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To Grow the Brain Power of a Smart City, Share the Data

During panel discussions at the Smart Cities Connect Conference & Expo this week, smart city and industry leaders stressed the positive impacts of data sharing among cities and regional governments.

digital rendering of a smart city
Whatever benefits a city gains from an ecosystem that collects and analyzes data for decision-making — a smart city — those benefits become multiplied when those systems connect to other cities. 

“For me, truly, the benefit of smart cities is when it’s across the nation, when we’re all connected … because that’s how we all live our lives. We don’t stay in this little bubble. And sharing that data is going to become critical to our success,” said Nicole Raimundo, chief information officer in Cary, N.C., in comments during a panel discussion at the virtual Smart Cities Connect Convention and Expo on Wednesday. 
If the currency smart cities deal in is data, then collecting, standardizing and sharing data needs to be at the center of any smart city plan, say city and industry leaders. When data is collected and standardized, it can be easily shared among not just city departments, but other municipalities.
Cary, a suburb of Raleigh, uses its smart city ecosystem to monitor and manage stormwater. That data is shared with other parties well beyond the city. 
“Stormwater, greenway usage, those don’t have municipal boundaries,” remarked Terry Yates, smart cities and IT project manager in Cary. 
The importance of data sharing can be seen in the more recent development of data exchanges like the St. Louis Regional Data Exchange (RDX) or the initiative between US Ignite and the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) to form the Smart Cities Data Catalogue Specification
Several years ago ATIS “came to the conclusion that data-sharing was really kind of the next frontier,” said Michael Nawrocki, vice president of technology and solutions at ATIS, which develops standards and works closely with government agencies. 
“In many ways, cities are starting to look like super enterprises in terms of the amount of data they collect and process and share with their consumers,” Nawrocki said in his comments on the Smart Cities Connect panel. 
The data catalogue specification for cities enables the ability to take data that’s collected by cities and their partners, and to publish the meta-data. 
“And then have that data consumed, searched, filtered,” Nawrocki explained.
Raimundo returned to the flood-sensing smart city project in Cary to illustrate the importance and power of sharing data among numerous stakeholders in a region. 
“When we have a rain event, it doesn’t just stay tucked into Cary. It affects Raleigh and our surrounding areas,” she said. “And the ability to share that data out and let Raleigh know that we’re seeing flooding … and they can react to that. That’s really when you start to gain that benefit."
“I’m excited to see more and more municipalities willing to open up on standards, and sharing, and understanding that, yes, their area comes first, but there’s value beyond their area,” said Raimundo. 
The conversations around big data are only growing, said Nawrocki, calling attention to the evolution of smart cities, which started with open-data platforms, that led to data exchanges and are now leading to “data marketplaces,” which will surely involve more development around data policies and how to work with third-party providers. 
“Our next step … is to develop a white paper that focuses on forward-looking data policies,” said Nawrocki. “Not kind of the current realm of data policies that exist, but really looking at third-party relationships, crowd-source data, all those areas, and what does that mean in terms of the future of data policies themselves?” 
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.