sector, data provision is more transparent than ever before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Houghton, J. (2011). Costs and benefits of data provisions. Centre for Strategic Economic        Studies Victoria University. Retrieved from http://ands.org.au/resource/houghton-cost-benefit-   study.pdf

Goodrich, J., Haar, J., &Mindreau, M.A. (1996). Third world activities in space             commercialization: a note. Multinational Business Review 4(2), 86-93.

Innes, J.E., & Simpson, D.M., (1998). Implementing GIS for planning: Lessons from the history       of technological innovation. APA Journal. (Spring), 230-236.

Mennecke, B. & West, L. (199Geographic InformationSystems in Developing Countries:       Opportunities and Options for Decision Support. Journal of Global Information     Management. 6(3), 14-15.

Moriarty, P., (1999). Industrial location and community development. Chapel Hill, NC:     University of North Carolina Press.

Rogers, E., (1997). Diffusion of innovations. Third Edition. New York: The Free Press.

Todaro, M., (1994).Economic Development. Fifth Edition. New York: Longman.