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Smart Cities: The Potential of Big Data Partnerships

Now that Philadelphia has been selected to the Smart Cities Council Challenge Grant, it’s time to get to work!  And what better way to start than to learn what our peers are up to in other cities?

Last week’s Philly IoT meetup, hosted here at Bresslergroup, provided the opportunity to hear about oneTRANSPORT™, an ongoing partnership happening “across the pond” in the United Kingdom.  Funded by Innovate UK and driven by InterDigital and ten other partners, the initiative aims to create information efficiencies by aggregating big data used by municipal entities and local business across five counties. Mike Jeronis, VP, IoT Solutions at InterDigital, walked us through the intricacies of the initiative as well as the challenges and opportunities.

Here’s what we learned:

Cities provide rich opportunites for data-transport management.

Metropolitan areas are fruitful data centers, because cities depend on a constant flow of information about everyday life — from residential information to traffic fluctuation to emergency services — in order to keep things running day in and day out.  And this is not limited to public services. Private companies based in these areas are also titans of data management, which pump necessary information about their customers and market analytics to better their business objectives and improve sales retention.  These overlapping, parallel data ecosystems make these areas ripe for data management.

Overlapping, parallel data ecosystems from public services and private companies make metropolitan areas ripe for data management.

So, what’s the kicker? While public services and private companies have become more tech savvy, they have done so  separately. Their siloed efforts to collect and manage data have created obstacles to sharing information with other entities through an efficient channel. This is where Mike and the InterDigital team have come into play. Through the use of oneM2M, an IoT consortium of 300 companies, the oneTRANSPORT™ initiative migrates the extensive channels of information into a common M2M Service Layer that can transfer data to and from various software applications and hardware devices. This will allow public and private entities to create and use universal data applications that easily integrate with point systems in a collaborative ecosystem. An advantage such as this could become be a paramount turn-key solution for the five participating UK counties and their surrounding areas.

Other city initiatives are also making headway with similarly collaborative programs. Smart City leader, Barcelona, has implemented the Urban Platform to provide an open-sourced IT architecture model to better interconnect the city’s many private and public entities.  Singapore has also stepped up to the plate with a dual partnered program, Virtual Singapore. Partnering with Dassault Systèmes, this 3D planning tool works to create current and potential city-wide scenarios to help identify ways to alleviate and prepare for them in the coming future growth of metropolitan areas.

Smart cities need sustainable, long-term strategies.

Interestingly enough, the biggest challenge facing these data transport initiatives is not the creation of aggregation solutions, but rather their long-term sustainability. The economic viability of these programs for private partners will be a driving force for success. As part of an open-sourced information ecosystem, collaborating private companies will need to find ways to receive financial returns in order to continue assisting these joint efforts. On the flip side of that equation: how do you maintain a system that is both profitable for the partners and affordable to the subscribers? One potential solution is to implement subscription fees for varying levels of available data and services. Subscription fees will provide the revenue needed to continue operations while allowing subscribers to opt in to varying information as needed.

One big challenge facing these initiatives is how to maintain a system that is both profitable for partners and affordable to subscribers.

Another long-term strategy that needs to be considered includes expanding the partnership reach to surrounding non-smart cities and towns. These geographic areas are traditionally deeply embedded within the activities of the respective smart cities; however, they usually lack the available capital to invest in these partnerships.  Economic models will need to be built that allow them access  to these data-transport initiatives.

What’s more, there is a great opportunity for data-sharing programs to help boost these cities’ economies by bolstering local business revenue. By becoming smarter about the city’s constituents and the evolving metropolitan environment, companies can make more strategic business decisions to improve the customer experience and increase financial efficiencies.

Philly stands to benefit from data-transport initiatives.

Adopting a program like this in Philadelphia could potentially open a number of doors. As the aggregation of city-wide data begins to shift from information access to smart city improvement projects, the tools to collect and manage this data will also need to become smarter. This can range from the management of sensors, controls and connectivity to user experience through interactive design efforts. It can also expand to better management of major city events (e.g., Broad Street Run, Eagles games, Mummer’s Parade) by tracking traffic patterns and communicating route changes — as seen for the coordination of Formula 1 races in the UK.

The city is already seeing efforts to take advantage of data transport opportunities. One notable event is the Hackathon 2.0 series at the Philadelphia Museum of Art during the month of April. Participants will have access to open-sourced art repository to create and submit a digital game for the museum to use.

And, if this isn’t already enough for the consideration of similar local partnership, some of these smart cities have the potential to see billions of dollars in returns by better data-transport management across municipalities! That’s a number worth looking into for the city of brotherly love.