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No smart cities without big data

Governments and local authorities are asking themselves how infrastructure can keep up with the staggering pace of the world’s urbanisation. One popular answer is to make cities smarter.

Smart cities use technology to enhance the performance of urban services and infrastructure, minimise resource consumption and engage citizens more effectively. Tomorrow’s metropolis will be built on interconnected technologies instrumented to allow the collection and analysis of vast amounts of data about city life. Data, harvested in various formats from an array of sources, will be aggregated and analysed to gain insight into the workings of the city. This can mean anything from the wider issues of energy usage or handling emergencies to everyday aspects of city life, like public transport or recycling.

“Tomorrow’s metropolis will be built on interconnected technologies instrumented to allow the collection and analysis of vast amounts of data”

All of this data needs to be easy to analyse and present in different formats, depending on context, objective and audience. The ultimate aim is to turn data into practical knowledge about the city and use it to make better decisions. Traditional data processing techniques and technology won’t be able to handle the copious amounts of data collected by the smart city. The challenges for industry experts and local authorities include capturing, curating, storing, searching, sharing, analysing and visualising data.

Big data will offer unprecedented insights, from spotting business trends to combating crime. However, these insights rely on rapidly evolving analytics techniques that support analysis across many types and generations of data sources. It’s this blend of systems and protocols that will be the biggest hurdle for smart cities initially. A system controlling and monitoring critical infrastructure, like energy, water or traffic, is only as good as the drivers and interfaces it is equipped with and the protocols it supports.

Software for the smart city should be flexible enough to support most protocols and communicate using a variety of standards. This is especially important in cities that generally have a heterogeneous hardware landscape and when integrating legacy systems. In short: hardware independence and compatibility are key.  COPA-DATA’s zenon software can provide a complete end-to-end internet of things solution for cities, from sensor to the cloud – using  Microsoft Azure – and mobile devices.

As a member of the Microsoft CityNext  initiative,  COPA-DATA has been working with companies and local authorities from more than twelve countries to design and implement smart city applications. The COPA-DATA solution can be experienced first-hand at the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona, between 17 and 19 November 2015.

Johannes Petrowisch is partner account  manager at COPA-DATA