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The Rise of Open Data for Smart Cities

The Rise of Open Data for Smart Cities

Globally there is a trend of people moving to cities in an ‘era of urbanization’. This mad rush into the cities over the last 100 years in pushing cities to their very limits, in terms of providing optimal infrastructure and civic services to the residents. Governments both in the developed world, as well as the developing world are looking to build newer smarter cities that are able to provide citizens near real time insights into the running of the city. Government of India has an ambitious Smart Cities project wherein 100 new smart cities will be built across the length and breadth of our country. Open Data is a relatively new concept wherein governments and civic utility departments are sharing ‘Open Data sets’ that are freely available for download and consumption by citizens and business enterprises. The Open Data movement is largely driven from two distinct forces that are in vogue these days – 1) the rise of exchange of research data among the scientific community and 2) governments increasingly looking at providing transparent access to data about its spending and operational data about civic services, weather, traffic patterns etc. The emergence of both Smart Cities and Open Data creates numerous opportunities for better governance of cities as well as provide services that enhance the quality of life of the citizens.

Some Common Applications for Open Data in Smart Cities

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The intersection of Smart Cities and Open Data creates numerous opportunities for leveraging these open datasets for use by common citizens and businesses to create value. Let us look at some common examples –

  • Weather/Climate Data Sets – near real time views of weather/climate data of cities and their hinterland provide unique insights to citizens planning their commute from within the city as well those commuting into the city from nearby areas. Weather data can also provide transportation/logistics companies unique insights about upcoming storms or weather disruptions that help plan routes for delivery.
  • Real Time Traffic Data – with greater emphasis on highways and road infrastructure as well as enormous growth of vehicles in India, there is a huge opportunity to expose real time traffic data which would help citizens plan their commute as well provide means to ease traffic on certain routes. This would involve amalgamation of GIS data sets (roadmaps) along with real time traffic data sets to provide unique insights.
  • Vehicle Registration Data – this provides an understanding of the growth and distribution of vehicles over a city and its suburbs helping town planners in managing traffic as well as build new roads or linking roads to ease potential bottlenecks.
  • Demographic Data – demographic data around education levels, income distribution across civic wards can help governments and private education institutions come up with focused offerings in terms of courses addressed to address skills gaps in certain areas of the city or suburbs as well as plan new educations institutions.
  • Air Quality Data – with greater pollutions hazards in a growing economy, governments can publish air quality data which highlights seasonal fluctuations as well provide governance on quality emissions of vehicles across different parts of the cities. This data can be leveraged by citizens, educational institutes and hospitals.
  • Crime Data – insights into crimes happening in different parts of the city can provide law enforcement agencies with suitable insight into where more policing is required and also help citizens avoid certain areas during specific times.
  • Utility Data – with the rise of smart metering, real time insights into energy consumption can provide users with data about consumptions trends and plan their energy consumption better. It can also help utility companies provide users with incentives of consuming energy during non- peak consumption hours. Water utility companies can provide insights into water works maintenance and outage, helping citizens plan their storage and consumptions needs.
  • Healthcare Data – health care trends about immunizations programs, breakout of diseases which are seasonal in nature can help government departments plan better and manage the associated risks. In additional nutritional data from field surveys can provide unique insights about food habits and health supplements needed in certain population classes.
  • Expenditure Data – insights into government expenditure on key initiatives like Digital India, infrastructure growth etc. will provide citizen action groups with more data that would enable them to access performance of government departments and need for corrective actions.

While there are some concerns around the governance of Open Data, as long as data privacy laws of a state or country are complied, the usage scenarios and their benefits far exceed the associated risks. It must be also highlighted that most Open Data sets are aggregated data and represent trends and do not look at individuals or enterprises. Let us look at the some of the key features that make a data set ‘Open’ and ready for consumption –

  • Availability and Ease of Access – The data must be available in its entirety and can be downloaded over the internet. The data sets must be free of cost.
  • Reuse and Redistribution – The data sets must be provided with terms that permit reuse of the data sets as well as amalgamation with other data sets e.g. merging of GIS map data with real time traffic data to derive traffic density dashboards for consumption.
  • Universal Consumption – there should be no limits on the fields in which the open data sets can be leveraged as well as usage for commercial purposes.

One of the key reasons for these characteristics is to ensure that the open data can be consumed by diverse enterprises and merged with other useful data sets to provide unique insights to both government departments, citizens as well as enterprises. Governments must work with citizen action groups, private enterprises and national agencies like ISRO, NRSA to help build open data sets and derive some of the key use cases for consumption with associated terms of use. With greater usage, newer use cases will emerge and with the rise of Digital India there are numerous opportunities to bring in greater transparency in governance as well as provide new avenues to generate business as well as social value from Open datasets.

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