Open Data: The Missing Piece from Smart City Initiative

Open data, the most efficient way to leverage power of community and be transparent, is missing from

Last week, Mayor of District of Columbia (DC), in the US appointed India-born Archana Vamulapalli as the Chief Technology Officer of the district. The announcement was accompanied by reiteration of the mayor’s commitment to Open Data push. In fact, the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO), which Vamalupalli has occupied, has created a draft Open Data Policy and a major thrust of her would be to drive that.
 
Worldwide, administrators at national, state and city levels are realizing the power of open data. In countries like the US, it is seen as part of broader open government initiative and is meant at driving transparency. But smaller countries are using the power of community to drive change using open data.
 
Data can be a very powerful (and often the shortest) way to take important decisions. Unfortunately, in India, which has a robust open data initiative and a small but significant set of committed open data activists, open data initiative and newer governance initiatives such as smart cities operate isolated from one another.
 
Few in charge of smart city implementation know about open data initiative and data.gov.in, India’s government open data site, though many of them have started involving community because of clear mandate from the Central government.
 
Open data, when combined with IoT applications, can actually help city administrators solve many issues by leveraging community analysts and developers.
 
There are interesting things small firms and communities are doing around open data. Bangalore-based Arghyam is using open data to solve water and sanitation issues. Gurgaon-based JuxtSmartMandate, an analytics firm, has actually gone a step ahead. It is collecting air quality data in more than two dozen locations in Delhi and NCR using devices—built at a fraction of cost of those used by the government to collect similar data at limited number of locations in some cities. It plans to make that data available for free.
 
There are many others who may not be working on city data per se, but have all the wherewithal to do that. Their contribution would make smart cities more effective, and well, smarter.
 
And no, data component cannot be brought later. If the smart cities have to leverage power of data—open or otherwise—the planning has to be done today, not as an afterthought.
 
Despite sincere intention and well planned procedures, Indian smart cities initiative may not get the best results without leveraging the power of sharing and new ways of work. While the low hanging fruits are so many in India that some initiatives may show results immediately, creating a great positive impression. But in the long run, it may not be an optimized solution. It would be a bit too late when that is discovered.  

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