In smart cities, the Internet of Things (IoT) has been in use for a while already, in fields such as transport and health care. The markets offer silo-esque solutions, which often face challenges in the utilisation of the data produced by the solution in an urban community and the further development of the solution with different operators. The leading smart cities have also taken steps towards an open and platform-based IoT.

In September, experts from the smart cities of Helsinki, Antwerp and London met in Tampere at the Mindtrek technology conference to share experiences and consider how to build an open IoT ecosystem serving a whole city community. The cities also worked in close collaboration on the Synchronicity and Select for Cities projects, which were coordinated by Forum Virium Helsinki. We have rounded up the cities’ tips for promoting a more open Internet of Things.

1. Development of participation in the city ecosystem

The construction of the ecosystem must include residents, as well as businesses and the city organisation itself. Forum Virium Helsinki has supported this principle by starting the Vekotinverstas gadget workshop initiative. At Vekotinverstas workshops, residents and businesses can come together to create ideas or build IoT solutions.

2. New ways to gather data

The IoT and a range of different sensors produce new data for the cities. Smart homes are producing more detailed information about energy consumption. Other smart city services, such as flexi spaces and smart transport also produce data that can facilitate new services. With the help of sensors and apps, the collection of data can be crowdsourced, with residents acting as data producers or gatherers. City residents can, for example, produce crowdsourced data that is more detailed and up-to-date about how well traffic is moving.

3. From isolated cities to a common market

Large markets can be created for new services through the harmonisation of data and interfaces and with collaboration between cities. Helsinki has had good experiences of harmonisation work when it comes to programming interfaces, with the CitySDK and 6Aika projects, and in the Synchronicity project lessons learnt from these projects are now also being put to use in the southbound, i.e. device layer interfaces, harmonisation work. In addition to the harmonisation work, a funding round for IoT solutions for an open and smart city supports the scaling of services.

4. Cities investing for the benefit of others

By favouring open source code, cities can reduce the risk of being stuck with a single supplier, make quality control easier and facilitate the creation of a community around the code base. This makes it easier for solutions to be developed further by parties other than the original producer, and through continued usage of the code, others can also take advantage of the city’s investments.

5. Rapid product development and agile procurements

Agile pre-commercial procurement has been trialled in Antwerp with start-ups. The procurements have proved their worth, both for cities and businesses. Start-ups often need a reference customer for their product, to make it easier to attract further customers. Cities, in turn, require creative and rapid activity in the development of services. Rapid procurements facilitate iterative product development for both parties.

6. Networks count in the IoT

By providing low-power, long-range networks for companies to use, it is possible to support the creation of new smart city solutions. Positive experiences of this have been seen in London through the Things connected project, where over 300 users were easily found for the LoRaWAN network equipped with 50 routers, which was available across London.

7. Being open about the challenges that lie ahead

Congestion, air quality, making healthcare more efficient: there are certainly customers out there for the companies solving the challenges cities are facing. Cities should prioritise communicating more openly about the challenges for which they are seeking solutions. This way of thinking is starting to gain ground in many cities, through events such as hackathons and challenge competitions, as well as through procurements.

8. Mobilising and using data

Single-supplier solutions that are silo-like in nature often slow down the utilisation of data, both within and outside the city. Progress has been made with opening up data, and thanks to open interfaces, cities have become platforms for third party solutions too. Some data, however, cannot be made open directly, or is owned by residents and companies. In the future, a range of authorisation, distribution and marketplace solutions will be required for the handing over and selling of data.

Forum Virium Helsinki’s IoT programme

Forum Virium Helsinki’s IoT programme has been operational for almost a year. The team’s mission has become clearer over the course of the year: the objectives are to test new technologies, examine the effects of IoT solutions, facilitate product and service development, trial new ways of gathering data, increase artificial intelligence, move forward towards open and modular solutions, and create markets for scalable services through harmonisation.