Why Smart Cities Need Standardization: Experts Discuss
Last week, ITMO University and Russian Venture Company held the Smart Cities Tech Standards conference dedicated to standards in the field of digital economics. This topic becomes all the more relevant due to the rapid development of such technologies as the Internet of Things, Big Data, smart manufacturing and smart cities. At the conference, leading experts from Great Britain, Canada, China, Japan, France, and Germany spoke about the rules that will regulate such standards in the nearest years.
Smart City technologies exist to increase the city dwellers' quality of life and ease their access to different services. Software solution developers, urban engineers, government representatives and common citizens are equally interested in the improvement of such solutions. The standards in this field, aimed at attaining the right balance between the technologies' development and their usability, serve as a basis for new business models and actual businesses.
As of today, public administration systems, data economics, and digital economics are among ITMO University's fields of focus. In the course of the last several years, the university's School of Translational Information Technologies has developed different projects related to smart city technologies, including those that have to do with urban planning, development forecasting, economic efficiency assessment and the like. The technologies developed at ITMO are first applied in St. Petersburg, which is seen as the testing site for various technologies - from traffic flow modeling to complex data analysis (like assessing the crime levels in different districts or the citizens' level of happiness). To solve some of the city's issues, specialists often employ IT solutions and develop specialized infrastructure.
Specialists from ITMO University are currently working on developing St. Petersburg's new satellite district Yuzniy, with the new ITMO Highpark campus as its core, where new forecasting technologies will serve as the basis for the city's future infrastructure. The developers aspire to plan an elaborate campus structure which will enable the University to relocate research that calls for large sites or cannot be implemented in the city's historical center. Both Russian and foreign companies will partake in the development of the project.
At Smart Cities Tech Standards, international experts spoke about the different aspects and issues of standardization with regard to smart city technologies, and its role in the field’s future development.
"Today, we lay the groundwork for the standards, rules, and regulations we'll be abiding by in the future," comments Nina Yanikina.
Professor Mark Fox from the University of Toronto spoke about the data standards with regard to city indicators. Many cities with rich history have their certain heritage in what has to do with such services as education, transport, water supply, drainage, healthcare and the like, having developed each service in a particular way. All of them have their own history, which is reflected in large amounts of data, affects the services' current development and is unique to every city.
"Let's say we build a road. There's some particular area we want to replace. In Toronto, we make use of the tender system. Different companies compete for the tender, take part in negotiations, then we define the total costs and choose a contractor. We consult the developer company, but do we really need to discuss the issue with anyone else? We probably have to consult the water department, as their communications may lie underneath the road. Same goes for the drainage system. Also, the road repairs can coincide with something like the peak of the tourist season - if the city administration has some events planned for this time, the police may have their objections. Also, the construction can affect the transport routes. So, you see, the seemingly simple task - repairing a part of a road - becomes something that is to be discussed with many organizations. Today, we face not just lesser problems that have to do with particular fields, but those that involve many aspects. We need to learn to process information from different sources simultaneously," explains the professor.
So, what's the nature of the problem? When talking about standardization, one of the biggest problems is semantic interoperability. For instance, in English, there's the word "plant", which can mean both a factory and some tree. When analyzing different documents, we are to make sure that in each case, it is understood correctly.
Another example is writing dates (the year may be put before day&month and vice-versa). For instance, in Toronto, there's no commonly used format. Yet, a misrepresentation of data can result in dire consequences.
"Not only do we have to analyze data, we also have to study the data processing systems we make use of. If we divide these two fields, we can see that the value of data can be perceived independently from the system. We have to develop precise formulations for particular frameworks," explains the speaker.
There's also the problem of inaccessibility of data. Oftentimes, people just can't analyze large amounts of data manually. Should we give the citizens access to data and the opportunity to analyze it? If we are to promote such initiatives, we are to make sure that all cities will openly publish their data, so that different experts can compare it and thus develop certain standards, otherwise, we'll be facing the same misrepresentation problem.
"How do we solve this problem at the University of Toronto? We are developing a system of ontologies based on an ISO document which includes such modules as education, economics, environment, healthcare, security, etc. - everything we include into our standardization project. First, we've introduced the rules for defining the information we are to process, and analyzing it. There are thousands of different indicators in the world. If we know the definition of the indicator, we can create an ISO standard for an ontology - and use it. We work with the cities of Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal on processing their data, which we aspire to accomplish in two years from now. We are also developing an instrument for checking the data's compatibility and correspondence," says the professor.
Igor Agamirzyan, Vice-President of the Higher School of Economics, noted the increase in the complexity of the systems used and gave a forecast on the future of standards development.
"The increase in the complexity of cyber-physical systems used in different branches of the economy calls for new approaches to standardization, mainly in what has to do with interfaces and protocols, otherwise using components from different manufacturers in an integrated product will become too expensive or even impossible. As of now, the development of standards in IoT and cyber-physical systems is still in its initial state; for a certain period of time, major manufacturers and developers will continue to pursue their home standards, but soon common standardization formats will lay down the necessary rules for the industry," comments the expert.
Heng Qian, Director of the Shandong Institute of Standardization, spoke about the necessity of promoting standardization throughout the world.
"It's impossible to discuss the subject of smart cities without mentioning the many challenges related to this field, urbanization, for instance - more and more people come to live in cities. Each city faces the problem of providing services to its population with regard to such problems. Cities produce the greater part of the GDP, consume most energy and resources, and are the source of most of the garbage on the planet - so, we're trying to make them "smart". A "smart city" is a system of systems: it has neither a beginning nor end and is constantly changing. This is why developing relevant standards is important, as they can act as rules to developing the systems' components," explains the professor.
When talking about assessing a city’s development, Heng Qian advises to address the ISO 268 standard that regulates standardization in the field of smart cities and communities. The standard includes requirements, conditions, and mechanisms that help attain sustainable development by using smart technologies. Using ISO 268, the city's administration can assess their actions and check if the course they've chosen is the right one.
"I don't think that cities should compete with each other. Different cities have different practices and history, adhere to different requirements, pursue sustainability in different ways. We can make comparisons based on a single city - compare its present state with how it was some ten years ago. And ISO 268 is what allows us to do that," shares the speaker.
The committee working on ISO standards focuses on information technologies that contribute to smart city development. ISO technologies can be a huge help in different stages of its many processes, and some can even offer solutions for any and all of these stages.
"As of now, we can name more than three thousand standards. About 500 more are currently in development. 33 employees and 63 supervisors work for the committee; we are many, and there are many standards that can help us. Our staff is divided into a range of subcommittees - as of now, we have about 42 of those. For instance, we have the workgroup 11 that works with smart city technologies; standard 40 was developed for systems engineering, standard 27 - for security (biometric technology), standard 22 is dedicated to programming languages and software interfaces and so on," says Heng Qian.
We'd like to note that the event was organized by the Cyber-physical Systems Technical Committee, the Russian Venture Company, and ITMO University. Among the partners were Federal Agency on Technical Regulating and Metrology, the Internet Initiatives Development Fund, and PAO Rostelecom.