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The wider beneficial use of Ordnance Survey Data – Request for Evidence

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Open Data User Group (ODUG) - September 2013

At the request of the data community ODUG has been looking into some of the issues around the use of Ordnance Survey (OS) data in the development of data products and services, and existing barriers to the wider use of this public sector information. We have recently published a benefits case which recommends that OS’s licensing regime should be reconsidered in the light of today’s Information Economy to maximise the use of this public sector data as an underpinning element of the National Information Infrastructure and with the intention of opening up the data product and services market to create more opportunities for third-party innovation and business growth.

OS has recently made some aspects of the non-commercial use of their data easier, for example the recent introduction of the Public Sector INSPIRE WMS End User License. However, many of us believe considerable unrealised economic potential is locked up by the current framework under which OS operates as a Trading Fund. We would like to examine this more thoroughly, and we need your help to do so.

Our challenge is to put a case to government which will, for the first time, fully exemplify how opening up OS data has the potential to deliver economic benefit to the UK economy which will surpass the revenue OS currently generates for Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT).

To do this we need support from developers and businesses in the real-world. We need you to supply us with the evidence that, if we can get this data opened up for wider use in the data product and services market, you can and will use it to create substantial business growth.

The bottom line for HMT to consider a change to Ordnance Survey’s operating model will be that the corporation tax revenues your businesses can generate will strongly exceed OS’s current annual revenue stream. The Chancellor will also be interested in whether new jobs can be created.

OS’s 2012-13 Annual Report sets out revenues of £142m (£68m or 48% of which are government funded) with operating costs of £112.9m and therefore an operating profit of £32.3m, with OS paying a dividend of £20.4m back to government. As a back of the envelope calculation assuming that government funding remains unchanged for the very important public tasks OS performs, this means that we need to demonstrate that, were OS data to be provided under a less restricted commercial licensing regime, external third party revenue (in the UK geospatial and data sectors)  would increase by around £370m (142-68/20% (worst-case)).

A recent study prepared for Google by Oxera Consulting Ltd in the UK estimated global revenues from geospatial products and services to be $150-$270 billion per year.  Also, the geospatial industry is estimated to be growing by 13% per year through 2016. In this context, if the UK government were to change OS’s business model and support the provision of open, high-quality data it is almost inconceivable that UK businesses will not be able to own the meagre percentage of the market necessary to return the £370m HMT currently realises from OS’s business by alternate means, through:

  • Increased profits from exiting OS licensees – either through cheaper input costs or because they will be able to deliver new and different products and services as specific licensing restrictions are lifted.
  • New profits generated by innovative businesses entering the geospatial data market.
  • New profits generated by data products and services businesses able to use this data freely, to underpin other datasets in innovative applications, in particular making use of this ‘platform’ data to release the value from other Public Sector Information.

Our premise goes further – we want to demonstrate to HMT, with tangible evidence from the data community that there is a huge untapped market opportunity here for UK plc. There are a number of different areas where your evidence will be helpful to us in pulling this case together:

  1. Simple examples and ideas for new business opportunities where you can provide a basic business forecast (order of magnitude level) to show how you can make beneficial use of OS data in new products and services. Also whether your business opportunity is likely to generate new jobs. These examples can include those as a result of the direct application of OS data and/or those which would use the data to underpin other data to create a new product or service. Please send us examples where OS data would be useful to you even if, at present, you would not entertain using it for any reason;
  2. Examples of development opportunities where you have found OS’s current licensing terms commercially restrictive, which has dissuaded you from using their data;
  3. Examples where you use other sources of geospatial data and why you chose these over OS data, on the basis of licensing or for some other reason;
  4. Examples where you might have felt you were unable to compete with OS’s own commercial arm on fair terms, whether or not you have tried to do so and what the outcome has been if you have;
  5. Examples of contractual terms in your existing OS licences which restrict you from easily branching out into other product/service/market areas;
  6. Case studies of successful products and services developed on the basis of data licensed from OS and the benefits of using OS data in these areas.


We understand that some of the information which might be helpful to this debate will be commercially confidential and we want to build the best possible evidence base on behalf of the whole community. So, if you wish to submit information privately we guarantee that: (i) It will remain confidential to the OUDG Chair and a restricted number of ODUG members and senior officials who provide support to ODUG (These can be named individuals if you wish ); (ii) We will use it anonymously in our evidence to government (unless you give us permission to do otherwise); (iii) We will contact you for your permission to disclose anything specific to your evidence to a wider audience.

Please submit your evidence directly to Krisztina Katona at and to Please email us with your phone number should you wish to discuss your submission.

We’d like to hear from you as soon as possible – submissions can cover any or all of the above categories and do not need to be ‘perfect’ as we will come back to you for further clarification if necessary. Our initial goal is to have a good body of evidence in place by the end of September. We know you are all very busy people – but please try to find the time to send us something soon!


Heather Savory

Chair Open Data User Group

September 2013

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  1. Comment by Owen Boswarva posted on

    Is the ultimate objective here to secure open data release of more Ordnance Survey data assets, or just to make OS commercial licensing terms more business-friendly?

    I mean it's all interesting stuff, but there's a danger of mission creep for the Open Data User Group. Calls for simplified commercial licensing of public datasets just enable data holders to evade the arguments for open data release (as we've seen recently with PAF).

    That said (and while I appreciate the ODUG may need to engage with existing OS commercial licensees on a confidential basis), I think it would be a useful basis for more open discussion if the Government prevailed upon Ordnance Survey to put sample copies of their full standard business licences (including the partnership framework licences) on the public side of their website.

    -- Owen Boswarva, 05/09/2013

  2. Comment by lauratomei posted on

    Most interesting.  We would be interested in georeferenced address with postcode only, kind of a cross/subset of Address Layer 2 and CodePoint, not the entire PAF, which contains much more and it is not really related to the majority of the user cases (we think).  Is there a deadline for this initiative?  Please, advise.  Thank you.