It can prevent deaths, it can reduce the risk of corruption and it can (sometimes very importantly) provide real-time information about how warm the water is at your local bathing spot. Sharing data is becoming increasingly important, but there are pitfalls along the way. Claus Popp Larsen from RISE guides us through the different steps.
The city of Helsingborg is beautifully situated with its long beach facing Öresund strait. Lifebuoys are placed along the promenade for safety. The problem, however, is that they tend to disappear. It was therefore proposed some time ago to equip the lifebuoys with sensors, so that it would be possible to see where they are at all times.
– “There were discussions about this from the beginning, with some believing that it would just cost a lot of money,” says Claus Popp Larsen, Head of the Connected Cities focus area at RISE.
– “But then one person explained that if the buoys have sensors and the municipality shares that data, you would easily see should one disappear and quickly replace it. And that could mean the difference between life and death.”
Growing interest in data
Today, data is discussed virtually everywhere and many organisations, both private and public, have started looking at how it can be used to help solve societal challenges. Sometimes small challenges, like lifebuoys, and sometimes big challenges, such as climate change. This discussion also includes how the data can be shared and thus used by more parties.
– “If an organisation cannot make its data available, no one else can use it,” says Popp Larsen. “No data means no services. But the organisational challenges of making data available are frequently underestimated.”
RISE therefore works with, among others, the Smart City Lab project, the aim of which is to enable municipalities, through a structured framework, to share data within a city and move data-driven services between cities.
– “This may sound simple, but there are still several obstacles,” says Popp Larsen. “What we work with in the team and in our projects is how an organisation can build up its ability to make data available.”
Technology is not enough
Being able to share data is largely dependent on so-called soft digital infrastructure, which includes standards and processes.
– “The challenges are essentially identical in all municipalities and a lot can be gained by jointly creating this soft digital infrastructure. It is too large and extensive for an individual municipality to do by itself.”
Technical and organisational challenges
In part, it has to do with technology: in order to make data available, data platforms are needed that have a clear interface with the service developer (API), and for it to be scalable, it is also necessary to agree on which standards to follow.
– “But technology is not enough, there are also organisational challenges relating to ownership and control of data,” explains Popp Larsen.
While it may seem obvious that the municipality owns its own data, it is not always that simple.
– “For instance, the data may belong to the subcontractor who supplied the equipment. The first step is to address this issue and also to classify information, which is a type of risk assessment, so that you know, for example, what laws apply to the data before making it available to others.”
Here at RISE we can help to both make the data available and in terms of its utilisation
Data quality is crucial
Another important task that must be done before you start sharing data is to ensure that it is of a certain quality.
– “In Sweden, the explicit ambition from the government and municipalities is that they want to share data as open data,” says Popp Larsen. “The problem is that when you look at this kind of data, there can be a lot of it, but it is often in different formats and its quality is difficult to determine. Is it new or old, will there be new deliveries tomorrow, and so on? These are things you need to know before you can build a service based on the data.”
Only when these steps are completed can the data be utilised and refined for use in various services and digital tools, such as decision-making systems, visualisations, air quality monitoring, and so on.
– “Here at RISE we can help to both make the data available and in terms of its utilisation,” explains Popp Larsen. “We have the necessary combination of digital expertise and domain knowledge to help in many areas.”
Consider potential integrations
However, an important part of developing these tools is to think well in advance about how to integrate a service or data-driven tool into your organisation.
– “If you’re just going to run a small test project, you don’t have to worry too much about this. But if you really want to integrate it into your business, you need to think about how your organisation can use it right from the start.”
An important aspect of the work is to not only include your own department or administration, but also to have a good business model in place with the supplier, as well as an idea about what needs other administrations may have to be able to use it.
However, despite the fact that there are a few steps involved, Popp Larsen believes that it is always worthwhile to try work with data.
“There are so many advantages. For example, shared information about the municipality’s purchases can increase transparency and reduce the risk of corruption, or it can be used for such a simple yet appreciated service such as publishing the water temperature at bathing spots on the municipality’s website in real time. But ask for help, because it requires both technical and organisational expertise at several different levels and it is rare for both to exist in the same place,” concludes Popp Larsen.