This Monday I had the pleasure of being in Mexico City for the OECD’s High Level Meeting on e-Government. CIO’s from a number of countries were present – including Australia, Canada, the UK and Mexico (among others). But what really got me going was a presentation by Chris Vein, the Deputy United States Chief Technology Officer for Government Innovation.
In his presentation he referenced work around the Blue Button and the Green Button – both efforts I was previously familiar with. But my conversation with Chris sparked several new ideas and reminded me of just how revolutionary these initiatives are.
For those unacquainted with them, here’s a brief summary:
The Blue Button Initiative emerged out of the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with a simple goal – create a big blue button on their website that would enable a logged in user to download their health records. That way they can then share those records with whoever they wish, a new doctor, a hospital, an application or even just look at it themselves. The idea has been deemed so good, so important and so popular, that it is now being championed as industry standard, something that not just the VA but all US health providers should do.
The Green Button Initiative is similar. I first read about it on ReadWriteWeb under the catchy and insightful title “Green Button” Open Data Just Created an App Market for 27M US Homes. Essentially the Green Button would enable users to download their energy consumption data from their utility. In the United States 9 utilities have already launched Green Buttons and an app ecosystem – applications that would enable people to monitor their energy use – is starting to emerge. Indeed Chris Vein talked about one app that enabled a user to see their thermostat in real time and then assess the financial and environmental implications of raising and/or lowering it. I personally see the Green Button evolving into an API that you can give others access to… but that is a detail.
Why it Matters
Colleagues like Nigel Shadbolt in the UK have talked a lot about enabling citizens to get their data out of websites like Facebook. And Google has it’s own very laudable Data Liberation Front run by great guy and werewolf expert, Brian Fitzpatrick. But what makes the Green Button and Blue Button initiatives unique and important is that they create a common industry standard for sharing consumer data. This creates incentives for third parties to develop applications and websites that can analyze this data because these applications will scale across jurisdictions. Hence the Read Write Web article’s focus on a new market. It also makes the data easy to share. Healthcare records downloaded using the blue button are easily passed on to a new doctor or a new hospital since now people can design systems to consumer these healthcare records. Most importantly, it gives the option of sharing these records so they don’t have to wait for lumbering bureaucracies.
This is a whole new type of open data. Open not to the public but to the individual to whom the data really belongs.
I would love to see the blue button and green button initiative spread to companies and jurisdictions outside the United States. There is no reason why for examples there cannot be Blue Buttons on Provincial Health Care website in Canada, or the UK. Nor is there any reason why provincial energy corporations like BC Hydro or Bullfrog Energy (there’s a progressive company that would get this) couldn’t implement the Green Button. Doing so would enable Canadian software developers to create applications that could use this data and help citizens and tap into the US market. Conversely, Canadian citizens could tap into applications created in the US.
The opportunity here is huge. Not only could this revolutionize citizens access to their own health and energy consumption data, it would reduce the costs of sharing health care records, which in turn could potentially create savings for the industry at large.
If you are a consumer, tell your local health agency, insurer and energy utility about this.
If you are a energy utility or Ministry of Health and are interested in this – please contact me.
Either way, I hope this is interesting. I believe there is huge potential in Personal Open Data, particular around data currently held by crown corporations and in critical industries, like healthcare.