4 Key success factors to build sustainable smartcities

smartcityLiving in an increasingly connected world means also to compete more and more in a global economy. This is true for countries, but also for cities, especially when more and more of the global population is moving into mega-cities.

In the cities of the future efficient usage of resources and competitiveness will be essential for continued growth and possibly even for survival.

The smart city concept is essentially about efficiency of a city. Efficiency based on the intelligent management and integrated ICTs, and active citizen participation. According to the wikipedia definition: “A city can be defined as ‘smart’ when investments in human and social capital and traditional (transport) and modern (ICT) communication infrastructure fuel sustainable economic development and a high quality of life, with a wise management of natural resources, through participatory action and engagement”. The broadness of this definition means though that there can be many different interpretations of when a city starts to become smart. It also means it is difficult to compare cities amongst each other as priorities will differ. The current socio-economic context of city will certainly impact these priorities. The commonality between smart cities is that ICT is used to improve the city’s capabilities to innovate and solve efficiency or capacity related problems.

Direction, Commitment and Alignment

Smart cities are about efficiency but also about increasing the quality of life of its citizens. It is hence essential that local governments define a clear vision on what are the objectives and priorities for the smart city development. For me this is a pre-requisite to start working on a smart city agenda and is a first level of maturity that is needed from the local government and authorities. If I take Dubai as an example this first level of maturity is fulfilled, through the vision that His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum exposed at Gitex last. Focus on Smart Life, Smart Economy and Smart economy are clear indications of where the city wants to head in the next years.  This vision provides though limited value it is not transformed in a public-private sector agenda. Corporates and enterprises need to see profitable business in participating in smart city initiatives. This provides a second level of maturity. Here also I see that Dubai has reached that level of commitment, especially when looking at the objectives of the ministries and authorities in charge of transportation and energy. The third level of maturity will come once the various authorities start to break industry specific silos, and leverage on ICT to improve efficiencies among industries. I believe this third level of maturity is where the highest efficiency benefits can be reached, but this is also the hardest objective to define.

Clear metrics, a strong governance and an open agenda

Vision and objectives is one thing, but investment will only be made if the returns can be clearly measured. And this is where it becomes difficult. There are number of indexes that try to benchmark city performance and improvements but the difficulty lies in finding indicators that provide robust and reliable data. Since data collection is not of the same quality in each industry or country, the result of this type of exercise is not always of academic quality. If seen a least three different index recently measuring the efficiency of  smart city. Ericsson has produced a smart city index which positions smart cities on two axes: one measures the ICT maturity and affordability and another ones measures the impact of this ICT on a triple bottom line which looks at  environmental, social and economical impact. In the Ericsson index more than 80 difference indicators are analyzed and compared. GSMA has a similar index, and also INSEAD regularly publishes an index which looks more at the intellectual output. In any case each city might want to tune the indicators that are relevant to its priorities will competing in the global economy. One of the critics I could have to these indexes is that there are crunching offline data made by academics or consultants, but is not really visible or understandable to citizens in clear and understandable fashion. Since government will often invest tax payer money into this projects, I believe it is crucial also to provide an open agenda to share the progress made and measure indicators that are relevant to the citizens. The proper collection, management and exposure of the relevant city metrics shows and increased maturity in the city’s governance. A great example of such openness and transparency is the London City Dashboard, which shows regular updates on indicators that matter to its citizens. These are indicators like unemployment rates, crime levels or traffic accident levels. This opendata agenda also secures that there is a feedback loop between citizens and authorities

Continued investment in people and ICT infrastructure

In a smart city, it is kind of obvious that the right investments need to be made in ICT. Whether it is for connectivity, communication or cloud, ICT will support continued digitalization of services and development of knowledge economy. Similar the cities need to develop the right skills and attract the right skills to fill any competence gaps the city might have to be able to execute on its plans. This means a strong investment in education, but also adequate immigration policies and simplified processes to start a business.

New infrastructures to enable community involvement

For me the third success factor to create a sustainable smartcity is to create an environment that fosters innovation and is able to channel innovations from the crowds. In a digital economy innovation can come from everywhere and smart cities need to put the right structures in place to capture promising ideas in early stages and allow these to bloom. More and more cities realize the importance in setting up incubators and accelerators to capture these innovations, but we see also new type of creativity place like FabLabs gaining. This is certainly couple to a renaissance in hardware development and prototyping that has been triggered by innovations like the Raspberry PI, Arduino or 3D printing. Smart cities must provide environments to experiment, for people to rally around common causes and develop the next generation of innovations.

What’s your view?

I believe that continuously working on these four dimensions will help to develop sustainable smart cities. My view is certainly a bit simplistic and I acknowledge that but I hear to little about community involvement when reading about smart cities and this is why I wanted to write this short article and get some community feedback. What do you think is needed to build a smart city?

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Establishing a culture of innovation: The ten types and faces of innovation

This post is inspired by Tom Kelley’s books: The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation, and then also by a seminar I attended a week ago at Digital Arabia in Dubai. Matt Locsin, from innovation consultancy firm Doblin, talked about the ten types of innovation and then run a workshop on the same topic. The framework presented is based on a discovery from the late nineties, when a large set of more than 2000 successful innovations were analysed to identify patterns for success. The resulting insights are described in the book from Larry Keeley, “Ten Types of Innovation:The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs“. In a nutshell, the resulting framework  provides a structured approach to innovation by taking learnings from largely successful companies and dividing these into ten types of innovations.

From ten types of innovation…

Often when people think of innovation, the first thing that comes to mind is product innovation. The ten types of innovations forces you to think about more than just product innovation, which is referred to as innovations in offerings, it also helps you to think about innovation in the approach and innovations in the experience. Most of us, especially working in high-tech companies, are familiar to the innovations in offering, which are these functionalities and features that make your product unique or platform stick out of the crowd.  So out of the ten innovations only two are focusing on the offering, the product innovation and the system innovation.  Just focusing on this type of innovation is usually not enough to stick out, you need to think about innovations in approach and user experience.

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The innovation in approach, referred to as innovation in configuration, addresses four innovations: innovations in the business model you select, innovations in the way you take the product to the market including ability to leverage on assets of a partner network, innovation in the processes and the innovations in the way you use your own assets, i.e. structural innovations. A good and well know example, that uses a couple of these configuration innovations, is that of Canadian Gold Corp. It is a mining company that a few years ago was struggling with prospecting for gold. The small team of in-house geologists was unable to estimate good enough gold prospects on the GoldCorp property. Rob McEwen, CEO of GoldCorp decided then to publish all of his geological data on the Web and challenged the world to do the prospecting, the challenge was rewarded with a total prize of $575,000.News of the contest spread quickly around the Internet and more than 1,000 virtual prospectors got busy crunching the data. The challenge lead to discovery of 8 million ounces of gold, worth well over $3 billion. The example also shows the power of crowdsourcing.

Similarly experience innovations can lead to great returns. There are four innovations on the user experience side: they relate to innovation in customer engagement, innovation in brand identity, innovations in services and channels.  Starbucks is a well know example of such experience innovation, for them the engagement with the customer is more than just coffee, it is personal. Starbucks has managed in many ways to fill in the role of a “third place”, which is the most important place you willingly go to in-between the other two places which are home and work. It has become “a comfortable social gathering spot, away from home and work, like an extension of the front porch”.

What is interesting is that many of the successful innovations are focusing on more than just offering innovation and are ticking of several innovations in the three categories mentioned above.

…to the ten faces of innovation

So now we understand what type of innovations are important and we have a framework that can help us to structure our thinking and approach to innovation. Still, in the workshop we run at the seminar, most of the ideas and outputs of the teams were around product and system innovations only! Why that? I believe this has to do with our background and experiences. In order to really leverage on from the framework, you need to be able to get yourself into different roles. This is when I thought about the books from Tom Kelley, in particular the ten faces of innovation, which describes different roles to take in the process of innovation.

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In the book the ten faces of innovation, the author introduces ten distinctive roles that are key to innovate. The roles are the following: Anthropologist, Experimenter, Cross-pollinator, Hurdler, Collaborator, Director, Experience Architect, Set designer, Caregiver and Story teller.  In essence each of the roles brings a unique point of view and helps create true value in the innovation process. Now, I will not go through the roles in details, but I will give a few examples on why these roles matter. Some of these roles , like the experimenter, collaborator or  director roles are probably not that new to us and you can find them in most organisations, some others are probably non-existant and will limit our abilities to innovate.

Take the role of an anthropologist, why does that role matter? For a start the anthropologist takes unbiased notes on how people interact, this is quite useful to identify where real problems arise. Following  a doctor for 24h during his shift in a hospital and writing down everything that happens will provide you very different insights on the needs of that doctor and the hospital than a pre-canned survey which normally contains targeted questions. You need to be able to take an anthropologist mindset if you want to understand how to create value in experience. Another interesting role is the cross-pollinator, this is a person that is good at gathering learnings from other industries and helps to apply them to your environment, telcos can for instance learn a lot about loyalty programs from Airlines or other companies in the services business. On a side note, when it comes to areas like innovation in environment and sustainability, there is a whole science developed around cross-pollination, it is called bio-mimicry and it focuses on reusing learnings from nature to solve complex environmental problems. Another role, the one of story teller is certainly key to create customer engagement.  If you get a chance to read the book “Start something that matters” by Blake  Mycoskie you will see what I mean. The author is the founder of TOMS, a social business, which promises to give away a pair of shoe to children in need for every pair of shoe it sells. The huge success of this company is certainly due to the story it conveys and how people relate to it.

So while individuals in a company can take on multiple roles, and while they can use the framework to get structure around the innovation process, their skills and background will often not allow them to take on all these roles and I think this is where the process generally fails. New skills and competencies have to be injected in the company, either channeled, crowd-sourced or otherwise added to projects to get to breakthrough innovations.

How to establishing a culture of innovation?

The challenge of establishing a culture of innovation is slightly different for start-ups than it is for larger companies. For smaller companies, where innovation is often at the heart of the business, I think the framework can quickly be used to validate the innovations and see where the value will be generated, while the roles defined in the ten faces of innovation could be used to validate whether you have the right mix of people that can take on some of the roles described earlier. The incubators and accelerators can also help you fill in the blanks during that process.

For larger companies, it is certainly a much bigger challenge. Changing a larger company’s culture is not an easy task. Larger companies are often optimized for cost and output. Projects that don’t have a clear business case from day one are usually not invested in, company’s HR departments might not allow you to hire people that do not fit into their existing career models, innovation investment boards are often lacking experienced entrepreneurs and are mostly composed of finance people that have never started a business, many hurdles to overcome. To overcome these hurdles requires top level commitment and different types objectives need to be deinfed. Many companies have actually managed to get around these challenges by creating an innovation culture which introduces new approaches, new KPI’s and by injecting new skills. In telecommunications,  AT&T is a good example of a such a company that has introduced an innovation culture. They introduced the Foundry concept, which works like an incubator/accelerator within the company, but then they have also invested in news skills, like for instance setting up a medical department with a Chief Medical Information Officer. When starting to grow in the digital health business they have addressed the different types of innovations, but they have also onboarded people that can the innovation roles of caregiver or cross-pollinator.

In any case I believe any change management program that aims to establish a culture of innovation should inspire itself from the 10 ten types and 10 faces of innovation.

10 ways to make Dubai a Smart(er) City

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There was a lot of excitement  in Dubai at GITEX last week after His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum outlined his plans to make Dubai a SmartCity.  The Dubai ruler, Vice President and Prime minister of UAE has started a project that aims at improving citizen’s quality of life, develop the economy, but also aims at putting Dubai on the global map when it comes to innovation and technology leadership.

Although no details  about the scope of the project are known, it is clear that it is an attempt to bring together both public institutions as well as private sector companies in order to speed-up the move of Dubai and the UAE into the digital world. The higher committee that has been formed to run this initiative includes both public and private sector officials, with telecom operators Etisalat and du represented among others. It is not clear how much money will be poured into this initiative, but looking at the stakeholders involved we are talking serious business .  There are today three main themes defined under the umbrella project: Smart Life, Smart Economy and Smart tourism.

  • Smart Life focuses on education, health, transport, telecommunication and public utilities….
  • Smart Economy concerns the development of technology companies and jobs as well as port, airport and other business services.
  • Smart Tourism aims to offer visitors efficient visa, aviation, hotels, restaurants and other services.

For this initiative to succeed though it is important  to learn from what is being done elsewhere in the world but also consider learnings from projects like Masdar in Abu Dhabi. The green city project had to revise many of its initial high ambitions, to become the first carbon neutral city, mainly due to cost of implementation. Still I believe it is the right time and the right place to start such an ambitious project.  Having lived in UAE for 6 years now I start getting my own ideas on how such a project could shape up and wanted to share some humble ideas around the main themes.

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  1. I believe that traffic management is still one of the areas that has most potential for development. There are so many traffic jams, accidents and frustration spent on the roads that this could be a quick win for the city. Being it support applications to find parking spaces, information about location of infrastructure, real-time traffic information. I think this is one of the smart services citizen would really like to see.  Many cities around the world have started to even open this data to the public in order to stimulate innovation, I really hope Dubai and UAE can do thee same. Less accidents, Less CO2 emissions and less stress on the road are main benefits.  Check my previous article on opendata to read more about this topic.
  2. In order to improve quality of life, I think another important investment area should be around sustainability and greener lifestyle. Here also I am a proponent of environment opendata to stimulate innovation. Dubai and UAE would certainly benefit from measuring and exposing data like air quality, pollution levels as well as water and energy consumption.  Air Conditioning systems are in bad shape in many places here and lack of monitoring some of these environmental parameters could lead to chronic diseases.  To develop a Smart life means being more respectful about the environment, but to create awareness and change behaviors you need more visibility first.
  3. Healthcare is another area for investment. Now, while the quality of doctors here can be high, the administrative part is a nightmare, paperwork left and right, queueing here and there.  Now, this is probably not a quick win, but the move the electronic medical records is probably a big step to take as well as an introduction of remote patient monitoring solutions to deal with chronic diseases.
  4. Education is a tricky area, but I believe SmartCities will be cities capable of harnessing the right mix of local education programs combined with specialized Remote teaching capabilities from world class universities.  With technology the world becomes a smaller place, and that means that we can get access to educational resources that were out of reach before.  Video-conferencing, collaborative means that you can have very similar interactions with the teachers as when you are in the classroom. Another aspect of this development is that education could become a lot cheaper than it is today and hence become more affordable.

Smart Economy

  1. The smart economy is certainly about securing the infrastructure is continuously built-out to facilitate communications, logistics and production. Here I think tele-presence solutions provide an opportunity to facilitate Business-to-Business , Business-to-Government and Government-to-Citizen interactions. Less time spend on the road, waiting or idling will have a positive impact on productivity.
  2. Another aspect of the smart economy it is also about creating leaner administration and moving more jobs to the private sector. More jobs in private sector means also improving support systems for startups.  As I wrote in one of my previous articles cost of living and infrastructure is still to high to want to start a technology business here in UAE.  Maybe government needs to revise visa policies, provide housing support and finance startups to attract technology entrepreneurs.

Smart Tourism

  1. Digital signage could be further developed to promote events and provide tourist information services in strategic places.
  2. Voucher systems like the Dubai Entertainer or other coupon systems, need to be revamped so that you can get coupons in digital format. Just take the example of tourist visiting Dubai, likelyhood of him/her buying the entertainer at 100USD if he stays a few days is very low. Going digital gives you more flexbility in the offering.
  3. Automatic translation services could be used to provide relevant information to tourists.
  4. Now while many search engines are available to check flight availability, it is much more difficult to know restaurant availability. I would really love an application that can search for available restaurants that serve certain types of food.  Again if this type of data is made open and maybe brokered through the operator the applications will be developed.

Do you like some of these ideas? What are you thoughts and what would you like to see?

#Opendata status in European capitals

As a follow-up of my previous article on “why #Opendata matters in the networked society”, I have decided to have a closer look at what each of europe’s capitals has done so far to provide access to its precious data. There is a consensus now in the industry that the data available by governments can no longer be locked in  as there is soo much to gain by making it open. The European union has estimated that the overall economic gains from opening up public sector information could generate up to 40 billion euros a year in the EU, and there are today more than 6000 datasets registered on the european union’s open data portal.  The status of the opendata initiatives in Europe and the focus varies though from place to place, so I decided to have a closer look at  what the different european capitals are doing.

The description and comments below reflect the status as of Mid-October 2013 and is my personal assessment.  The research was done by searching for official opendata sites in each of europe’s capitals and government sites. For very small countries, I used the national sites or the largest city, made a search on datahub.io, but some countries still remain as “blackspots” on the map so I encourage you to provide feedback on this article so I can publish a better version of the assessment in the near future.

So why looking at #Opendata status in european capitals?

First of all, the capitals provide a good barometer on how Europe is opening up to opendata and the openweb. Opendata projects in a country are often  initiated at different levels: there are national projects that are driven by the government needs, there are regional initiatives driven by the regional administration and then there are urban initiatives which are kick-started in the interest of a city’s administration. But the main reason I am interested in the capitals is because they are in control of many data sources, and this is where I can see quick monetization opportunities as well.  And monetization is a good trigger to open up more data. To do these assessment, there are four aspects I am interested in understanding:

  1. How many sets are published, to get a quantitative assessment of the status and draw a heatmap
  2. What is the nature of the data that is shared, so that we see where the focus is for the city. It can also be used to see any “anomalies” or “creative” approaches
  3. Is there an API available to access the data
  4. What type of apps are being developed?

Quantitative view of Opendata – A European Heatmap

So here is the European opendata heatmap showing how many datasets are published in each of Europe’s capitals.

Heatmap

For many of the eastern european countries I couldn’t find any official links so I used the results I got from datasets stored on datahub.io and filtered by country (Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Poland Slovenia, bosnia, montenegro, macedonia). This means that reality might look slightly better for these countries, but it still seems that government driven opendata initiative in eastern europe are lagging behind.

At the top of Europe’s capitals is Helsinki with more than 1000 datasets published, followed by London and Rome with both around 500 datasets available. I am not so surprised to see the nordic’s in the lead, nor large cities, but more surprisingly you can see countries like Austria among the leaders with Wien having about 200 datasets and Austrian government about a 1000 datasets.

Looking at the disparity between smaller countries is quite interesting since some of the them are really lagging behind while others like Austria, Switzerland and the nordic are more of pioneers. In many of these countries the effort is also related to open government or e-government initiatives.

If you have access to better information or find some of the sources erroneous please let me know and I will try to correct. The heatmap is based on the following excel data OpenData-Europe.

Nature of the data published
It is when you start looking at what is published that it becomes really interesting. In France for instance you can see that the main agenda of the government is transparency, but is all of it useful? While the city of Paris has about 100 datasets published, the french government has a massive 300.000 datasets focusing only on employment and social policies, but I haven’t see much outcome when it comes to employment policies. Food for thought! In Rome 190 of the 500 datasets are about elections, seriously? On the positive side Italy is very active when it comes to collecting environmental data, while France is really lagging behind.
Maybe this is also a reason why some countries seem to be lagging behind when it comes to the number of datasets, when they are in fact more of pioneers on how the data is used. So it is not only about publishing the data but also making sure somebody will benefit from it.  it is not only about volume but also about usefullness. So while statistical data is of moderate interest, it is really goelocation data, environmental data and traffic data which is high on the agenda of the pioneer countries. Culture, food and healthcare are closely following.  Sweden seems to be low on the number of data sets, but the city of stockholm has one of the best portals with a simple structure and visualization, so usubility is very high.
Among some of the oddities in the datasets I am surprised that only Brussels is publishing location information about public access to Wi-Fi hotspots. Interestingly also is that Berlin is the only capital publishing data about consumer rights protection. When you start browsing the themes under which data is grouped, you will also notice that there is no normalization across categories, which means that it is not easy to link different datasets.

Access to the data and API

Data is usually publish in CSV, XML or other popular data format, but it is interesting to see that more and more countries are now providing API access to the datasets they publish. The access is usually done using an HTTP REST API, which means it is targeting the broad community of web developers.

The API access is becoming increasingly important as soon as you need to provide access to real-time data and some cities like Madrid or Wien are providing real-time access to traffic data. Metro and bus status updates are provided every couple of minutes to make sure the application developers can develop valuable applications to guide citizens or tourists.

API access also means that there is a bit more restrictions and developers have usually to be registered before API access is granted and some cities are even certifying the Application afterwards to make sure it does impact the peformance of the servers.

Applications of the data

One of the applications of opendata is obviously transparency. One of the best examples I have seen so far  is the London Dashboard.

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The city of London is providing an easy to understand dashboard view on key performance indicators on how the city is run and how the administration is performing.

Beside the transparency aspect, many cities are also providing access to the public sector information to stimulate innovation in particular in sectors that would help the cities economic and sutainable development.

Most European cities are now organizing targeted opendata hackathons and in 2013 hackathons were organized around the world on the opendata hack day

Many of the applications developed during Hackathons target mobility in the city. From finding restaurants to parking spaces to cultural hotspots every data that help us improve our city lifestyle can usually find a taker.

Share you #Opendata experiences

If you are a novice to Opendata I hope that this article gave you a bit of an overview of what is happening in Europe, but for those of you working daily with opendata I would love hear about your projects and experiences. What type of applications are being developed? How is linking of data across europe and how are regulations around data evolving? And please, if you have data sources I missed, please share!

 

Why #Opendata matters in the Networked Society

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What is Opendata?

In a nutshell, “Open data is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike.”

What this means practically, is that data assets are being exposed  without charging the consumer of that data, with the exception of possible reproduction costs.  Since most of this data will be available over the internet and stored in the cloud, where the costs are marginal we can assume that open data is completely free of charge. Secondly the definition also states that this data shall be freely redistributable and can also be mixed with other data assets without limitations. This means that you can manipulate the data, aggregate it without any limitations imposed by the original data source provider. But the most interesting requirement on opendata is that it cannot include any restrictions on how the data should be used. For me this is the key, since it will not only open the data for educational purposes, but also  allow  the use of  opendata for commercial purposes. So Opendata will spur innovation and entrepreneurship.

Opendata promotes transparency

One of the opportunities seen by governments and local administration is to expose data for transparancy purposes. This helps citizens to understand where and how public spending is made, allows better scrutiny of this spending and can create more trust in authorities in the long run. Let me give you a few examples.

Open data PARIS – The city of Paris releases economic data about public contracts awarded, government spending and other data to promote transparency between the public administration and citizen.  Information and location of public services like educational institutions and buildings is made available machine readable files that can be downloaed.  Accessibility information about government infrastructure is also provided.

The city of Vienna in Austria is even taking this one step further since the country was to implement a vision of an open government where  “In opening its data records to the public, the City of Vienna is taking yet another important step towards implementing its Open Government Strategy” furthermore the city has deicded “to create administrative structures based on more transparency and participation, enabling closer cooperation with the local population, local businesses and the scientific community.” This is quiet a bold ambition but I think is the future of governments in the networked society.

Another interesting initiative I came across comes from Northern Italy. The region Veneto has started an opendata initiative with an ambition to provide a portal to different type of data sets grouped in different themes. Interesting is that the data sources are not only including information about public infrastructure, like roads and maps,  but some of the data sets now also include more domain specific information like environment or culture related data.  Especially the environmental related data can be very important to creare a more sustainable society.

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Opendata initiatives and the SmartCity

Governments and city administrations have also realized that sharing the data assets they have can help in the development of a SmartCity vision and improve the life quality of their citizen.

Around the world many cities have quick-started opendata initiatives to stimulate innovation in the urban context.

As  an example in the city of Amsterdam, DIVV, the city’s department for Infrastructure , Traffic and Transportation has

made available all its data on traffic and transportation to interested parties.  Data about parking (tariffs, availability, time), taxi stands, cyclepaths, stops for touringcars are public.

By having a competition on the best applications and rewarding the winners, they attracted a lot of potential startups that want to leverage ont the data . On the 2012 winners is ParkShark an application which helps you find available parking places using predefined criteria. The benefits for the citizen is less stress when searching for parking and for the city is ultimately reduces CO2 emissions and will optimize parking usage.

To go back to the previous example, the city of Vienna has been exposing mostly GIS based information like infrastructure, musuems, bus stops and other usefull data, but have now also started to expose real-time data. In particular they are exposing real-time traffic information about communal transportation systems.  There are today roughly 100 applications that have been designed specifically to leverage on opendata in Vienna.

Opendata will be a catalyst for innovation

The opendata phenomenom is growing rapidly around the world and I strongly believe Opendata will be a catalyst for innovation everywhere. It is important that startups and innovators realize that there is a good mine of data that is available for them to create value for citizens and governments.

July edition – 3 Innovation Ideas – Any takers?

innovation headIdeas are just ideas until you start working on them to transform them into real projects. So here are some of the ideas that have been going through my head. Some of them are probably rubbish or already done, but if you think an idea is worthwhile exploring more and you are interested to develop it further then let’s discuss. Eventually, I am looking for like minded people, that could help develop the idea. I hope to write down a few new ideas every month or two. If the idea is good and gets traction, then it would make sense to explore it further in a hackathon or through a kickstarter project. Have your say, comments most welcome!

1 – Multi-media center and home content aggregation – Can’t we do better?

Content storage, streaming and the multi-media center market are probably quite cluttered already, but frankly I am surprised nobody has come up with something better than what is available on the market. ITunes, AppleTV are great from a user experience perspective, but are pretty closed eco-systems. It is cumbersome to add content that is not on apple devices and still to get the same user experience. It usually starts with the problem of linking all devices to some kind of hub, being it protocols or authentication issues, I feel we are today constrained by closed eco-systems.  Second is the issue of the digital library presentation. I believe it should be possible to do a much better job at automatically sorting and structuring your digital library. Too much manual job involved. Just take the example of adding album and DVD covers to your itunes library, what a nightmare! Is it that difficult to dynamically add a few websites, where you can search for album or DVD covers? As long as your search for US content you are OK, but try to find the cover for a french movie or an italian music album you will not get that far with what’s built-in, and while Amazon is a good source of info, it is not enough. I want to add local sites that have usually much more regional content available. Same applies to content reviews? Where do you get the reviews from? Here also you should be able to select where the reviews are from, probably also taking language into consideration. I think a great improvement would be to use an approach like wordpress does for blogging or paper.li, for content curating, where you basically dynamically structure the way your portal should look like and your content should be filtered and presented. You will say, not everybody is tech savvy, but that is where you can leverage on the “Alpha” users, which could explore various ways of rendering for a local community, then share these settings with rest of community. I believe there is an opportunity for an open-source project to develop something really useful and the base is maybe already available (I am thinking XBMC or similar) .

2- Crowd sourcing revisited

I love the idea of crowd sourcing, since it brings a lot of like mind people together.  Betting on innovation idea is great to get community involvement. What I feel is missing, and that makes me sometimes a bit reluctant in participating, is how much do you actually know of the team behind a kickstarter project? Adding some kind of social influence information, like linkedin  recommendations or klout score could help get a better idea about the team members. Similarly I think information about the skill sets required and skills available in the team could help in the assessment. Another possible development with crowd-sourcing is to combine the actual financing of the project with the team build-up phase.  I see this type of approach already used in hackathons, but I believe it could benefit also to integrate these early stage needs  in the crowd sourcing platform.

Beside the  financing aspects and people’s contribution, I believe a crowd sourcing platform could also include other resource types required for a successful  project setup. Here I am thinking about computing resources or office space, but anything valuable for a project could be included, like coaching, marketing or sales support.

The idea would then be to provide an opensource platform, where you crowd-source pretty much everything and throughout all stages of an innovation project.

3 – Social media community manager – Twitter Circles?

For those of you heavily engaged with social media like twitter, linkedin, google+, instagram, you will probably agree with me that it becomes increasingly difficult to manage all you connections without proper tools. Yet, many of the tools available on the market have serious limitations in the way they manage the community connections. Personnally I have tried two tools, SocialBro, which I use on a daily basis, as well as Hootsuite. Both of them are great, and serve slightly different purposes but are not necessarily efficient. Here are or two functions I would like to see to manage twitter for instance. When searching for new followers, it would make sense for instance (instead of searching the whole twitter user base and filter on keywords) to have mechanims to search followers and friends of people you already follow or search their lists. So in a sense introduce a closeness function, similar to what you have in linkedin. Another function I am missing and that has to do with timezones in a sesne is that we are all active at different times of the day, so I would like to be able to filter based on who has been active for the last few hours. There are may more search criteria that one could implement to better manage communities.  I think also a graphical representation would help in that process. Another limitation of current tools is that they limit themselves to processing multiple streams, but without adding much intelligence on top. Wouldn’t it be good to know how much commonality you have with an other person across skills, social networks and interests? I think there is an opportunity to develop a tool that provides more value to community, and it think a good start would be to develop it for twitter first.

OK, so now I have started publishing my first set of thoughts, let’s just hope that the landing is not too brutal and that nobody responds. Looking forward to your feedback.

Will wearable computing take us by storm?

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The world of wearable computing is evolving at lightspeed and the impact these connected devices will have on our daily lives will be dramatic. From the simple fitness devices we see today, to the smart watches and google glasses which are just around the corner, we are not too far from some of the visionary scenes of a movie like ironman. 

Skeptics will say that wearable computing industry is still a big hype but I believe we have hardly seen the tip of the iceberg and there are just too many technology trends converging and too many business benefits for this not too happen at a large scale and much faster than anticipated.  Here is why…

Connectivity is almost everywhere

Mobile Connectivity is almost everywhere, being it through Wi-FI or 3G and LTE, we can now be constantly connected with our mobile devices and at affordable rates. Mobile data share plans will also make it easy to connect more devices to our current subscription, but in the worst case you can always use your mobile phone or home gateway as an aggregation point. The truth is, that any device that benefits from a connection will have one. The phone is most likely to be our aggregation point for data traffic, since this is the device we always carry with us, but this might change over time.

Wearable devices us Open Source Operating Systems, Open API’s and SDK

Wearable devices are becoming mainstream, fitness devices produced by Nike or Fitbit are already part of the common sports gear and soon we will see smart watches from Sony and Apple on retailer stores. Health monitoring devices are also appearing as mass market devices.  Many of the devices we see right now are very much single function or very focused functionality which means they do not necessarily need to be open to the developer community but this is changing as the device becomes more of an interface to the rest of the world.

Many devices manufacturers that see the wearable device as an interface or a portal will most likely want to build on open operating systems, being it Linux or Android they are providing open API’s to stimulate innovation and community engagement. We see this already with Google Glass supporting HTTP REST API’s to interface with their device. Google’s main competitor Vuzix is taking a similar approach and seem to have come even further since they have a rich SDK and a developer program to encourage innovation.

In addition to these hub devices, with Open API’s we also see companies developing sensors that can be embedded in cloth and some even washed.

Cloud infrastructure and Bigdata

With the availability of cloud and bigdata infrastructures it also means that the data captured by these wearable devices can rapidly be processed and insights can be actionable insights can be gained. It also means that the data can easily be augmented to be provide new information and insights to the end-user of the device.

Imagine yourself walking through a book store with you google glasses and by zooming on the ISBN, or barcode you get access to instant book reviews from Amazon, pricing information and other information about the book author. The system could also provide you with recommendations you might like based on your previous readings and by access the local in-store information portal you could actually get guidance on which shelf to find the book. That is if you are still going to bookstore.. but I guess you get the point.

Cloud, bigdata and analytics could change the way we use devices and transform them to become some kind of life support system.

Consumer and Business Benefits

I believe consumer and businesses will both drive the development of wearable computing.  On the business side devices like smart glasses enhanced with augmented reality will allow major costs saving and efficiency improvements in the enterprise, especially in segments where you need your hands free. A good way to exemplify this is how SAP and Vuzix are partnering to bring augmented reality solutions to the enterprise. In this video, you can see how the smart glasses allow a logistics worker to get important information and guidance in his daily warehouse activities while keeping his hands free, this allows him to save time and avoid dangerous situations. If elaborate a bit more the needs from job safety you can find all kinds of wearables devices, what if you would start measuring vital signs of people working in hard physical environment, that could help do preventive care.

On the consumer side healthcare and fitness are two big interest areas and we see more and more self-diagnosis and monitoring devices appearing on the market.

If you have a sense of humor, you can also check out some more exotic projects like Durex Fundawear.The famous condom manufacturer is working on underwear which can be controlled with you mobile phone, no more on that!

Another interesting example is the invisible bicycle helmet, it looks like some sort of scarf, but is in fact a hidden airbag for cyclists, that use sensors that determines when to unfold.

Earlier this year Juniper Research issued a report forecasing a total of almost 70 million smart wearable devices sold in 2017, including smart glasses, health and fitness devices along with enterprise wearables, compared to almost 15 million sales in 2013. I believe these numbers are still conservative.

So will wearable computing take us by storm?

I believe it will, the technology is there and the benefits are huge both for the consumer as well as the enterprise, but time will tell how fast this will really happen. Also I am sure I have missed plenty of use-cases and companies doing great stuff. I would love to get your feedback, experiences and thoughts about this topic.