Without Open Data, Smart Cities Will Stay Dumb

Those who try to dictate data in smart cities will ultimately struggle


Smart cities need to be data driven to succeed because the very nature of technological innovation requires data to function. However, dictating what data is needed or siloing the data we have is never going to be good enough to truly create a smart city. Equally, limiting who can influence the development of it is going to hinder both innovation and technological development.

Instead, data needs to be shared as widely as security allows for. Clearly there are certain datasets that cannot be made openly available, things like medical records and incomes are just two examples, but we have already seen through significant developments in the area, that taking an open approach to more appropriate data can deliver results.

For instance, Citymapper, which works through the APIs for local transport networks, has allowed millions of people to move around a city quickly, avoiding congestion and saving businesses considerable amounts of money. Similarly, Google maps utilizes location data from their Android operating systems for vehicles which enables them to change routes based on congestion to optimize journey times and ease congestion.

The element that both of these incredibly successful solutions share is that they are working for the users’ needs and addressing what these users want, rather than what the companies perceive to be their needs. Creating a smart city with open data gets rid of the potential for this and opens up the opportunity for citizens, businesses, and public bodies to influence the changes being made.

It is something being fully embraced by the Dutch city of Breda with Corné Kriesels, co-ordinator, cables and pipes, taking a leading role within the process.

When he first began in the role 6 years ago, he found the it was very much a top-down approach to open data, creating strict rules and processes that didn't necessarily work as well as they should. He recognized that it was essential to get stakeholders engaged, saying in an interview with Computer Weekly [http://www.computerweekly.com/feature/Netherlands-needs-bottom-up-approach-to-create-smart-cities] 'Ultimately, we all need each other, so we need to optimize processes for everyone involved...That takes time and money at the start, but will ultimately yield substantial savings.'

The way this manifested itself was through optimizing supply chains and municipal work via an app and open data sharing. Through the app and database it the city could track all permits, citizen requests and necessary repairs. It then meant that the work could be optimized to reduce supply chain waste (Sicco Santema professor of B2B marketing and supply chain management at the Delft University of Technology, claimed it could represent between 15-20% cost savings) and decrease disruption to residents. Essentially, if a trench is being dug by a water company to lay a pipe and a permit has been submitted to lay an electric cable from another business, it makes sense to lay it in the same trench, saving time and money on the work.

An approach designed to minimize disruption to those living in the area by city authorities is one thing, but through the use of open data, citizens can also find opportunities themselves. For instance, the 2013 federal Open Data Policy allows people to find areas underserved by specific services like transport or access to food stores. Through this kind of information businesses have an opportunity to both increase their chances of success and also fulfill a need for the local population. This same approach could see even more opportunities for social enterprises, charities or simply just citizens looking to improve their neighborhood.

Open data genuinely allows for the true bottom-up approach necessary for creating smart cities. Access to datasets must be given to a range of people and organizations so they can look at problems and opportunities in a variety of ways. Those who ignore this and try to impose data-driven, top-down initiatives are, unfortunately, destined to stay dumb. 

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