8 technological revolutions in Ukraine. The third revolution: open data

It's hard to imagine a country without the Prozorro system now. Or without open registers of legal entities, court decisions, data on urban transport. But all of them aren't even five years old yet. Liga.net and TECHIIA continue to tell about 8 technological revolutions in Ukraine since independence. Today's heroes are open state data and API. How have they changed our life, business, and politics?

A bit of history

With the inauguration of the current president, the word "digitization" was heard from everywhere. In a few years, the authorities have decided to digitize Ukraine. It would seem that more than half of Ukrainians already have smartphones. But there are some "buts."

Firstly, we should provide the country with the Internet — residential and mobile. Secondly, politicians, experts, and sympathizers agree that it is not possible to put the state in a smartphone until the basic registries are cleaned up, and the population is open to maximum data. The minister of digital transformation himself keeps the issue under control.

But this is now, in 2019. And in the '00s, there were only a few words about the need to open the state data — not even some kind of electronic order. Why, when there is no Internet in the country?

Oleksiy Vyskub, First Deputy Minister of Digital Transformation:

"In general, the field of open data in the world is quite young. This is a modern concept, which provides that all data that the state accumulates (except those with limited access) should be available for free use by citizens and businesses."

Only in 2011, when people had their first iPhones and glimmers of hope for 3G, the Verkhovna Rada made its first formal step - it adopted the law "On Access to Public Information." Thanks to this law, the Ukrainians were able to get free public information from government agencies.

The norm appeared, but the information itself was in no hurry. The process was stalled until the Revolution of Dignity. Then the course to the West and the need to coordinate with Europe pushed the power-holders forward.

In autumn 2015, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted a landmark resolution No. 835. According to it, state structures were obliged to publish certain data sets in the open format. The government ordered three hundred registers and databases to be opened for Ukrainians. The formats are also described.

At the same time, Ukraine launched the Prozorro public procurement site. In December, it was transferred to the state balance. Almost immediately, its ideological inspirer Max Nefedov began to share the incredible figures of savings in tenders.

Jane Klepa, Executive Director, 1991 Open Data Incubator:

"Opening data and API to any company is an excellent image story. This is how it shows its transparency and provides a resource for new projects. The situation with state registries is similar. By opening the data that the population and potential startups can see and use, the state gets a big bonus in the overall picture of the world."

In 2017, the Government doubled the list of data sets needed for the opening. And this April, the list again increased noticeably — from 616 to 887. The updated decree now defines the procedure by which one can monitor the publication of the sets.

The data itself is the new oil. And the development prospects of this market are enormous. But like oil, if you have nothing to fuel, no matter how valuable and useful it is, you don't care

What is open data? Court order scans? Text documents?

Generally, it's any information that has public value and usefulness. But you can't just publicize blurry images from city council meetings. The data has to be in a machine-readable format. That is, information systems should be able to pull them out and use them without human involvement easily.

Where does the state publish the data sets?

The updated national open data portal, data.gov.ua, has been in operation since August 2018. Anyone can download the set they need — for example, the registers of legal entities and court decisions are updated daily. Now the portal has almost 19 000 different packages — from coal reserves in Ukraine to, for example, a list of churches in Drohobych.

Just take them and make your startup!

It should be said that in a few years, Ukraine has been noted in many openness ratings at once. In 2016 it took 31st place in the Global Open Data Index, surpassing India, Italy, and Slovakia. In 2017, it scored 47 points and took 17th place out of 30 in the Open Data Barometer — a project that evaluates the quality of implementation of government policy in the field of open data. Here, Ukraine was also noted in second place among countries that have made the most significant progress over the past four years. However, no research has been done for a long time.

According to Oleg Krot, co-founder of TECHIIA holding, the data is needed when you:

a) you want to use them to control the population, public opinion, and public finances for your own purposes. This is relevant for authoritarian states, and, fortunately, this is not about Ukraine.

b) you want to use them in business activity — and earn through greater awareness, simplification of their business processes, etc. This develops in proportion to the growth of small and medium-sized businesses, as well as improving the welfare of citizens. Although here, Ukraine is not yet in the strongest position too.

What did the opening of data in Ukraine lead to, and what does it lead to?

Journalists and investigators will say in one voice: "Work is easier!". For the media and anti-corruption initiatives, registers of legal entities, property rights, declarations, and SFS are vital. Collecting files on a person and/or company has become many times easier and faster. And how many interesting topics and insights the court registry contains! Or the millions of Prozorro tenders that have been publicly released.

But these are journalists. What about open data for everyone else?

Oleksiy Vyskub, First Deputy Minister of Digital Transformation:

"This opens up great prospects for government transparency, the development of convenient services for citizens, business development, and, in general, the formation of a new powerful data industry — these are new jobs and new professions."

That is, if it's global, a plus to the economy. For example, according to the deputy minister of digital transformation, the open data market in the EU is estimated at almost €60 billion. We have at least a quarter of this amount targeted.

It is worth reminding a study by the Kyiv School of Economics and the British Open Data Institute, which showed that in 2017 open data brought the Ukrainian economy over $700 million, or 0.67% of GDP. The researchers have predicted that if we do not slow down, we can increase this share to almost 1% by 2025.

And if more down-to-earth, the benefits are the same — you can quickly notice the raiding in the documents, which previously could be unnoticed for months. General plans, data on queues of children to kindergartens, city budgets, repair work, construction passports... And the anti-corruption investigations of activists directly or indirectly, but positively affect the welfare of Ukrainians.

Of course, open data on government procurement is far from being a panacea for all crooks, as Vasil Zadvorny, CEO of ProZorro, tells "Rumors." He remembers a case in Ternopil. In order not to take part in the open bidding, the dealers "cut" the road of 20 meters and concluded 50 direct contracts for its repair, each of them in the threshold level.

Nevertheless, ProZorro provides the state with considerable savings in procurement. According to Zadvorny's estimates — about $1 billion annually. "This is about 25-30 billion hryvnias per year. While the site does not receive a single penny from the budget," says Vasyl.

The closest analogy to how ProZorro works is the Besarabsky Market. Suppliers pay a fee to participate in the bidding. The profitable part of the state platform is 60-70 million UAH per year. Net profit is minimal. And most of it also goes to the state budget.

Finally, few people think about it, but even tracing a trolleybus or tram on the map here and now is also a credit to the open data. Local governments publish routes and dynamically update information on the geolocation of hundreds of vehicles in real-time. Thus, points and arrows have started to drive in transport applications. And we stopped freezing at stops in the dark. Or at least now we know how much is left to freeze up.

Yes, annexes

This is one of the main effects of open data. A metaphor is appropriate here. Imagine a field with sunflower. You can use it in many different ways. One will simply collect and make ornamental flowers. The other one will make oil. The third one will take out and sort out the seeds.

It's the same with information. Ukrainians quickly began turning "raw" state terabytes into useful services: sites, mobile applications, or even ordinary bots.

Jane Klepa, Executive Director, 1991 Open Data Incubator:

"At 1991 Open Data Incubator, we've released more than 160 startups in three years in various incubation programs. These projects both use public open data and generate part of it."

The list of services that somehow work with official registries, sets, API is already quite extensive and continues to grow. Areas can be very diverse.

YouControl, Opendatabot, services of LIGA: ZAKON, ClarityProject, Dozorro, 007 work for business and investigators. And once they started with simple company files and procurement analysis. But the more new sets appear the more complex monitoring and analytics become available.

Judicial information is cleaned up by the Court on the palm, Precedent, and others. The NORA project evaluates the files of construction market players to minimize risks. The CoST Ukraine portal monitors the repair of Ukrainian roads for someone else's interests. And the site Donor.UA thanks to open data from the Ministry of Health checks the stocks of donor blood.

About a year ago, together with the Tapas project, we talked about several cases that were implemented by opening and organizing data from state and municipal structures.

According to Serhii Milman, founder and CEO of YouControl service, open data is already a successful case for our country. It has accurately influenced the culture of doing business in Ukraine and made citizens more aware. The availability of data encourages entrepreneurs to take more responsibility for their actions.

And not just entrepreneurs. Companies that work with open data already have something to remember about it. For example, Opendatabot highlights three significant "discoveries":

1) Alimony debtors registry. This allowed people to monitor themselves and know that they would not be allowed to go abroad. And, the company notes, over the past year, the number of non-payers has decreased.

2) Real estate registry. This is a real way to reduce real estate crimes. On the one hand, it allows you to monitor the status of your property and react quickly if something goes wrong, on the other — to avoid fraudsters when buying and renting a home.

3) "A particular victory is a ban on deleting companies. Thanks to open data, we could understand that some companies are disappearing from the registry. Many of them were connected with the raiding," says Darina Danilenko, Head of PR of Opendatabot. Also this year, at the initiative of the service, President Zelensky signed a law on countering raiding, which included a ban on the deletion of companies.

The situation with the other services is changing little by little.

"In Ukraine, there are 1 million Ukrainian companies with tax debts, and their total amount exceeds 81 billion UAH! Debts to the state have one unpleasant property of being accumulated exponentially, especially if the debtor knows nothing about them," says Olga Taranova, director of accounting products and services of Liga: ZAKON.

According to her, to get information about the tax debt of a company or an entrepreneur, one had to be very skillful in these matters. Commercial services were also unable to extract this information and explain it to users in clear language — the SFS kept it closed. But recently, the tax authorities began to open access to their API. This has already been integrated into services and bot-accountant by Liga: ZAKON.

However, according to Olga Taranova, the information that may be received by companies from the SFS is not enough to understand the full picture of all settlements with the state.

What else will the state open? And what would businesses like?

One of the most urgent sets today is financial reporting, said Serhii Milman of YouControl. It is needed to be able to assess the real financial strength of partners, to avoid fraudsters and bankruptcies. Also, he said, it is necessary to open the charters of the companies to understand the authority of the manager.

A separate story is interoperability. It's a long stuck issue of state registries' connectivity.

"It is necessary to implement end-to-end identifiers that accompany the company or individual entrepreneur in all registries. This would make it possible to understand the company's involvement, for example, in court cases as accurately as possible and avoid situations where important data is hidden," says Milman.

According to Olga Taranova from Liga: ZAKON, the state has yet to work with the customs in the area of open data. This is so far a separate and very closed world. The company is also interested in the segment of reporting by state-owned budget companies. As Olga says, they have only a few programs for this purpose, and there is no understanding of the requirements and conditions for open access to this market.

Oleksiy Vyskub, First Deputy Minister of Digital Transformation:

"The opening of priority data, like other anti-corruption reforms, is 100% dependent on political will. When the new government was elected in August this year, the level of implementation of Resolution 835 (which regulates which sets to be opened — Ed.) was 43%. This is a very negative result."

The official says that the government is now focusing on opening the most useful data for citizens and business and anti-corruption data. Among them:

- the full opening of the business register (Ministry of Justice of Ukraine)

- cadastral map

- map of the administrative-territorial structure of Ukraine (Ministry for Regional Development, Construction and Public Housing and Utilities of Ukraine)

- health data (Ministry of Healthcare of Ukraine)

- crime (MIA)

- air quality and weather forecast (Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Center)

- topographic maps

- public transport schedule (Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine)

In terms of new data, the National Health Service has opened the data on health care reform. And recently, an important bill on a related topic — electronic public registers — was first read in Parliament. As Yegor Chernev, Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Digital Transformation of Parliament, summarized, there will be no need to collect information on different authorities, the state itself should take care of it. The Ukrainians will also have to be informed if someone asks for information about them. In general, the work of state registries should be optimized, and everything unnecessary should be removed.

Oleg Krot, Co-founder of TECHIIA holding:

"The data itself is the new oil. And the development prospects of this market are enormous. But like oil, if you have nothing to fuel, no matter how valuable and useful it is, you don't care."

So the "third technological revolution" is far from being over. And it's probably impossible for it to be. But when the percentage of state data to be opened exceeds at least 70, it will be a victory for Ukraine.

You can read the original article by clicking here.

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