Some of you may have seen a blog post that appeared last week called "Closed Data Now" SOCITM does a "Times" .........
.........the post, by IT/web consultant Paul Geraghty, was critcising Socitm for putting the 'historically open data' from the Brent eGov Register behind the 'paywall' of our new Applications Register, which merges data from the eGov Register and Socitm's Application Software Index in a new service to be available from July. Subscription to the service will be free to public sector organisations that provide their data to the service, but others will have to pay for a subscription to access the data.
The piece went on to suggest Socitm was being hypocritical to do this when it publicly supports the open data movement, and also made a few sideswipes at Better connected for being a paid for service.
Our response is pasted below, we'd be keen to have your feedback.
Thanks for this post about Socitm's Applications Register and other information services. It raises good points which are sometimes misunderstood and it is useful to be able to discuss these on public platforms. We are publishing something similar to this response on our own Socitm blog.
First of all, I'd like to clear up some points of fact. No local authority or other public sector service provider that provides data to the Applications Register will have to pay for their subscription and for them, access to the data will be free, regardless of whether they subscribe to Socitm Insight (as 95% of local authorities do). Anyone who is employed in an organisation that is an Applications Register subscriber - f-o-c or paid, will be able to access the data.
Then there is who pays. Clearly an information service like this that adds value, has to cover the costs of development and delivery. Unlike government departments, LGA, IDeA and local councils, Socitm is not directly funded by the taxpayer, and needs to fund the services it delivers from money raised from fees, subscriptions, events and other services.
The business model we use for the Applications Register is that public bodies that contribute should not pay to use the service, but those that do not contribute pay in cash. Private sector bodies can only pay in cash.
I'm not sure I can see why the council taxpayers of Brent, or the taxpayer in general - were the service to be provided f-o-c through IDeA or other subsidy - should be meeting the cost of research carried out for commercial ends by private sector interests? Or perhaps I am missing something?
Your article also suggests that Socitm's support for the move towards open data is hypocritical, set against our business model for the Applications Register. I think this misunderstands the thinking behind 'open data', which is to get raw data out of government systems for transparency purposes, also so that it can be re-used. Socitm has been a long-term strong supporter of this.
The open data agenda explicitly acknowledges that 're-use' includes adding value and selling on. If councils were to routinely publish the sort of data we will collect for the Applications Register, there would still be work to be done aggregating and manipulating and re-publishing the information to make it useful, and that is what we do, recovering our costs in the way described.
This brings me to Better Connected, the annual survey of council websites carried out by Socitm. You say:
Just about every council in the UK has little option but to pay SOCITM hundreds of pounds annually to join their club to find out the exact details of how their website is being ranked.
The data for Better connected only exists because Socitm has devised a methodology for evaluating websites, pays for a team of reviewers collect the data each year, and then analyses and publishes the results. No one has to subscribe, they choose to do so because the information (not the data) is valuable to them.
Information about how we do the evaluation and ranking is freely available on our website, in our press releases and in our free-to-join Website Usage and Improvement community. The 2010 headline results for all councils are published on socitm.net as open data under a creative commons licence and are linked from data.gov.uk.
If the Better connected report has become a 'must read', that is because the investment Socitm has made in the product has led to it being a more cost-effective investment for councils than alternative sources of advice on improving their website. Many users have told us Better connected (cover price £415 for non-subscribers or free as part of the Socitm Insight subscription that starts at £670 pa for a small district council) is worth many days' consultancy, even when that consultancy is purchased from lower cost SME providers.
Finally, you say:
Won't it be great when all the Linked Open Finance Data is finally out there and we "armchair auditors" can see exactly how much each council pays to SOCITM?
We say, 'bring it on'! Then people will be able to see quite how much has been spent on consultancy and services from other providers that might have been provided by councils getting together and pitching in a bit of money to create the sort of collaborative benchmarking and advice services that an organisation like Socitm was created to offer. Socitm rates are published and members are known. The prices for the services are extraordinarily low in our view compared with the alternatives and, given our expertise and professionalism in the areas we specialise in, arguably of a higher quality.