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Connecting the silos to open up the smart city

Franck Le Gall, CEO, EGM, and Juanjo Hierro, CTO, FIWARE Foundation, explains why interoperability and open systems need to be on every city’s radar.

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Connecting the silos to open up the smart city

When we talk about smart cities, many different concepts and approaches spring to mind, and rightfully so. Cities are living creatures and each and every one faces concrete challenges, whilst also having its own peculiarities.

 

Arezzo, Eindhoven, Florence, Gothenburg, Lisbon, Málaga, Porto, Rome, Vienna…known for their fresher air, outstanding landscapes and thriving cultures, these cities are popular tourist hotspots. Along with being enviable places to live, these cities are also often listed among the world’s smartest cities.

 

They do so by fostering the creation of smart digital solutions and applications concerning urban life, citizen participation, e-government, thereby, exploiting the potential of open data to its highest value potential.

From car-free roads to widely accessible green spaces, commitments to the environment, increasing both human and social capital, and including citizens in their digital strategies, these cities are proving to be the frontrunners in digital transformation.

 

Whatever ranking indicators one may prefer, technology and a human-centric approach are nowadays the guiding principles of any benchmark. A “smart” city is such when it implements a long-term vision powered by digital innovation and technology responding to citizens’ ever-changing needs and placing the human dimension at the centre. This dovetails with one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals - the need to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

 

We are at a turning point in implementing the concept of smart city. The ongoing digital revolution has produced many successful approaches including smart irrigation, connected canteens, the monitoring of air quality levels and weather trends.

 

Cities are now receiving positive feedback from their first smart projects thanks to their ROI on financial and durability aspects, and are ready to move forward. Especially for public administrations, having access to adequate information helps them allocate the correct infrastructure to the most suitable areas, which means enabling potentially better decisions.

 

However, in order to enter the next phase we need a change in how IoT smart city projects are conceived, implemented, and managed. Up to now, cities have launched new IoT projects independently of each other, harvesting large amounts of data in silos, without necessarily thinking about how to transform this valuable information into knowledge and better decisions.

 

For instance, if a given city wants to improve traffic flow and thereby reduce pollution levels and energy consumption, that usually means several IoT projects are involved. Information has been so far gathered and managed by different actors and in many different ways without harmonization.

 

Today, one of the biggest challenges in smart city projects is to connect those silos and bring relevant contextual information together into one single place, without the need for special adaptations for each context information source or provider.

 

It can be daunting and demanding to get all those different actors on the same page and ensure their systems and applications connect and communicate with one another easily, even when they were created by a wide range of different manufacturers, spanning different industries.

 

The European Commission (EC) is aware of such obstacles and promotes multi-level IoT interoperability for smart-city, large-scale, cross-domain applications with the Fed4Iot project. The Fed4IoT Cloud of Things, called VirIoT, implements this decoupling by offering IoT Silo as-a-service. VirIoT provides tenants with “Virtual Silos”: isolated and secure environments made of “virtual assets”, whose data is accessible through standard IoT brokers offered as-a-service.

 

From a technological standpoint, cities can benefit from FIWARE’s open source model. Open standards allow for the integration and control of a variety of energy and industrial products, enhancing energy efficiency and reducing emissions. Without these standards, new code would have to be written each time a component needs to talk to another.

 

To be able to connect different sources of data sharing the same qualified, open, specification-aligned components NGSI-LD, FIWARE is using a context information broker as the engine for smart solutions to be built on top of it. For instance, one of the FIWARE Context Brokers named Stellio allows the user to draw full benefit from contextualised and cross-referenced data with geo-temporal attributes.

 

With the digital revolution fully underway and complex systems being networked together, interoperability should be on everyone’s radar. After all, it lays a foundation anyone can build upon, providing a platform for SMEs such as EGM, large companies and entrepreneurs to integrate their technology products.

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