Photo: (Left to right) Panelists Tony Clement, Cedric Jeannot, Gareth MacLeod, Fahad Siddiqui and moderator Iain Klugman discuss the potential of “open data” for technology entrepreneurs at OpenText Sept. 5, 2013.

The Canadian government will hold an appathon early next year to spur developers to capitalize on vast amounts of information stored in government databases.

Treasury Board President Tony Clement announced the Canadian Open Data Experience, or CODE, in Toronto today, a few weeks after he visited Communitech and discussed the government’s Open Data initiative at a forum at OpenText in Waterloo.

“Our intention is to mirror the success of other appathons around the world, and use government Open Data to fuel the development of apps that take this previously untapped natural resource, and turn it into something that can help out citizens in their day-to-day lives,” Clement said.

The appathon is planned for “around February 2014,” he said.

News of the event should be welcome in Waterloo Region, where an increasing number of similarly styled events have challenged developers not only to create applications, but entirely new companies, under a tight deadline, often over a weekend.

CODE also meshes with the broader trend to capitalize on so-called “big data,” which Communitech has already been tapped to explore in collaboration with seven other agencies.

Communitech DATA.BASE, funded with a $6.4-million investment from FedDev Ontario, encourages entrepreneurs to commercialize huge amounts of data collected by Earth-orbiting microsatellites and remote sensors.

“Waterloo Region’s post-secondary institutions produce some of the most talented developers in the world, and they’ve never been shy about taking on new challenges,” Communitech CEO Iain Klugman said. “The CODE appathon provides another opportunity for our students to shine, and to help make government data more accessible to the rest of us.”

Until recently, Minister Clement said, most of this data “was simply collected and stored away like your grandmother’s silverware in some forgotten cupboard to collect dust.”

The CODE appathon will challenge students across the country to build consumer-friendly apps and other tools that unlock the value of that information “for social or commercial purposes,” he said.

“The value of these datasets – from air and water quality monitoring across the country, to border wait times, to information on permanent residency applications, crime statistics and vehicle recalls – has the potential to drive massive social, political, and economic change,” he continued. “This data is a treasure trove of information that offers endless possibilities for researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs.”

Students will not only benefit from the chance to use their skills in new ways, but will learn “valuable lessons about the state of the modern technology industry and the visionary nature of the start-up culture,” Minister Clement said.

The CODE appathon is the newest addition to the government’s Open Data initiative, which has already made about 200,000 datasets available through its online portal at data.gc.ca.

“We are just beginning to explore the opportunities this new resource offers to increase productivity and strengthen transparency,” Minister Clement said.

“There is no doubt in my mind that technological innovation and entrepreneurship are fundamental drivers of jobs, growth and our country’s long-term prosperity. This national Open Data challenge is part of our effort to promote that kind of entrepreneurial innovation here in Canada.”