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Straight Talk IT

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From this week's guest analyst – Chris Pennell, Practice Leader, Public Sector Technology

It might be a well-used phase, but in terms of cities, data really is the new oil. However, tapping into data successfully to improve city services has proved elusive, mainly due to issues of quality and interoperability. As with oil, cities struggle to refine crude data into something of higher quality. Many cities have simply focused on releasing waves of poor-quality data through open data portals, rather than building platforms to support the generation of better-quality data. The "City Platform as a Service – integrated and open" (CPaaS.io) initiative, launched in July, is one of an increasing number of attempts to improve the use of data to fuel a more citizen-centric view of the development of city services.

Platform approaches hold the key to realizing value from city data

Funded through the EU, CPaaS.io is a collaboration project between Europe and Japan. Focused on developing an open cloud platform that allows cities to adopt a data infrastructure that supports data interoperability, the platform will link data from city services, IoT, big data tools, and cloud infrastructure with open data and linked data approaches.

For the better part of the last decade, cities have been pushed by federal government bodies to release as much data as possible to stimulate its use by citizens and private sector organizations in the search for efficiencies or economic stimulus. In many cases, this activity has had the opposite effect: much of the data produced was of limited use and was often left unused on open data platforms. Approaches such as CPaaS.io, or Copenhagen's City Data Exchange, aim to address this by supporting the integration and processing of data from a variety of sources.

However, before adopting platforms, cities must beware of simply creating more poor-quality data through the mashup of already poor data. The platform approach requires cities to take a different view of data; rather than simply thinking of how to produce more data and then freeing this data for consumption by citizens and private businesses, cities need to be asking questions that will help them generate higher-quality and better-structured data. This requires an approach to services that implies a willingness to change from a central top-down approach to service design and delivery to one that is built on the sharing of data and resources to support the co-creation of services that address local issues.

Ultimately, there are likely to be as many approaches to the platformization of city data as there are currently smart city pilots. But, for such models to work, platforms will need to be underpinned by the principle of active consent, allowing citizens to easily control what they share, whom they are happy to share that data with, and what they will get in return for sharing that data. Conversely, cities will have to consider what incentives they can offer to private companies to work with them. Cities will need to be mindful, however, not to undermine the value of data as an asset. As with oil, the value of data will be closely linked to its quality.

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