Don't leave interoperability to chance (It will cost you big time)

Thu, 2016-07-07 10:30 -- SCC Partner

As you plan your smart cities initiatives, how much thought are you giving to standards? If your answer is, “not much,” then you are really setting yourself up for failure.

Standards are what break down the silos that keep your systems from working together. Standards are what help you unlock truly transformative insights that are locked in different sets of data. Standards are what help you maximize your return on investment by helping you get more from the tools you already have.

That’s why I asked Graham Colclough to share his insights. Graham has a lot of hands-on experience both advising standards organizations and helping cities make best use of them. There’s a lot of great advice here, whether you’re just starting to plan your strategy or trying to get your colleagues to understand how important standards are. — Jesse Berst

By Graham Colclough, UrbanDNA

Standards are far from the forefront of mind in cities. And that’s probably a nice way of putting it. Indeed you may already be looking to the next article yourself given the topic. Stop for a second!

Cities, like humans, are unique — and also dreadfully similar. Systemically. You don’t go to the chemist and get personalised aspirins or toothpaste; you likely don’t really worry too hoots about the brand — you just “take two” or “squirt a pee-sized bit.” Yet cities all too often start from first principles — in other words, get personalised designs.

That’s bad form for value from the city purse; it’s actually most often not that good for suppliers also, and pretty poor show for the taxpayer: you!

Now I’m not suggesting that what cities buy is all simple stuff; however I am suggesting that when they do, they should look to acquire good value — and that often comes as more standard. This is particularly good for the smaller cities that end up buying volumes that don’t reap the best economies of scale. It’s also good for the suppliers, as it saves them handsomely from “kissing many frogs” to close a sale.

And when they buy more complex things, good guidance can help steer them confidently along the right lines. Standards Development Organizations (SDOs), though they may not always be seen as nimble and are sometimes seen as constraining innovation or setting regulatory boundaries, do have a brand that is trusted. And when a city is looking to buy new digital ‘smart’ solutions, trust is important and guidance valued — often because one has to convince a whole bunch of people from multiple organizations and functions.

SDOs are increasingly seeking to deliver useful, practical guidance for smart city matters (a good example being the UK’s BSI Smart Cities approach). Also, and importantly, for city leaders who seek to make the right decisions.

So captured best practices, and frameworks that help decision making, can bring confidence to set cities down the right course. Indeed, in mid-July the major international and several national standards bodies will be getting together at the World Smart City Forum in Singapore to discuss just how they can help support the smart cities market.

One of the characteristics of “smart” that is particularly suited to standards is in helping to establish the basic protocols that help multiple city services work better together; in other words, help data and processes work smoothly across the silos.

Interoperability doesn’t happen by chance. As we deploy more and more sensors across city systems agreeing the basic standards becomes a critical component of its success. As we increasingly integrate systems we are also bringing different sectors together: the lamppost manufacturer, with the automotive company, the energy provider, the electric vehicle charging manufacturer, the (safety) camera technology provider, and data scientist. So working with the many different players in these new service value webs, to agree how best to design solutions in a more common way is vital if we are to open the market.

So if you are a city, have a second thought to what your approach to standards might be at the beginning of your smart city journey. If you’re in national government, and seeking to help liberate and shape your smart city market, build standards into your strategic plans (the best governments already are). And if you are within industry, figure out what the bottlenecks are that standards might just help resolve, and collaborate with others to address them.

After many years leading the Global Cities business at Cap Gemini, Graham established UrbanDNA. His team collaborate with progressive cities and industry partners internationally, to identify and deliver better solutions – faster – to common urban challenges. Their work spans city leadership; economic development; health & wellbeing; urban mobility; city assets; resilience, enabling ICTs, and the like. Graham is presently driving the global smart cities agenda through positions within the European Commission (EC) Smart Cities & Communities Innovation Partnership (EIP); UK Ministerial Smart Cities Forum; “6-Nations” Smart Cities Forum; City Protocol Society; ISO Smart City Strategic Advisory Group; and board of the UK Cities Standard Institute.

Smart Cities Readiness Guide
Standards are at the very heart of what it means to be a smart city. The Council’s leading Smart Cities Readiness Guide helps you map targets on all aspects of city management — from transportation and waste management to public safety and telecommunications — to the ISO 37120 standards for measuring city performance.