Disruption, big data, sensors, the Internet of Things – these are the topics impacting us all and being discussed at smart city forums across the globe.

They are the how of solving our cities’ challenges through the use of technology. But first, we need to identify and understand what the challenges are. 

Technology for technology’s sake won’t create resilient and more efficient cities to support our growing population. But by understanding the challenges cities face, we can confidently identify the technology needed to help solve them. 

Technology allows us to collect enormous amounts of data. Deloitte’s 2015 Mobile Consumer Survey found that almost 80% of all Australians now own a smartphone. Most, if not all, of these devices collect and share data to some degree. Federal, state and local authorities collect and share all types of data, with the list expanding on a daily basis. Add private operators like Cisco or IBM to this and we get a hint of the sheer volume of data that exists. 

If we already have all of this data and we know that data is critical to unlocking smart cities, why haven’t we solved the challenges our cities face?

Data Dilemmas - Access for All 

Sensitive data must be protected and should not be made publicly available. But unwarranted withholding of data stifles innovation in the smart city space. Private enterprises attempt to control and restrict certain data for commercial gain, which can prevent data from being openly accessible and free to use. 

How do we go about addressing this issue? If the ultimate purpose of smart cities is to improve quality of life, we need to adopt a series of guidelines around how we collect, share and use data. 

Sensitive aspects of data can easily be scrubbed to alleviate security and privacy concerns and make it fit for public consumption. But just as architects, engineers, designers and developers accept planning systems as essential to achieving good city planning outcomes, our data collection also requires a smart city framework. 

Policy planners can play a central role in defining this framework, with companies and individuals wanting to collect and use data in our cities potentially being required to operate within the framework. As with our planning systems, guidelines would be adapted and refined over time. 

Frameworks can also be tailored to specific cities or geographies so that, rather than impeding our smart city aspirations, they have the flexibility to support innovation and create infrastructures designed for resilience.