In Europe, many cities are striving to become “smart cities”—cities capable of collecting and analyzing vast quantities of data to automate processes, optimize resource allocation, improve services, and enable better decision making. But the systems used to collect, analyze, and aggregate this data differ from one city to another. As a result, cities work in silos, do not make use of all available data, and miss out on important smart city opportunities. It is time for the EU to address these problems.
First, the EU should create a common digital architecture to harmonize the way cities collect and share data. To this end, the European Commission should establish an “EU Smart City App Store”—a common repository of both commercial applications and open-source code that cities have tested and evaluated. Every EU-funded smart city initiative could contribute to this repository so that others could more easily find solutions and replicate their projects. By promoting the use of the same applications, cities would produce interoperable data, which, when combined with open data policies, would allow them to better learn from one another. For example, cities would be able to compare performance trends, such as road accidents in comparable locations of different cities, and identify policy interventions that could be replicated. In this way, EU smart cities could enable evidence-based policymaking in urban settings.
Second, to accelerate implementation, the EU should create a greater role for the private sector. Businesses can complement government by providing funding, access to R&D capabilities, and market insights. For example, under the Horizon 2020 research program, the European Commission selected a number of cities, including Vienna, Munich, and Lyon, to experiment with innovative smart city technologies, in co-creation with citizens, researchers, and businesses. Together, they created new services, developed standards for data sharing, and replicated solutions in other cities. These initiatives, co-financed by private sector companies, have led to successful projects such as the first e-mobility stations in Munich and the organization of a data platform for smart services in Vienna. Establishing additional public-private partnerships around smart cities would help the EU scale up private-sector involvement in developing smart city solutions.
Finally, EU policymakers should ensure that companies engaging in smart city projects with city governments and collecting and storing data for this purpose are able to retain and reuse the data. For example, while many cities retain data from smart city projects, they often require the companies collecting data on their behalf to destroy the data. This requirement prevents EU companies from using this data to develop new insights about how to best serve their customers—in this case, other European cities. The EU should allow and encourage responsible data reuse in smart city projects among its private sector stakeholders.
Europe is home to many cities that have become entrepreneurial tech hubs, developing and pioneering new technologies and services. But the fragmentation of European smart city systems and the limitations on data sharing and processing are holding back further progress. By encouraging smart city development, Europe has an opportunity to significantly improve the ways in which local governments leverage emerging technologies.
Image credit: Flickr