Unlock insights from your city's data with these three steps

This information provided by Smart Cities Council North America.

Your city may do a good job collecting data, but what do you actually do with it? To get at the insights that can help you truly advance your city, you need a strategy. Uncovering insights that truly make a difference doesn’t happen by accident.

We asked Council Lead Partner Current, Powered by GE, to share some tips for designing an effective data strategy — from collecting the data to analyzing it. As more attention is being paid to the Internet of Things and its potential, consider using these three tips as the foundation of your plans. — Kevin Ebi


By Austin Ashe, Current, powered by GE

Apple's Steve Jobs introduced the App Store on July 10, 2008. Now just over eight years later, 2 million iOS applications already populate the platform. 

The App Store exists because of two strategic decisions. First, the iPhone itself contains numerous sensors that enable unique sensor data sets. Second, Apple put all of the iPhone sensor data APIs on an open platform accessible to the app development community. 

A similar opportunity exists today for cities and citizens. The IoT movement has finally given the cities what they need to become truly smart. It begins with sensor data and ends with developers building thousands of smart city apps that will improve livability and workability in a city

Step 1: Digitize your infrastructure
A city’s nervous system can be compared to the network of fibers and cells within the human body. But instead of billions of neurons signaling information through a neural network, a city has citizens, visitors, businesses and city employees creating billions of fascinating city pulses throughout its sidewalks and streets. Just as an EEG monitors the activity of a human’s nervous system, connected sensors can monitor a city’s activity.

Today, cities have a unique opportunity to utilize IoT platform technology to measure activity across their entire city and gain valuable real-time data. One of the ways this can be done is by converting traditional street lighting infrastructure into a digital infrastructure that can help a city see more, feel more, think more, and do more. Every passing day in the life of a digital street pole is one filled with changing data that reflects its local environment and that can give insights to those who have access to the information. Trillions of events across the city can be captured to help us understand when it is calm, running steady, in a state of surprise or even in a state of need. 

Step 2: Build a real-time data platform
At the heart of an effective, open IoT platform are accessible, yet highly secured, APIs. They serve as portals to the real-time sensor data smart cities need in order to thrive. Any app developer can harness this data and channel it directly into an application that can drive outcomes to better the lives of the citizens.

This is fundamentally different from how cities have historically managed citizen services. Cities now have the ability to put the power of this rich mother lode of data into the hands of the community — especially the development community — and let them build the applications they want to see and use for their particular needs. The sum of these applications will provide the fabric for the smart city of tomorrow. As more data comes onto the platform, more opportunities to learn and live will emerge.

Step 3: Engage your community
When a smart city enables controlled access to their IoT platform, and couples that with its other data sets, application partners can fuse historical and real-time data to uncover even more insights. How this data gets used is up to the individual city and its community.

There are presently 18.2 million software developers worldwide, and the number is rising. They have already proven what can be done with a smart phone when its accumulated data is made available. Cities will be the next beneficiaries of this movement by building custom app stores for their communities.  Knowing that the smart city apps of the future will be developed by students, entrepreneurs, start-ups, and mature businesses alike, it is clear that raising awareness of this data’s availability is crucial to building the smart city catalog.

“Hackathons” are one easy and effective way to engage the app developer community and spark remarkable innovations. During “The IoT for Cities Hackathon” in Santa Clara, developers used their skills in a two-day challenge to create applications touching on — among other things — medicine, public parking, and gardening. The array of topics that can be addressed by new apps is only limited by the imagination of the software developers themselves.

Companies, educational organizations and private groups are encouraging young and old software programmers into this new community enterprise. In addition to hackathons, other forums such as incubator events, seminars and student projects are all incorporating the local community in the quest for best service and solutions.

The exponential growth of collected sensor data will serve as the ever-strengthening backbone for thousands of future smart city apps. These apps not only will help change lives, but also help save them.   

Austin Ashe is General Manager, Intelligent Cities, for Current, powered by GE. He is based in San Ramon, California.