By Chris Noonan
Senior Program Advisor, Institute for Energy & Sustainability*
The way we live and interact with everyday things like buying milk or using a crosswalk, to complex equipment like satellites or the international space station, are being radically personalized by the convergence of Big Data, advanced analytics and the Internet of Things.
These technologies are difficult to understand and even harder to access. Cities leaders worldwide have reacted by enacting data capture and release policies, releasing municipal data, and creating innovative programs for youth and student involvement. Cities that have done this are proving the benefits of this technology in three key arenas:
- The benefits of Big Data, analytics and the Internet of Things to municipal operations
- Encouraging opportunity and overcoming obstacles with the personalization of data
- Using data jams, hack-a-thons and entrepreneurial opportunities to create access, innovation and revenue
Big Data; generating, storing and manipulating data on the magnitude of exabytes (one quintillion bytes!) is increasingly relied on to measure traffic, crime and disease patterns, environmental health or business and municipal data. It is evolving with advanced analytics to help cities analyze patterns that can reduce pollutants, conserve and manage resources and increase operating efficiencies.
Big Data and advanced analytics are evolving in tandem with the “Internet of Things” to establish a global network of an estimated 12.5 billion devices and smart sensors predicated by 2020, that will enable an unlimited number of “things” to be connected to mobile or sensor devices or via machine to machine communication.
Big questions about big data
These technologies are creating a new tech boom and like any industrial boom, many legal, ethical, economic and policy questions have yet to be settled. Perhaps the biggest questions are who "owns" it; who profits from it; and how do everyday consumers compete in a world of big government and big corporations.
This is an increasingly important question because the vast sums of personal data that are captured in public venues, on mobile devices and in major retail outlets are not being shared back to the individual. Jeremy Rifkin ponders if a balance -- a “monopoly capitalism and a collaborative commons” -- can be found.
Analysts can make convincing arguments for either side, but two issues are unavoidable; currently, the ownership of this technology strongly favors governments and corporations, and second, a strong collaborative commons is inevitable and will rapidly accelerate the development of these technologies.
An illustration of a shopping experience at any major retail outlet illustrates the point. A man walks into the Main Street Mart and before he even gets out of his vehicle, he is on camera. By the time he reaches the front door his image is streaming across corporate servers all over the world. And by the time he enters the store, Big Data allows a complete customer profile that includes his purchase history, social media accounts, public records and perhaps even his shoe size.
Breaking the barrier so citizens are partners
The customer/citizen is not a partner in this process. Legal and ethical issues aside, in a very basic way the customer/citizen is not enabled by the tools that others are using to protect and/or exploit him/her. This barrier needs to break and the early adopters in creating a two-way relationship are the ones who will be able break this mold and realize the value added by widening the collaborative commons.
Providing access to data, analytics and M2M interfaces to the customer/citizen creates a data based relationship that builds trust, improves sales accuracy and creates opportunities for innovation and improved efficiency. However, there is another untapped value-add, the customer/citizen represents vast social capital.
They are lawyers, doctors, coaches, teachers and mechanics whose individualized expertise and knowledge can provide unique insights and problem solve in ways that might have been missed or gone unnoticed. It creates crowd-sourced operational efficiency.
What the industry is seeing is emerging beta models of public/private partnerships, where smart cities like Dallas, Chicago, and Boston are engaging their youth and student populations to develop game-changing apps and programs for improved municipal services.
Many cities host data jams and hack-a-thons, a weekend long parties where groups of people work together to program new and innovative ways to connect people, data and services. At the Launch Hack-a-thon in San Francisco, start-up Vue took first place with its mobile device search platform that gives mobile users advance analytics and search content based on the personalized use.
Meanwhile, start-ups like Cloudera are proving that there is plenty of space to innovate and plenty of profit to be made for entrepreneurs. Intel's recent cash infusion of $740 million dollars will allow Cloudera to continue to sort and analyze massive amounts of data in their open-source software platform.
For individuals outside the tech world this is welcome news because it provides further evidence that the market trend is opening up platforms with open source content. Gamers, app developers and web wizards can use this to create exchange platforms that can convert complex code into Windows/Mac based operating systems that laymen can use and control.
Data jams, hack-a-thons and start-up opportunities are all indicative of the emergence of consumer accessibility to Big Data, analytics and the Internet of Things, but still pales in comparison to what is and what could be.
Forecasting how these technologies will mature is virtually impossible. What can be forecasted with some certainty is that evolving the customer/citizen involvement in the design, use and control of these technologies will make these technologies more efficient, more accessible and more customer-centric.
Learning from the union-forming, labor rights struggle of our grandparents, to get a fair shake, the discussions and debates for greater inclusion and protection(s) need to play out in courtrooms, classrooms, office parks and picket lines across the country. For our generation, the eyes and ears are everywhere, so the next time you're on camera, smile and demand your data.
*The views and opinions reflected within are the author's alone and do not represent policy or position of the Institute for Energy & Sustainability and/or its partners. Christopher Noonan is Senior Program Advisor with the Institute for Energy & Sustainability, a Council Advisor. Email firstname.lastname@example.org; follow @_ChrisNoonan on Twitter.