Open source for government open data

NuCivic launches 'truly' open SaaS, open data platform

A new player has entered the open-source, software-as-a-service (SaaS) market with the goal of making data sharing cheaper and easier for government.

NuData Enterprise, a cloud-based open data hosting and servicing platform, is designed to help governments comply with open data mandates and help developers build businesses based on government data.

NuData is the first product to be offered by NuCivic in partnership with Acquia, which provides an open cloud platform for Drupal-powered sites,  and Carahsoft, a government IT solutions provider. NuData differentiates itself by being based on the Drupal content management system, which many governments already run, and is available for self-hosting on an open-source platform or as a turnkey data publishing solution. 

The service is based on NuCivic’s DKAN distribution of Drupal, which provides a full suite of open data cataloging, publishing and visualization features, as well as rich content and community management tools. DKAN is API-compatible with CKAN, the Python-based software widely deployed by many national governments. NuData features bulk data/API hosting and management, visualization and mapping tools, a back-end administrative management system and easy-to-use theming configuration.

“Building an open data platform that’s based on Drupal and is therefore open and extensible and lets people do things with the data out of the box, we think makes for a better open data platform solution,” said Andrew Hoppin, chief executive officer of NuCivic and formerly the New York State Senate’s first chief information officer.

“Relative to proprietary platforms, it’s truly open SaaS, and what we mean by that is you can never talk to us and never pay us a dime, and you can have a great experience running the platform.”

For agencies that want more support, however, NuCivic makes the solution available as a bundle with service-level agreements for up time, hosting and round-the-clock support through its partnership with Acquia, an open-source software company.

“We found from all our experience with open data platforms that putting a data catalog online is great, and it’s foundational, but when you want do things with the data – when you want to build things around the data, when you want to blend content with data that tells stories about the data – Drupal just happens to be good at all those things,” said Hoppin.

To get robust content and content management capability, many agencies integrate more than one open-source platform. For instance, Data.gov, the federal government’s home of open data, uses CKAN and WordPress.

“That’s all well and good if you have a large staff and a large budget, but it’s very complicated to maintain those two different pieces of software,” Hoppin said.

NuCivic lets users do everything they’d want to do with data in a single stack based on Drupal so it can be hosted as Federal Information Security Management Act-compliant.

“There’s a much lower cost of ownership for the government customer because of this unified stack, this unified approach, instead of having to literally bolt together the different stacks,” said Tim Marsh, director of public-sector business development and industry solutions at Acquia.

Several government agencies are already working with NuCivic. For instance, the U.S. Agency for International Development is moving its public-facing open data to NuCivic’s solution, while the National Agricultural Laboratory is working with the company on sharing data internally.

“It’s not one-size-fits-all,” Hoppin added. “It’s not just a purpose-built product that does one thing well like a data catalog. It can be quite readily customized to a range of somewhat varied needs.”

NuCivic is also in use in cities such as Oakland, Calif., which replaced its CKAN-based data portal with NuData Enterprise when it ran into problems with how to use the data once it put the data catalog out.

“First and foremost it’s important to put up the data catalog as a foundation, but then it really takes a community collaborating on data and makes it more and more like an online community portal where the data is secondary and the community is first,” he said.

Moving to NuData from hand-coded or CKAN- based solutions is easy, he said, because NuCivic’s API can find and understand the data, which all adhere to the same government standards.

“We fundamentally want to transform the open-source marketplace by bringing industry solutions to market in an innovative way like we’re doing with NuData Enterprise and with NuCivic and with Carahsoft,” Marsh said. “We want to change the game.”

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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