Smart cities need open data

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Smart cities are being designed to improve the quality of life of individuals and communities – from transport and education to water, waste and energy. These smart infrastructures demand an open culture that will benefit everyone.

Open data is just that – open. Anyone can access, share and use it free of charge to better connect and interact with their cities. Applications include real-time bus timetables, information on social housing, care initiatives, playgroups and public contracts.  

There are already huge amounts of data in our cities, however much of it is in silos serving specific needs, rather than contributing to the common good. It includes government statistics, maps, details on public tenders. Encouraging organizations to share their non-sensitive data can significantly increase the intelligent capabilities of cities, which will need to cater for 70% of the global population living in urban environments by 2050, according to ABI Research.

In addition to giving wide public access information, open data can also contribute to the transparency of governments. Brussels, for example, has set up a platform dubbed Opendatastore for the Brussels-Capital region, which uses the CKAN open source data portal and management solution. Here, public administrations and partners can deposit open data in the most common open data formats, such as CSV, gml, JSON and ZIP, so that it can be easily re-used by citizens and developers for their own purposes.

Opening the door to innovation

To work efficiently, smart cities need to be built on networks that allow for the free communication of data. This requires proficient interconnections between the Internet of Things (IoT) and open data. Real-time access to accurate, open data is central to unlocking the economic value of technological innovation, opening up an ecosystem to smart city suppliers to develop new applications.

Examples include Blind Square, which takes data from Foursquare and OpenStreetMap to create an easily accessible GPS-app for the blind and visually impaired. Or CityMapper, which has used open data from Transport of London and New York’s MTA to expand the coverage of its urban transport map.

New technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain, will also restructure the economy, providing new business model opportunities, such as distributed micro grids for energy, smart contracts and shared mobility for autonomous cars and public transportation, according to ABI Research’s report, The role of smart cities in economic development.

There is also a growing trend for city authorities to release APIs to encourage developers and community organizations to use open data. Barcelona City Council’s CityOS project allows technology companies and developers to prototype sensors and API-enabled initiatives within the city. ApparkB app, run by B:SM and the Barcelona City Council, is one success story. It directs motorists to parking spaces via sensors embedded in the road and enables online payment.  The City Council claims the joint program has already reduced congestion and emissions.

Smart cities, smart tourism

Open data isn’t just helping citizens, organizations and businesses in smart cities – it is also helping to drive tourism and its associated economy.

Take Paris for example. Around 500,000 direct and indirect jobs in the city depend on tourism, which generates approximately €9 billion a year. The city has been quick off the mark to recognize the power of open data. It has also set up an incubator for start-ups, dubbed the Welcome City Lab, which is working with Paris&Co, the economic development and innovation agency in the city, on applications for tourism that will work within a smart city infrastructure. Many will use open data.

Apps such as Sortir Toot Sweet! are leading the way. It has been designed to take the stress out of visiting an unfamiliar city. It suggests the best events and deals happening right now near your location in Paris – or in the next few hours – based on your customized tastes. Users can draw up a wish list and view them on a map to check locations.

It isn’t just big cities that are benefiting. Orange Business Services recently unveiled a “smart resort” in Montgenèvre, in the Alps, as part of a concept that will be developed across France. The strategy combines free Wi-Fi, a mobile app, and big data analytics via Orange Business Services’ Flux Vision.
Open data will make life easier for residents to access town services, whilst providing tourists with real-time information on skiing in the winter and other activities. Via anonymized data collected and analyzed from Orange’s public mobile network, the town can make better decisions on allocating resources.

Smart Cities are a reality. Connected, agile and innovative cities make extensive use of IT and digital technology to embrace the challenges of modern city living. Find out more about how Orange Business Services is serving the smart city here.
Jan Howells

Jan has been writing about technology for over 22 years for magazines and web sites, including ComputerActive, IQ magazine and Signum. She has been a business correspondent on ComputerWorld in Sydney and covered the channel for Ziff-Davis in New York.