A Look at How Commerce Data Fuels Innovation


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Post by Ian Kalin

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker Tours Exhibit at PayPal’s Headquarters in San Jose
Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker Tours Exhibit at PayPal’s Headquarters in San Jose

The U.S. Commerce Department is responsible for producing troves of data – including weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), patent applications from the Patent and Trademark Office, demographic information from the Census Bureau, economic data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and export data from the International Trade Administration. This data is the foundation for innovative ideas from the private sector. And during a trip to Silicon Valley on Feb 26, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker saw firsthand how businesses, both established and startups alike, rely on Commerce data to fuel their ideas.

The first stop was at PayPal’s headquarters in San Jose. Secretary Pritzker toured their “Commerce of the Future” exhibit -- an incredible look at how digital payments will transform the way we make purchases at shops both big and small. The exhibit suggests a future where commercial transactions will be even more efficient and secure.

The tour was followed by roundtable discussion where Secretary Pritzker met with nearly a dozen technology and venture capital leaders to discuss the importance of data in growing their businesses. Representing companies like Intel, Box, Nextdoor, Cloudera and others, these leaders rely on big data analytics to determine how to reach new customers and to offer personalized services. A key takeaway from the meeting was the importance of institutionalizing the Department’s open data efforts to ensure it remains a key focus in future administrations.

Following the roundtable, Secretary Pritzker met with several startup companies for a product demonstration. This Startup Showcase was hosted by Prospect Silicon Valley, a business development firm whose mission is to help entrepreneurs succeed in the marketplace. Each of the startups represented different industries and offered a range of diverse services, such as indoor lighting manufacturing, educational development services, energy production and innovative research search engine. What tied them all together was role commerce data – from weather to patent to demographics - played in building their products. In fact, as these entrepreneurs said to Secretary Pritzker, a number of their products couldn’t exist without the availability -- and reliability -- of data from the Commerce Department.

At both events, it was clear from the participants that having access to timely, accurate and reliable data from the Commerce Department is essential for their success. The participants offered suggestions for how the department can improve its data dissemination, like developing automatic data pipelines known as APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that easily link one database to another, posting data in machine readable formats and standardizing federal datasets. These are all important steps we can take to help the private and nonprofits better utilize the data we produce. 

Fortunately, Secretary Pritzker has made data a key pillar in the Department’s Open for Business Agenda. In the past year alone, the department has made enormous strides in advancing an open data agency - establishing the first Commerce Data Advisory Council, hiring its first Chief Data Scientist and launching the Commerce Data Service, an in house software engineering team to help each of the department’s bureaus enable data to achieve their missions. From creating new products like tools to predict which businesses might benefit from exports to modernizing patent data, the Commerce Data Service is helping to enable evidence-based decision making across the department.

Engaging with businesses at all levels helps the department better understand how we can keep pace with the speed of business. Knowing how our data is being used will helps us unlock the potential of our data, fuel business growth and spur innovations that we cannot yet imagine.

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Last updated: 2016-03-01 10:25

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