Why smart cities should adopt an open ecosystem on a horizontal platform

From Marc Jadoul, Market Development Director, Internet of Things at Nokia

This week I will give a presentation about smart city business models at Nordic Edge Expo, the largest smart city event in the Nordics. My talk, which is titled “Open Collaboration on a Horizontal Platform”, covers two very important elements of a successful smart city deployment: applications platform and ecosystem.

Introducing the Smart City Playbook

To start with the beginning: about a year ago, Nokia commissioned a primary research study from Machina Research (now a part of Gartner), a leading provider of market intelligence and strategic insight on the Internet of Things.

A series of interviews with project executives from 22 cities around the globe about their challenges and strategies resulted in “The Smart City Playbook”, a comprehensive document that provides smart city stakeholders with an inventory of best practices and a list of recommendations. The report is in the Open Ecosystem Network community Library and may be downloaded for free from https://open-ecosystem.org/assets/smart-city-playbook

Besides giving concrete guidance on how to make cities smarter, safer and greener, the research also introduced three distinct implementation routes to a smart city:

  1. An application-driven trajectory, in which ‘anchor cities’ roll-out one or more stand-alone (‘siloed’) applications — based upon current needs, resources, and priorities — and then think about how they might be extended and/or integrated with each other.
  2. An infrastructure-first approach, where ‘platform cities’ put a city-wide network infrastructure, and/or a common platform for different applications in place first, and then sort out which new applications can be deployed on, or existing services integrated with it.
  3. A ‘beta city’ route, in which the city experiments with multiple applications without a detailed plan for how to bring these pilots to full operational deployment. Beta cities are often implemented as ‘living labs’, that prioritize hands-on experience over short-term or medium-term tangible benefits.

Machina Research observed however that only a few cities are pursuing a pure form of one of these routes, and that the implementation path that fits best will often be a mix — depending on a city’s resources, issues, and priorities.

On the other hand, it should also be no surprise that the three identified implementation paths correspondent to three key elements of a successful smart city implementation: applications, infrastructure, and ecosystem. Let’s have a closer look at each of them…

On the road to smart, safe and sustainable cities

First, cities need advanced applications to ensure the best use of urban assets, IoT devices, and sensor data to create a smart, safe and sustainable environment.

  • Smart applies to applications that aim to improve the quality of life for citizens and visitors, bolstering innovation, social and economic development, and making cities more attractive places to live in, travel to and do business at.
  • Safe applications aim at helping to prevent or minimize the risks and impact of, adverse events including crime, accidents, environmental pollution and natural disasters.
  • Sustainable addresses applications intended to reduce the environmental impact (particularly mobility, energy consumption, and carbon emissions) of the municipality’s own operations and the activities of business which operate within its jurisdiction and citizens who live there.

Need for horizontal city platform and an open ecosystem

At first sight, a smart city is all about creating bespoke solutions for these different applications, e.g. one for smart transportation, another one for smart parking, and yet another one for smart lighting that beg for a ‘vertical’ implementation model. A piecemeal ‘one-application-at-a-time’ implementation approach, however, holds the risk of creating application silos with high integration and operation costs.

As such, there is a clear business rationale for a shared infrastructure, featuring a ‘horizontal’ city platform that provides a common set of service capabilities, standardized interfaces, and open APIs to application developers, device manufacturers, and city service providers. It will not only reduce development, deployment, and operations costs, but also enable open innovation, and allow to exploit synergies and share data between applications.

It should also be clear that no single city can innovate on its own, or even with a single partner. A broad range of technologies and skills is needed to speed up the development of innovative applications. True smart city innovation relies upon networks of connected products and stakeholders who understand how to create and integrate solutions and reap the benefits of new business models and services. Creating an open ecosystem, avoiding vendor lock-in by establishing and adhering to appropriate standards, and nurturing a continuous dialog with/between technology stakeholders, city leaders, and citizens are as important as each single infrastructure component.

At Nokia, we create the technology to connect the world and use this technology to transform the human experience. We believe that ecosystems will drive IoT innovation and new business opportunities. And that they need to focus on value and usability, rather than on technology only. That’s why we stimulate collaboration between start-ups, cities, industries, and technology partners through various initiatives:

  • our IoT Community members work together pre-commercially to define end-to-end solutions and integrate prototypes while determining the most viable business models and business cases;
  • our Nokia Innovation Platform offers a live development and trial environment to accelerate innovation of IoT solutions through an open, collaborative model;
  • our Open Ecosystem Network is an open, cloud-based, social and mobile co-creation hub built on the principle of data sharing, allowing different ecosystems to connect and exchange.

Finally, smart cities need smart technology and ecosystems, but… a city is only as smart as its citizens. As such community engagement is key. Smart city projects should be inclusive, participatory, and social. They should launch digital equality initiatives, organize end-user education, let locals participate in trials, and get their feedback through frequent surveys and focus group sessions. And they shouldn’t neglect including “happy citizens” in their lists with objectives and evaluation criteria.

This article was written by,

Marc Jadoul
Market Development Director, Internet of Things at Nokia