Cities are producing more and more data. That data comes from many different sources and from many different parties: traffic loops, sensors in waste bins, environmental zone cameras, air quality sensors, weather stations, groundwater monitoring wells, and so on. It is not easy to keep track of these data flows: who owns them, what exactly is collected, for how long and for what purpose?
At the same time, these data sources are a valuable tool for improving the design, policy, and management of the city. To make these data processes more manageable, more and more attention is being paid to so-called Open Urban Platforms (OUP). For WeCity, this is a digital urban infrastructure, based on an unambiguous set of agreements, standards and processes.
This not only concerns municipal data sources, but also those of other parties, such as energy companies, public transport companies, charging station operators, parking services, housing associations and green managers. It is an urban platform.
With an Open Urban Platform you can connect and make accessible all those different data sources in a safe and reliable way. And the idea is that this will create opportunities for new services and applications to make the city more liveable, sustainable, safer, healthier or more inclusive. Examples are Digital Twins, predictive algorithms or participation apps. But before this idea can become a reality, something has to happen.
In its simplest form, an OUP is therefore about connecting data providers with data users. It consists of a set of digital tools to enable the collection, storage, disclosure and application of data. But an OUP is not one comprehensive software package. They are different digital building blocks that each fulfill a different function. Such as, for example, controlling access to data, storing sensor data or harmonizing data to standard data models. Often a comparison is made with LEGO: there are many different types of Lego bricks, all with a different function.
Precisely because there is a great diversity of themes, data flows, stakeholders and preconditions in the urban context, there is also a great variety of data platforms. This fits in with the current, decentralized network society in which data is managed at the source and by its owners, but it raises new issues about management, security and privacy. An Open Urban Platform should facilitate that all this data can be shared in a safe and reliable manner.
Open Urban Platforms: flexibility through standards
Clear agreements (standards) are required to be able to use these building blocks. That applies to Lego, but also to an OUP. Without standards, the building blocks do not comply and do not fit well together (interoperability). You will not get the solution you want. An OUP that does comply with standards also makes it possible to grow with changing requirements and wishes. And we know one thing for sure: technological developments will continue unabated in the coming years.
Standards: what do we mean by that?
No one will deny that we must apply standards. The image below from the Open Data Institute (ODI) shows that it is easy to get confused about standards. Do we mean standards for file formats (CSV, XML, JSON), standards for units of measurement (cm/inch, Celsius/Fahrenheit) or standards for words (bicycle, bicycle). In short, there are many standards for many different aspects related to an OUP.
Open Urban Platforms: organization more important than technology
It is important in an OUP to distinguish between the technology and the supporting processes. The success of an OUP is determined by the guarantees it offers for the security, privacy, reliability, quality, ownership and use of data. It is pre-eminently a government task to make clear, transparent agreements and to stimulate cooperation based on trust between all parties involved. The government is responsible for the design and management of public space and must ensure that there is no exclusion of parties or violations of ethical or legal rules and must create the preconditions under which innovation and participation can flourish.
The focus for government organizations should be on establishing the rules of the game for an OUP, not on its construction or operation.
One of those rules concerns guaranteeing a reliable and secure exchange of data between different partners, platforms and objects. This concerns interoperability, i.e. the way in which components can communicate with each other, and open standards for topics such as data sharing.
WeCity focuses on offering an Urban Platform and the associated agreement and management system. For example, WeCity offers guarantees for the use of (inter)national standards (such as FIWARE, iSHARE, TM Forum), operational and legal agreements, data security, identity management and application of FAIR data principles. Our goal is to make the exchange of data as simple and secure as possible.