Open Group ‘#ogChat’ on ‘smart cities’

What’s the future of ‘smart cities’? And what role can enterprise-architecture play in the future?

The Open Group held one of their regular one-hour themed ‘#ogChat‘ online-discussions on this yesterday on Twitter. I wasn’t able to join in, unfortunately – I was at the Integrated-EA conference – but here’s the cleaned-up Twitterstream and a few extra comments on my own.

(The main part of the clean-up has been to sort the tweets into something resembling a more readable order, and removed any ‘re-Tweet’ duplicates from the Twitterstream. I’ve also deleted the ‘RT @‘ preceding each Tweet and most of the ‘#ogChat‘ hashtags, and – in a couple of cases – corrected obviously-unintended spelling-errors, such as ‘gorup‘ to ‘group‘. Otherwise this is pretty much exactly as per the the original Twitterstream. Copyright etc belongs to the various participants, of course – think of this post as just a kind of ‘public service’ for the EA community? 🙂 )

Anyway, here goes?

Here’s the intro:

  • theopengroup: Hi all & welcome! We’re kicking off our Tweet Jam on how to build a smarter city in just a few minutes
  • theopengroup: We’ll be moderating this 1-hour tweet jam from our @theopengroup handle; we’ll pose 10 questions using #ogChat
  • theopengroup: Do tweet your agreement/disagreement with other participants’ views using #ogChat, we’re interested to hear from all sides
  • theopengroup: Hi all & welcome! We’re kicking off our Tweet Jam on how to build a smarter city in just a few minutes
  • theopengroup: Please introduce yourself and get ready for question 1, identified by “Q1” …and so on. You may respond with “A1” and so on using #ogChat

…and responses from some of the participants:

  • Technodad: I’m David Lounsbury, CTO of @theopengroup
  • Bebela239: @theopengroup Hi Here’s Isabela from Open Group Brazil! Retweeting to BR :o)
  • ArtBourbon: Hi #ogchat. Stuart Boardman (KPN)
  • dianedanamac: Hi! Diane MacDonald, Membership Coordinator & Social Media Manager of @theopengroup   Welcome to our Tweet Jam!
  • chrisjharding: I’m Chris Harding, Forum Director for Open Platform 3.0

Q1: According to IDC, this year cities around the world have started to get smart. What’s changed?

  • RexelUKEnergy: To cope with continued urban growth we will need to invent new ways to manage cities & make them more effective, ultimately smarter!
  • ArtBourbon: A1. Awareness of the need to get moving – fast
  • ArtBourbon: A1 Sustainability requires collaboration
  • finallyhereiam: @theopengroup apart from tech., would say expectations of people-citizens.  #IntelligentCities
  • Technodad: Demographics of re-urbanization drive the need for improvements in urban efficiency, livability – ICT is an enabler.
  • theopengroup: @ArtBourbon Collaboration between individuals, governments or business?
  • theopengroup: Are these expectations growing?RT @finallyhereiam: @theopengroup apart from tech., would say expectations of people-citizens.
  • jim_hietala: Q1: a big factor is broad availability of (inexpensive) internet connected sensors/devices for many smart city applications
  • Technodad: Demographics of re-urbanization drive the need for improvements in urban efficiency, livability – ICT is an enabler.
  • ArtBourbon: @theopengroup all of those – absolutely all of them
  • jim_hietala: Q1: a big factor is broad availability of (inexpensive) internet connected sensors/devices for many smart city applications
  • Technodad: A1: Smart use of information best way to get more value out of legacy infrastructure.
  • theopengroup: @Technodad Dave, is that being driven by consumer or business demands?
  • Technodad: @theopengroup ~50% of world population lives in cities and growing – cities responding to demand.
  • ArtBourbon: @Technodad right Dave. New and old infra combined with intelligence of citizens, govt and providers

My comments: As one would expect, it’s actually been going on for a lot longer than just the past year, but it’s perhaps only now that it’s starting to be noticed outside of the usual circle of hackers and makers and social-experimenters, together with a fair few scientists. One example I’ve been tracking for some while is JP De Vooght and the ‘citizensensing‘ crew, but there are many, many others.

Another key factor is that the means to do the technical side has gotten a lot simpler and lot cheaper over the past few years: the Arduino and its equivalents have been around for maybe a decade, but the vast publicity over the Raspberry Pi and similar even-lower-cost and relatively-easier-to-program controllers has made it all a lot more visible.

Q2: What might be some obstacles to public and private sector agencies sharing info that feeds into smart city initiatives?

  • ArtBourbon: A2. Commercial concerns are an obvious obstacle but we’re starting to see a change in that perspective
  • ArtBourbon: A2 If you want to be in the game, you need to bring something to the game
  • ArtBourbon: The Fireball project also points to sustainability and „democratized innovation”
  • finallyhereiam: @theopengroup yes.the world turning more populist, people seek opportunities, better living conditions, better lifestyle, quality of life
  • RexelUKEnergy: @theopengroup Mostly data security concerns but the benefits for both sectors are huge
  • Technodad: A2: Biggest short-term obstacle is probably non-interoperable legacy stovepiped systems that can’t share, analyze data in real time.
  • ArtBourbon: @Technodad Dave, I think we’ll see those simply circumvented. So much new is coming into play
  • finallyhereiam: A.2 @theopengroup perhaps intrusive tech. can we look at a future that feels less like prying.people shud be the key factor factor.
  • ArtBourbon: A2 agree security is an issue because Openness (data, systems) is required and that can bring risk
  • ArtBourbon: some risks are unavoidable
  • Technodad: A2: Policy issues: To what extent can public agencies use private data, control private assets in normal or crisis conditions.
  • ArtBourbon: @Technodad We need to look to collaborative models. Genuine participation. Minimizes need for coercion to genuine crisis
  • chrisjharding: @theopengroup A2 concerns re cyber terrorism
  • theopengroup: @chrisjharding Could you expand on that, Chris?
  • chrisjharding: @theopengroup Smart cities can be vulnerable to attacks on infrastructure via the Internet. Sharing info increases risk.
  • theopengroup: @chrisjharding So it’s a question of risks vs benefits?
  • theopengroup: @TechnoDad Are solutions being designed at the moment more capable of sharing/analyzing data in real time, Dave?
  • Technodad: @theopengroup Absolutely. Simple example is crowdsourced generation of fire & shelter location in CA wildfires using web-based maps.
  • RexelUKEnergy: @finallyhereiam @theopengroup Technology doesn’t have to be intrusive it can also be enabling for consumers
  • Technodad: @ArtBourbon Taiwan has explored e.g shutting off gas, electric appliances in homes for earthquake response. coercion or cooperation?
  • ArtBourbon: @Technodad Cooperation to place the controls. Collaboration to agree the goals. Coercion in the worst case.
  • ArtBourbon: @Technodad not everyone will cooperate – such is life – we just need to ensure those who want are heard – and involved
  • Technodad: @ArtBourbon Agree. Very much dependent on national & social context, though – won’t be one solution for all.
  • SharePtDefDepth: I’m sitting in new threats session at RSA, which may explain conclusion-there’s a lot that’s scary w/ smart cities and IoT

My comments: The biggest obstacles will include misunderstandings about security (including the all-too-real security-risks and other risks that match each of the opportunities), but perhaps even more the usual disappointing dog-in-the-manger attempts by commercial organisations and others to ‘possess’ and ring-fence key data as ‘private property’ – in effect blocking the necessary sharing from happening at all. Sigh…

Q3: In addition to the #cloud, mobile and #sensors what other IT tech could be beneficial for cities?

  • finallyhereiam: .@theopengroup It is all about people.Make the cities of tom. intelligent/smart/. but make them around people
  • theopengroup: @finallyhereiam What about the cities of today, Vasundhara? Shouldn’t they be smart too?
  • finallyhereiam: @theopengroup indeed.A smart city today would mean it has its basics clear . Simple thing could be a connected p’form for pub-pvt
  • ArtBourbon: A3: Mobility and of course data analytics
  • ArtBourbon: A3 but please don’t forget it’s as much about people as tech. And that will result in new tech.
  • Technodad: A3: Dependable mobile connectivity is the foundation – must be adequate & robust in times of emergency.
  • RexelUKEnergy: @theopengroup Tech that controls the energy usage of buildings – Cities represent three quarters of energy consumption
  • Technodad: A3: Cities will need next-gen platforms to digest & analyze large diverse data sets, both for planning & real-time response. #ogp3
  • theopengroup: @Technodad Interesting – it sounds like the cities of tomorrow will be build around data
  • Technodad: @theopengroup “Data is the new oil” for cities as well. See MIT Cities project for example
  • Technodad: @jibergmann5 @theopengroup Taiwan project also had policies for cooperation of businesses for local info sharing – a good example.
  • ArtBourbon: @finallyhereiam @theopengroup @Technodad living labs (see Fireball) are a vital element of smart city debt.#ogchat
  • chrisjharding: @theopengroup A3 Social media and big data – all the Open Platform 3.0 technologies
  • chrisjharding: @theopengroup A3 Social particularly for building community activities

My comments: As Stuart Boardman (@ArtBourbon) says above, “please don’t forget it’s as much about people as tech”. The technology is only an enabler: so as with all other aspects of enterprise-architecture, we must start always from the human need – not from the technology. (Other than ‘hey, here’s this cool new toy, whatcha think we can do with it?’ kind of questions, which are always fun, of course… 🙂 )

Beyond that, I’d see the key technology-issues less in IT as such, and far more in infrastructures – particularly communications and bandwidth. All of those sensors and real-time apps will eat up bandwidth something huge: and if every sensor has its own Twitter-account or cellphone-number, where is all the infrastructure to support those identities going to come from, and who and/or what will pay for it?

Over in the app and data-management space, what will we need to do to manage and act on all of that data? Version-control and configuration-tracking for meshworks of sensors and the like could quickly become a nightmare if we’re not careful – an equivalent of the accountants’ ‘incomplete-records accounting’ problem, but on a truly vast scale. And process-design could become very tricky indeed – though, as I was reminded in a Tweet earlier today, Nigel Green had some very useful ideas on this a few years back, with his proposal for Simplified Business Event Processing.

Q4: Superstorm Sandy majorly impacted the US’s East Coast last year. How can cities use tech to minimize weather damage?

  • ArtBourbon: A4. Tech can help understand what’s coming and what action is feasible. We also need to built to be anti-fragile where possible
  • ArtBourbon: A4 and that’s part of the smart city too. Interesting stuff happening in architecture (buildings) these days
  • RexelUKEnergy: @theopengroup Use of open data will create new urban services, better transport connections&risk warning during extreme weather
  • RexelUKEnergy: @theopengroup Eg.Glasgow’s ‘future city’program inc city dashboard giving public real time info like weather alerts/road gritting
  • Technodad: A4: Advance prediction and hyperlocal notification & information sharing on threats & remedies is a start.
  • ArtBourbon: @Technodad Physical infra remains an issue. Takes many years to change from a fragile approach. Some countries understand water mgmt
  • finallyhereiam: @theopengroup with new/sci-fi-esque yet realizable ideas!Can houses go under the Earth’s surface seconds before a storm blows past
  • finallyhereiam: @theopengroup @Technodad people, processes, tech, is the triad. about time we begin to focus on the most critical P? People…
  • Technodad: @ArtBourbon Agree – note The Open Group is holding next conference in the smart city of Amsterdam:
  • Technodad: A4: Beyond notification, use sensors to mitigate, e.g. manage traffic lights for evac routes, turn off utilities in homes. (Taiwan)

My comments: My feeling is that we need to be really careful about the usual tendency towards IT-centrism here – especially as the IT is likely to be one of the first things to go out of action in a major storm. Other than integration with weather-data, and also auto-reporting of status and damage during and after the event, probably to most useful tech is going to be passive rather than active, and physical more than electronic – such as some of the Dutch ideas for ‘amphibious’ buildings that self-adapt to floods and suchlike.

Q5: What can cities do to interact with significant mobile traffic to provide interesting experiences for citizens/tourists?

  • theopengroup: As a reference, check out these maps of mobile coverage in major US cities:
  • ArtBourbon: A5. Personal view – not do things to make everyone converge on one spot. „Where it’s not happening” alerts?
  • chrisjharding: @theopengroup A5 All sorts of things with apps. EG how about a journey planner app that buys the bus tickets?
  • ArtBourbon: @chrisjharding @theopengroup but even smarter is not having to buy specific tickets. Think Oyster but on a phone.
  • Technodad: A5: Already seeing cities, public agencies using social media as realtime channels for info sharing for public events & emergencies.
  • RexelUKEnergy: @theopengroup Real-time data – traffic flow, weather alerts, accident and emergency waiting times, rail and bus services etc.
  • Technodad: @ArtBourbon City agencies have to be aware of & participate in info flow, otherwise crowdsourcing will cause this anyway.

My comments: I really like Stuart’s point about the need for a “Where it’s not happening” view – in part because it helps to spread the load (and benefits) across a city, but also because it helps tourists and others learn the broader and deeper picture of the city as a whole. I’ve also seen some very interesting work done recently in Britain on real-time crowd-mapping for crowd-management at major events – for the New Year fireworks in London, I think? – but unfortunately I can’t lay my hands on the reference right now.

Q6: Looking at Rio as an example, with roughly 30 agencies feeding info to the same data center, how might citizens benefit?

  • ArtBourbon: A6. Rio – great example for (smart) data analytics. And „la montre verte” to measure the pollution levels
  • ArtBourbon: all these multiple data source, multiple provider examples emphasize the need for open collaboration, #opendata
  • Technodad: @ArtBourbon Amen to that. Available data will be constantly evolving – agile analysis & re-sharing will be necessary.
  • Technodad: A6: World Cup will be an interesting lab – will we see dynamic reconfiguration of roads & public transport based on realtime data?
  • Bebela239: @TechnoDad Not at all Dave! Infrastructure is bad. People will use app to protest- not happy w/ world cup
  • Technodad: @Bebela239 Sadly sometimes we learn more from lab failures than successes.
  • ArtBourbon: RT @Technodad: @Bebela239 Sadly sometimes we learn more from lab failures than successes. > as long as we learn
  • finallyhereiam: @theopengroup by  1.syndicating data.2.deriving actionable insights from that data.3.linking it to public info.related services

My comments: Interesting to see the painful realism there from Isabela Abreu’s local-knowledge there… and also the implicit point about affordances, and uses of the same open-data for ‘unofficial’ purposes. From a data-security perspective – security in the sense of the data itself, rather than any uses of the data, or access-controls on the data – I’d always be wary of anything that talks about “the same data center”: issues such as fallback, resilience and requisite-redundancy immediately come to mind… And likewise all the old trade-offs between centralisation and decentralisation / distribution, of course.

Q7: Consider how historical information might assist in for instance, where car accidents tend to occur?

  • ArtBourbon: A7. Historical data also vital for all predictive efforts. If enough factors considered.
  • ArtBourbon: A7. Being smart doesn’t mean being in control of everything. It means being able to respond flexibly.
  • ArtBourbon: A7 and it means not making easy assumptions – too many things „correlate”. Time for cognitive computing
  • Technodad: @ArtBourbon Good point, Art. Cognitive can help analytics, spot trends as well as manage realtime response.
  • finallyhereiam: @theopengroup where does the brake fail/under what circumstances does the carburetor give way-bad road/high temp?scope for biz.too!

My comments: It already is: there’s nothing new there, as such. The main difference that’s starting to emerge is that instead of all the information being sourced and managed and used and controlled by ‘the authorities’ (whoever those might be – a huge range of them, in fact, often completely disconnected from each other), more of the information is, again, being sourced and managed and used and controlled (if that’s the right word) by all manner of disparate and varying parties, many of whom would not be considered to be ‘the authorities’, such as amateurs, hobbyists and hackers in the broadest sense of the term. The rise of ‘citizen-science’ and crowdsourced research and analysis in general, in fields ranging from astronomy to etymology and much, much more, has a long, long history, going to at least Victorian times: the main difference is that, again, the pace and scope have increased, and continue to do so at an accelerating rate. There can be a downside, though, particularly when crowdsourcing takes on a vigilante edge – as it did in the hunt for the Boston bombers, and these days way too many cases in China. There needs to be real care in that – particularly around governance and the disciplines for self-governance, perhaps especially under times of political or social stress.

Q8: Should city infrastructure be planned using big data? Consider how cities have changed organically over time. #bigdata

  • ArtBourbon: A8 Let’s keep the organic aspect but help it with good information, good channels and open innovation
  • finallyhereiam: @theopengroup big data- backbone of a city’s infrastructure.any data for that matter. the skill is to use it to erect cornerstones
  • Technodad: A8: Yes. Perception of desirability/livability of neighborhood drive by many factors & is “big data” problem.
  • Technodad: A8: Data-driven modeling of human behavior, economic life, transport etc best way to provide evidence for urban planning.
  • ArtBourbon: @Technodad I’d still prefer to let the humans decide what they want. let the data help the citizen – not the planner
  • finallyhereiam: @Technodad point! human behaviour modeling…how people they behave in groups…in the midst of tech…crucial .
  • Technodad: @ArtBourbon Ideally a collaboration – humans = citizens, planners need to understand, anticipate & meet their needs.
  • Raamsheld: @theopengroup City planning and civil engs were already dealing with #bigdata before it was called that. They need better tools.

My comments: again, as Raamsheld also points out above, there’s nothing particularly new here: it’s only the scope and scale, and the increased potential for citizen-derived and citizen-driven sourcing, analysis and use, that have expanded the options here.

And, as before – and as Stuart points out above – we need to be wary of that routine tendency towards IT-centrism. We need to remember that we should always think of the human context first – not the technology.

Q9: What roles do human behavior, chaos, diversity and changing neighborhood dynamics play?

  • Technodad: A9: Smart sensors, analytics best way 2 understand fine-grained human activity for responsive buildings, health, energy conservation

My comments: ‘Lots!’, is the short answer! 🙂 (It’s a bit disappointing that the ogChat kind of ran out of steam at this, as some of the key players had to drop out.) My huge concern about Dave Lounsbury’s response there – and yeah, I’m going to have to say it again – is about that seemingly-automatic return to IT-centrism. The question was about people, yet the answer given was about technology, about people in context to technology – when it always, always, should and must be the other way round, as technology in context of people. The blunt fact is that we inherently cripple the potential value of all of these developments unless, as a community, we can finally break ourselves of that reflex back-to-front view of the world.

And our final question, Q10: How can smart cities use tech to enhance sustainability initiatives and reduce resource demands?

  • Technodad: A10: Short term: use of realtime data to reduce traffic delays, manage energy consumption in buildings, manage water use.
  • Technodad: A10: Longer term question is whether abundant networking, on-demand resources, open collaboration will change urban behavior.
  • Varunvash1: @theopengroup #InternetofThings could be one of the many components in building a smarter city! Especially if  #outernet hits us.

My comments: Almost exact same comments as for the previous question, really. History in general, and our recent history in particular, is littered with buildings and building-designs that were seen at the time as ‘the way of the future!’, and simply didn’t work in practice because they focussed on the technology rather than the human need.

This isn’t just an IT-problem, of course: way too many of the ‘great-name’ building-architects have delivered buildings that may have looked great, but in practice were a nightmare of leaks (Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier both infamous for this), pulled air-pollution into the building, melted cars in the street (the curved ‘Walkie-Talkie’ building) or just plain unusable (Centrepoint building in central London). For this kind of context, we need to be very clear what we mean by terms such as ‘smarter’, and apply success-criteria that actually mean something in human rather than solely technical terms – otherwise we risk our own equivalent of that infamous phrase that occurred in way too many Victorian surgeons’ reports, of “operation successful, but patient died”…

Anyway, the usual end-of-chat wrap-up:

  • theopengroup: That’s all for today’s #ogChat, thanks everyone! Keep a look out for more in the future.
  • theopengroup: Great insights, @Technodad @chrisjharding @finallyhereiam @ArtBourbon @RexelUKEnergy Thank you for joining our #ogChat and great job!
  • finallyhereiam: .@theopengroup hope you are going to storify the #ogchat ?

To which, to that final Tweet, I would hope this is a usable answer? 🙂

Hope it helps, in any case.




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