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How Smart Cities can be a Platform for Innovation and Citizen-Delivered Services

Many cities around the world have moved to adopt the notion of open data. In most cases this means little more than putting some of their data onto an FTP site, typically encoded as ESRI Shape, KML, or GML files. While this is a step forward, it is far from being an open standard platform for innovation and citizen-delivered services.

What would such a platform look like and what functionality should it provide?

Key Features of a Smart City Platform

A Smart City platform should provide the basic services in support of open data. Data suppliers should be able to register datasets for distribution. These datasets should be searchable using a variety of criteria such as geography, taxonomic classification (e.g. type of data), and specific properties of the datasets (e.g. encoding type). Data consumers must be able to be automatically notified whenever the selected dataset changes in a way of interest to them, such as when a supplier publishes a new dataset or modifies an existing one. Users (both suppliers and consumers) should be able to create and apply any number of classification schemes (taxonomies) to organize the datasets.

Since increasing amounts of data are collected from sensors, the platform should support the automated collection of sensor data on an ongoing real-time basis. For example, users should be able to configure platform components to automatically record data such as water pressure as a function of time, the frequency of waste management collection, or the position and tasks of municipal vehicles over time. All of this type of data should be collectable using web-based messaging, and should employ open standards for the messaging and for the construction and description of the recorded data records.

For static open data applications, the platform should provide the means to automatically notify users when particular types of data are being recorded or when specific data value thresholds have been achieved.

And in all open data applications, the platform should provide an application level audit trail, enabling users to determine when data records were added or modified and by whom.

Registries of Data and Services

Many cities, states, and provincial jurisdictions have begun to talk about “fundamental” registries. Fundamental registries are the basic entities, such as people, buildings, and businesses, on which a city is built. Many other databases in the city may refer to these objects, and it would be most effective if there was a common identifier for each such object so that it can be recognized as unique. This would resolve many problems caused by duplicate data, something that can reduce the quality of citizen services and limit the government’s ability to perform wide area analysis and reporting. Fundamental registries would provide the global identifiers of fundamental objects that all databases in the city, state, or province could refer to. In this way, everyone knows precisely what object is being referred to.

Of great importance is the ability of the fundamental registries to store geographic information about registered entities, where applicable, such as the footprint of a building or the geometry of a road segment. More detailed data on these objects may be held in design databases and GIS, all of which would reference the same object in the registry.

Equally important is the ability of the platform to support the expression of relationships such as “locatedIn” and “employedBy” between the objects in the fundamental registries. Relationships such as “business locatedIn building”, “person employedBy business”, “person owns business” and so forth should be easy to create. Capturing these semantic meanings is essential to the utility of the information, and for assisting with the elimination of duplicate data which can cause all manner of trouble for data management.

A Smart City platform should make it easy to create and deploy such fundamental registries as open standard web services.

Multiplying Web Services

Government departments, and increasing numbers of citizen groups and even individual citizens, are deploying municipal, state, and provincial services as dynamic web services where, just as a few years ago, they were providing static web sites. Web services have a distinct advantage in that they can be integrated with one another, enabling the support of more complex tasks than were originally envisioned by the service founder. Web services can become building blocks that enable the government and its citizens to quickly build new services in response to completely new problems and business opportunities.

Rapid deployment of web services requires a platform that offers open standard web service interfaces out of the box, backed by an open standard data modeling and search engine. Users can then create services that acquire, process, search, and distribute data in an almost infinite variety of ways. Users can quickly build special processing applications and business logic which exploit the platform’s web service interfaces and open standard data model. Information models built using an open standard data model are completely portable from one platform to another thus speeding service re-use and rapid deployment.

Continuing Innovation

The global adoption of open standards on the Internet gave rise to the World Wide Web and an explosion of innovation and services that were unheard of at the time. Smart Cities, as discussed in this article, could embrace a whole new level of open standards that would unleash a new round of innovation and provide cities with new services, created by the city and by its citizens, increasing resilience and the ability to deal with the coming changes of the 21st century.