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Europe is demanding a common smart city platform. Should you be doing the same?

Submitted by doug.peeples on January 20, 2016

In 2015, the Smart Cities Council emphasized "interoperability" as one of the key things cities should demand from their vendors. As we enter 2016, the interoperability theme is beginning to resonate worldwide. For instance, I recently mentioned the shift from one-at-a-time applications to
comprehensive tools and frameworks.

Now we get news that Europe wants to go even further in the interoperability direction, as you can read below. Next question: Will these platforms spread worldwide? Or will every region demand its own special flavor? -- Jesse Berst

Several European leaders say it's time to come up with a more practical and simpler way to take on smart cities technology projects, a way to make the process more efficient and less a jumble of tailor-made solutions. Not a cookie cutter approach, but an interoperable platform that can be shared across cities.

And it seems to be a very popular way of thinking. The Connected Smart Cities Summit to be held in Brussels this week will be a packed house, with a waiting list of city officials and companies anxious to learn how Europe will work toward achieving that scalable platform, according to Martin Brynskov, chair of the Open and Agile Smart Cities Initiative, the organization hosting the summit.

"We are asking: what is the minimum common ground that is needed to get smart cities projects shared across different cities?" Brynskov asked in an article in New Europe. What his organization and others are exploring is how to get around the typical strategy of developing highly individualized technology solutions for each city, strategies so customized and complex they can’t be replicated for another city.

Not an entirely new idea
Europe's collaborative approach is certainly not the first, although it is an ambitious one. Probably the most recent example of a major collaborative effort would be the initiative led by Council Lead Partner AT&T to provide a framework (the word AT&T prefers to platform) for cities that want a comprehensive strategy for their modernization projects that doesn't involve piecing together several apps and other components. The company offers a multi-faceted package ranging from infrastructure monitoring to transportation and public safety.

AT&T isn't doing it alone, as the company announced earlier this month . Rather it is partnering with selected cities and academic institutions and other companies (including Council Lead Partners Cisco, GE, IBM, Qualcomm, Associate Partner Intel).

FIWARE is a technology platform for smart cities infrastructure, and also a co-organizer of the Connected Cities Conference. The company's chief architect, Juan José Hierro, provided an example of how a common platform would work: a company provided a GPS navigation app in Porto, Portugal that allows drivers to map their trips and drive to vacant parking spots. The app is now being used in a Santander, Spain although the two cities have very different parking management systems.

As Hierro put it, "The two cities own rather different systems for managing their parking spots. They have different providers with different systems. But the two cities are exporting the relevant city context information in a common way. We learnt that some cities may provide very precise geo-location information about parking slots because they have a sensor in the road detecting when there is a car on top, while other cities can only provide an approximation based on data of the parking meters." Although Santander has a more approximate way of determining where parking spots are available, his company was able to adopt what he referred to as the "common adopted model" to make it work well.

Like Brynskov, Hierro expects big things to come from the conference. "The idea is to create showcases of what is possible and govern the curation of data models and the publication of them. You may need to work on them for the first two or three cities but you will reach a point in which data models are stable and then growth can be exponential. New cities simply adopt the model published and new apps also rely on them."

Related articles…
Why Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas are moving from "apps" to "frameworks"
How does your city stack up to the averages? 5 questions to ask about your smart city effort
Will this trend migrate to other countries? The UK wants cities to do better with their data

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.