Barry Lerner, South Pacific Regional CIO, Huawei Technologies
We hear a lot these days about Smart Cities and how they will enhance our lives, both socially and economically. What we don’t hear about, is how this will be accomplished whether it be by technology, market forces, social change or by a whole new business and societal paradigm. In some respects, the very definition of what makes a city “Smart”, is it self an open question. Is a Smart City measured by the ability to provide traditional services in new and innovative ways? Is it measured by economic opportunity? Or, is it some thing more in tangible like a Smart City’s attractiveness to increasingly seek after human and financial capital? Irrespective of the metrics which we put in place to measure how smart a city is, we do know one thing – the intelligent use of data and Big Data as a technology is a vital ingredient in making any city truly smart.
"Big Data enables a "cross institutional memory" encompassing the collective experience and wisdom of the city as a whole allowing the city to deal more effectively with future challenges "
The Importance of Big Data
Why is Big Data so important? Around the world, there are many cities that today have innovative smart solutions and, there are cities that today are integrated and operate in a smart manner through utilizing shared data. This data comes from devices which measure, monitor and report on the world around us - devices like water and air quality sensors, traffic lights, rubbish collection facilities, medical monitors, sewage pipes, electrical distribution networks and end appliances. Data is also generated by a multitude of applications that are owned by, not only government agencies, but also private enterprise. This shared pool of Big Data utilizes technologies that enable collection, transformation, analysis and reporting as well as, integration of previously held siloes of information to support more informed decision making. Example; Utilizing data / video footage collected from cameras for a multitude of surveillance activities i.e. Policing, Traffic Management, Parking Management, Road Accidents and Insurance Claims.
What does Big Data bring to a Smart City?
So what does Big Data bring to a city? In order to under stand this, it is useful to use the analogy of a human body. The arms and legs and hands of a city are represented by the services which it provides. These services encompass every thing from utilities and rubbish collection through to emergency services in the form of medical, fire and police departments. The internal organs, lungs, blood and heart of a city are those elements which enable a city to function on a day to day basis. These elements are the transport links, infrastructure and roads which connect the city. Big Data is the brain, directing the body in its operations. It enables a "cross institutional memory" encompassing the collective experience and wisdom of the city as a whole and allowing the city to deal more effectively with future challenges based upon past experience. This intelligent, analytical and unified Big Data approach is what makes a city truly smart.
How does Big Data Transform & Benefit a Smart City?
The benefits of this transformationcan be seen on a number of levels:
- Service Provision: Services provided by multiple agencies such as Police, Fire, Health, Education and Transportation can be integrated into one horizontal platform crossing processes, governance and data analysis. This can greatly reduce overall waste and provide proactive and unified allocation of scarce resources. For example, when disaster strikes, the city can be evacuated via coordinated transport links with hospitals and emergency services in place to assist where necessary. Transportation infrastructure can also be optimized based upon historical trends and real-time data thus alleviating congestion.
- Engagement: Engagement by citizens, enterprises and business in the city services and smart city process can be greatly enhanced by Big Data. This engagement is driven through the provision of open, meaningful and effective data which is made available when and where needed.
- Human, Social and Financial Capital: Big Data makes a city more livable and livable cities are much more attractive to highly educated, innovative and entrepreneurial people. These people drive more investment by Financial Capital as well as enabling the creation of Social Capital networks which attract still more investment and improve engagement.
- Businessand Economic Development: Economic and business development are two outcomes of a Big Data enabled Smart City. This can be seen where those cities, which are using their resources more effectively, are able to reduce the existing burden on residents and business or invest in further infrastructure to encourage more economic development.
The benefits of the Big Data led Smart City transformation outlined above can be readily identified as a virtuous cycle which acts by enhancing city services, increasing citizen engagement and delivering more business opportunity which in turn attracts more financial and human capital to enter the city. This is especially important in the current world environment where cities are in a global competition for increasingly mobile human and financial capital. To some extent, this competition has given rise to increasing strident marketing of metrics such as livability when measuring relative city performance and rankings. In such an environment, it would be foolish to ignore the value of Big Data as a tool to deliver improved performance for a Smart City and all its residents.