The Data Place... What’s happened since launching

The Data Place (TDP) was developed out of DATA Play 1. Martin Howitt talks about how the project came about, how it’s being used and how they hope to use it in the future.

We (Martin Howitt @MartinHowitt, Lucy Knight @Jargonautical and Simon Gough @mistergough) were working together – in our spare time as ODI Devon – on various data-related projects for over two years, including working with Plymouth City Council to support their excellent DATA Play events, before The Data Place (TDP) was born.

During those two years, we were generally frustrated by a lack of suitable platforms for data publishing; ‘suitable’ meaning affordable, accessible, flexible and available enough to suit our requirements ranging from short-term projects to permanent data stores. And so  we decided to build our own.

Our first customer was Plymouth City Council for whom we provided a simple data store (DATA Place Plymouth) to house their growing portfolio of datasets and form the backbone of their growing use of open data to foster innovation in the city. That relationship allowed us to spend a considerable amount of time getting to grips with the needs of a local authority with a passion for data publishing, and in doing so, understand what they really needed in a data store.

Not long after developing the first data store for Plymouth, Plymouth City Council decided that they liked the product enough to be more than just a customer. And so Plymouth City Council became our first investor, providing the resources needed for us to scale the offering to more customers and put together an ambitious roadmap for freely available data infrastructure.

Before properly launching late in 2017 we managed to encourage more customers  –  including Libraries Unlimited  –  to sign up, and we also successfully joined the UK government’s Digital Marketplace procurement platform.

What’s happened since launching The Data Place

Over the last 14 months we’ve stopped being a gleam in our eyes and are now a very real thing. We enter our second year busy with several ongoing contracts, and a few new ones starting up soon.

Our developers have been busy automating the existing platform, and we’ve also been making it more usable (and easier on the eye) by refactoring the front end. There are more sites (and more changes) to come but for now you can see the fruits of their labours on the revamped DATA Place Plymouth and Libraries Unlimited sites.

We’ve also been lucky enough to work with a couple of other local authorities helping them with their open data, are supporting a couple of local businesses with using data better for business results, and have also started to work with partners in higher education and other social enterprises as well as national organisations.

What started as a passion for open data was nurtured and incubated by the DATA Play movement – and now we’re a solid and growing business with full time staff. The Data Place are based at ThinqTanq in Plymouth, an active part of Plymouth’s digital community and committed to working with local developers and data people. Our product has grown out of a desire to use data as building block for thriving communities. It makes sense for us to build The Data Place as a social enterprise; it means that we will continue to develop ways to have a wider impact, both through the way we operate and the community benefit of the product we offer.

8 March 2019

About the author: Martin Howitt is the co-founder and technology lead of The Data Place and ODI Devon. Past experience includes over 25 years’ local government experience working in various IT, data, technology and architecture roles.