The Business of Mobility is a series of interviews with business leaders in sustainable mobility.  

Interview with Jean-Marc Lazard, Co-founder and CEO of Opendatasoft 

You can read Opendatasoft’s last Business of Mobility article with us here.

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Paris-based Opendatasoft builds data platforms for public and private organisations and shares their data with customers and citizens. They are engaged with 300 organizations globally, encompassing 2,000 data projects in 25 countries. And they work with dozens of cities, local governments and public authorities. (See Open Data Paris). In this interview Jean-Marc discusses the importance of data democratization. 

Autonomy: What is data democratization?

Jean-Marc: Data democratization has become something of a buzz-phrase. However, behind the hype is a very important concept: that data gleaned from public activities should be free and freely available. Not only that, but the last mile of the data chain should be presented in such a way that non-technical users can make sense of it…visualize it so to speak.

Autonomy: And what about technical users? 

Jean-Marc: Yes, it’s important that both non-specialists and specialists can use the data. We generate APIs for each dataset, so development teams can plug into them to create applications. It’s a bit like Lego building blocks, everything has a way of attaching to everything else, and there’s no limit to what sort of uses you can generate from the data.

Autonomy: Is it a bit like open-source software?

Jean-Marc: Yes, the concept is similar. Creating a viable system for anyone to iterate and innovate, to take your data and turn it into a business, or perhaps a social good app. 

Autonomy: And how does this relate to smart cities? 

Jean-Marc: Smart cities use IoT and ICT to improve their efficiency and to help authorities monitor services like waste, energy, security and transport. Data democratization is taking this idea to a totally new level. Instead of relying on the authorities to work with the data for the good of the city, we can now trust that all sorts of smaller players (from ordinary citizens to startups) as well as larger ones, will use the data to innovate on new services that improve the city. For example, we helped Toulouse with their Smart City strategy by creating an open data platform that includes 328 datasets. Local entrepreneurs can collect data and devise services that contribute to the environmental aspirations of the city; or to any other public good issue. Open data is like the raw material on which to build a smart city. 

Autonomy: So, in some respects the decision-making is decentralised and you’re trusting business, non-profit organisation and ordinary people to do good with the data available?

Jean-Marc: Yes, in that sense data democratization is simply an extension of the free-market system and promoting a marketplace of ideas and opportunities underpinned by data. 

Autonomy: And this promotes civic trust and engagement because it puts the power of knowledge in the hands of ordinary people?

Jean-Marc: Yes. For example we recently worked with an NGO called Israel Smart Mobility Living Lab, based in Tel Aviv. They’ve built a platform to improve collaboration and integration on mobility. To improve things like safety and congestion. Their platform gathers players from the private sector, the public sector and academics.  

Autonomy: You also have some projects with energy providers? With the increase of EVs it’s becoming that much more important to implement smart grids.  

Jean-Marc: We’re working with a number of clients in the electricity sector, including Enedis, EDF and UK Power Networks (UKPN). What’s interesting is that data democratization is happening during a time of increased awareness about emissions and the environment. Now with renewable energy there is an added variable to the grid, i.e. weather. And, in terms of curbing emissions, it’s better to match demand to when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. And with open data, you have the foundations for innovations that can promote smart consumption. 

Autonomy:  And of course there are various laws, like France’s Energy Transition Act, which mandate disclosure on carbon. 

Jean-Marc: Yes, with open data you not only get to check the emissions, but you’re laying the foundations for apps and innovations that reduce those emissions. 

Autonomy: But to get this right, you need to be sharing data from across different areas?

Jean-Marc: Yes, our clients benefit from data from various sources. That’s why we will harvest certain publicly available data that’s relevant to the use case and then share it on our client’s platform. This sometimes involves building Google bots that seek out what we need (ensuring there are no issues of proprietary) and then we turn this data into a useable format and share it. 

Autonomy: And lastly how do you see data democratization changing the urban mobility landscape.

Jean-Marc: We have numerous clients from the transport and mobility sector, including SNCF, Keolis, RATP, and – as mentioned – Israel’s Smart Mobility Living Lab. Cities want to move away from single car ownership and toward multimodal travel and mobility-as-a-service (MaaS). Open data is the foundation for building these systems. In some ways, the push for open data is part of the new mobility revolution; it’s part of putting power and freedom back in the hands of the ordinary citizen.