Dennis D. McDonald (ddmcd@ddmcd.com) consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management. Follow him on Google+. He publishes on CTOvision.com and aNewDomain and volunteers with the Alexandria Film Festival. He is also on Linkedin. To subscribe to emailed updates about additions to this web site click here.

Getting Real About Smart Cities and Open Data

Getting Real About Smart Cities and Open Data

By Dennis D. McDonald

I have not been following the “smart cities” movement with any regularity. When I first heard the term a couple of years ago I was somewhat skeptical given what appeared to me to be over-hyping by self-interested technology vendors. Also, looking at the trend in Google searches for “smart cities” over the past three years suggests a rather level -- not increasing -- worldwide interest in the topic as of March 26, 2018:

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Nevertheless, interest does continue as cities look for ways to intelligently apply new technology to address challenges ranging from traffic and crime to homelessness and trash removal. As a technology advocate myself I can’t argue with that. It's always possible to improve things even when older technology must be accommodated.

I was therefor somewhat disappointed to read the recent article in the Toronto-based Financial Times by Naomi Powell titled Sidewalk Labs pledges 'open' approach to data, but that’s no guarantee they’ll actually share it.  

The article describes uncertainties surrounding how data generated and associated with a new heavily tech-dependent Toronto waterfront development called “Quayside” will be managed. Data related concerns reported by Powell include uncertainties about data ownership, licensing, and how “open” and available the data associated with Quaysides high-tech developments will really end up being used.

I’m surprised we are still having discussions like this. Those active in the open data movement learned long ago that a data governance plan aligned with a sponsoring organization’s objectives must exist and should incorporate a solid business foundation.

We've known for quite some time that effective data governance requires planning and resources that are integrated with the parent program's management right from the start. Just hoping that important data related policies and practices related to privacy, ownership, commercialization, sharing, interoperability, and public access will somehow “evolve” by themselves is a recipe for inefficiency at best and political infighting and failure at worst.

Fortunately, the days when well-meaning people believed that just making large files of data openly accessible to the public would somehow magically lead to an informed citizenry and commercial product development are long gone. People now realize that planning and coordination are needed; the folks from Alphabet that are supporting the Quayside project must surely understand this.

When thinking about the development of a data governance strategy it is unnecessary to start out by trying to “boil the ocean,” as I discuss in How Much Data Governance Is Enough Data Governance? The key is to identify a single high-priority problem or issue that can be addressed with better data. Then, use that initial problem as the focus for showing involved stakeholders the benefits of improved data management, governance, and analytics, and move forward from there.

Copyright © 2018 by Dennis D. McDonald. For more about "open data" click here.

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