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How Link Digital left web development behind to drive data growth

Making its mark as a Canberra-based web development company in 2001, Link Digital began moving towards open data services about five years ago, based on CKAN, Drupal and Amazon Web Services (AWS).

This soon led to picking up contract work for data.gov.au and similar work in other jurisdictions.

Link Digital jumped on this opportunity after becoming involved in the early stages of the re-booting of GovHack in 2012.

Since migrating data.gov.au from WordPress to CKAN, the business has grown the platform from about 3000 data sets to almost 30,000, and along the way, has worked with a range of government agencies to help achieve their open data initiatives.

"We're building more than just web experiences for a typical website, but data catalogues that extend open government data and put it into the hands of the general public," Link Digital founder, Steven De Costa, explained.

As a steering group member in CKAN since 2014, contributing into the project's core technology roadmap, De Costa was also involved in the GovHack committee.

But according to the entrepreneur, it was simply a "matter of coincidence".

"After 12 years of building websites and the commoditisation of web development, meant that clients were expecting more, but expecting to pay less and it became a much less viable business," De Costa said.

"If you're focusing on quality professional services, we would have to strip back the quality and use cheaper outsourcing suppliers, and yet even in the mix of that, the clients still demand more, putting more responsibility on web developers.

"This was a winning outcome for us in the end, and we wanted to move to more of a niche and focused area in open data."

The company largely operates out of its Canberra headquarters but also has staff in Perth and Melbourne.

In April 2018, De Costa made the move to Berlin, Germany to help expand its services as it was accepted into the Australian Landing Pad in Berlin, which is run by the Australian government.

This acts like a hub to meet other international start-ups and major German and European corporations, providing access to investment opportunities.

"I've been working on that prospect for about three years, as personal goal, and it was only in April that we really kicked that off and we'll be in Germany for a couple years," he said.

Outside of Australia, Link Digital collaborates with partners to service clients in Denmark, Saudi Arabia (through its collaborative partnership with Master Works) and New Caledonia.

Over the next two years, Link Digital expects to expand operations with a strong European team, funded directly by new client acquisitions.

"We're currently working on establishing a global partner network and looking to set up a parent company, and within the structure set up a non-profit to do research and development in the area of open data," De Costa explained.

"We've recently established an R&D team, which has just got two people at the moment, but we see that expanding and growing to about the same size as Link Digital through the new non-profit that will be set up in the next three to four months."

The biggest area of focus for Link Digital is within open government data, followed by corporate data management with one of its corporate clients being LEGO Systems.

De Costa also pointed out in the years ahead, it will also turn its focus onto academia in open research data.

"The company has grown at a fairly steady rate over the years, and will continue to do so as we're doing more work with large corporates," he said.