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Smart city platform: A work in progress

One of the head scratchers city CIOs are trying to work through is what the smart city platform should look like. To flesh out their requirements for an analytical data platform, 120 members of the public and private sector, including representatives from 18 cities, five federal agencies and two countries, recently gathered in Kansas City, Mo., to identify the kinds of data typically collected to assess city performance, the gaps that exist in the data sets and how the data should be measured.

“Right now, if you go to any smart city conference, you’re going to find as many definitions of a smart city as there are attendees,” said Bob Bennett, chief innovation officer for Kansas City. “What we’re trying to do is put some structure to it.”

The event was part of the Global City Teams Challenge, developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to facilitate collaboration between cities and to develop a smart cities blueprint of best practices and technology standards. NIST is co-hosting a series of national workshops that focus on different facets of a smart city; the event in Kansas City, one of the most connected cities in the United States, is the second of these.

The goal of the workshop was to pin down a common national data language for use by city governments so that the data collected by one city — be it water, electricity, traffic and so on — could be used by others. For example, the small group discussion Bennett participated in focused on public health. “We came to the conclusion that the Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] does a good job of compiling data at the county level,” he said. “We didn’t need to reinvent the wheel.”

Bennett said the information gathered at the workshop will be turned into a white paper highlighting the 80 to 90 data sets cities rely on most and how they’ve collectively agreed the data should be measured. The paper is due to NIST in the spring and will be shared with the vendor community.

How soon NIST-sponsored events, like the one in Kansas City, will result in standards is anyone’s guess. Indeed some cities, like Boston, have warned sister smart cities against rushing to anoint a “smart city platform” before all the technical standards — not just those for data collection — are worked out.

“It’s too early for platforms,” planners stated in the Boston Smart City Playbook, an open letter to the smart city community.

“We don’t know what kinds of sensors we’ll use in Boston over the next 10 years, who will build them, what technical standards they’ll adhere to, and where they’ll go. … As a city, we’re not in the business of making bets on what technology standards will prevail. (It’s why we’re working with the National Institute for Standards and Technology as part of our work.) Until those standards are clear and until we have a better idea of the technical landscape, we don’t need or want a ‘smart city platform.'”