DataSpring at the Digital Catapult

Dataspring

The Environmental Science to Services Partnership (ESSP) is developing DataSpring – a single sign-on, one-stop shop for authoritative environmental data. We caught up with Judith Rhodes, ESSP’s Programmes Manager, to find out more.

The project has finished an initial phase of development and is now ready for user feedback. A first workshop was held at the Digital Catapult Centre recently, bringing together a small group of software developers for a hands-on, creative day using the prototype service.

We need to move away from government’s reliance on bulk data sharing and create an economy of APIs” – Matt Hancock MP

As this quote and many others affirm, for the Big Data revolution to take off, many more datasets need to be available live and from sources via APIs. Gone are the days when hard media or email delivery will suffice. Data consumers don’t want the overhead of managing their own copy of a dataset but need the data to flow from the experts who are capturing it.

But these data publishers have a problem. Many ‘raw’ APIs don’t have critical functions such as:

  • Security and encryption to protect sensitive or commercial data
  • User rights management to differentiate between users
  • Throttling to enforce fair use and manage server strain
  • Usage tracking and potentially charging by usage
  • Analytics to improve the service

For this reason, publishers employ API Management Systems; a relatively new class of software that provides these layers of control around raw APIs. One of the biggest advantages of these systems is that they can manage all APIs within an organisation and present a unified frontend to the users.

 API Management Systems can manage multiple APIs – a huge advantage for organisations

API Management Systems can manage multiple APIs – a huge advantage for organisations

This is great from the perspective of the developer community, as all APIs from an organisation can be accessed from a single interface.

However, developers seldom use APIs from just one publisher. This can leave developers with the added headaches of working with multiple usernames and passwords; different security and encryption protocols, multiple licences to sign and track, separate payment systems for premium datasets and micro-managing changes to multiple back-end systems.

DataSpring aims to solve API issues for both publishers and developers

DataSpring aims to solve API issues for both publishers and developers

These are the issues that the new DataSpring service aims to solve for both publishers and developers. Created by the ESSP (a collaboration between the British Geological Survey, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Environment Agency, the Met Office, the Natural Environment Research Council and Ordnance Survey), DataSpring aims to:

  • Be a discovery interface to find the right data API
  • Provide plenty of metadata and technical documentation
  • Provide users with ‘a single sign-on’
  • Provide cross-API security token access
  • Include a set of standard licences
  • Provide usage statistics for both publishers and developers
  • In time, become an easy payment interface with itemised billing

DataSpring will only succeed if it fulfils specific business needs and if its iterative development is driven by user community feedback. To this end, a number of open datasets are already available in a prototype version of DataSpring. The recent workshop gave us a great start in exploring user needs and we are hoping to engage with further publishers and developers around their requirements.

If you would like to participate, please contact us at info@esspartnership.org. You can find out more about ESSP and DataSpring at http://www.esspartnership.org/ I hope you will join us and help release the potential of government data!

Judith Rhodes is Programme Manager at the Environmental Science to Services Partnership (ESSP). For more ESSP and DataSpring news, check out their website. You can also follow us on Twitter @DigiCatapult for more Digital Catapult related news.

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