London’s CDO appointed

Big Hand to Theo Blackwell, who will London’s first ever Chief Digital Officer (CDO)!

According to the press release, “Theo will play a leading role in realising the Mayor’s ambition to make London the world’s smartest city, ensuring that the capital’s status as a global tech hub helps transform the way public services are designed and delivered, making them more accessible, efficient and responsive to the needs of Londoners.”

Theo has been a Camden councillor since 2002, so he knows city from the inside. He joins the city from the public sector accelerator Public. Earlier he was a Head of Policy & Public Affairs for the video games industry’s trade body, Ukie.

Theo will be working with the Smart London Board , which was appointed in July, yours truly being one of the members. A few months old London Office for Technology & Innovation will be in a key role in making seamless, interoperable and safe digitalised London a reality.

Theo will face a rather interesting, hopefully not impossible amount of challenges. A tough nut to crack will be the model of collaboration between the boroughs of London. As much as I am a fan of local democracy and devolution of power, trying to build seamless services and interoperability across 32 districts with their own mayors and council must be an absolute pain. In the digital domain joint initiatives are especially critical – Londoners move around a lot, and people should be able to access their services through the same interfaces if they move from Camden to Islington.

Interoperability is also critical when building the holistic picture of the city, which is increasingly important when managing urban systems. Digital twin of London needs data, and that data is often locked away in the legacy systems of the boroughs.

The key to success is in partnerships. According to Joy’s Law: “no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else”. Hardly anywhere is this more true than in city administration. The secret sauce in urban transformation is to empower the people of the city of change it. As one of the leading tech hubs in the world. London certainly has all the necessary ingredients to succeed.


Cities from seven countries boost 
open standards for smart cities

Thirty-one cities from seven countries in Europe and Latin America launch the 
“Open & Agile Smart Cities” initiative to accelerate adoption of 
common standards and principles for global smart city development.

CeBIT was the natural place for one of the most important announcements this year about smart city development in Europe. The Open & Agile Smart Cities (OASC) initiative, signed by 31 cities from Finland, Denmark, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, Spain and Brazil, aims to kickstart the use of a shared set of wide-spread, open standards and principles, enabling the development of smart city applications and solutions to reach many cities at once, by making systems interoperable between cities, and within a city.
As I told in the press conference: “Seen from a developer’s perspective, one city alone is not a market large enough. A number of cities in several countries or a continent, adopting a minimal set of de facto standards is a sizable market on which developers can start investing.”
Picture: Juanjo Hierro, Martin Brynskov (network chair), and me (vice chair).
The OASC Task Force  operates under the Connected Smart Cities (CSC) Network. The first national city networks to join the initiative are Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Tampere, Oulu and Turku in Finland; Copenhagen, Aarhus and Aalborg in Denmark; Brussels, Ghent and Antwerp in Belgium; Porto, Lisbon, Fundão, Palmela, Penela and Águeda in Portugal; Milan, Palermo and Lecce in Italy; Valencia, Santander, Málaga and Sevilla in Spain; and Olinda (Recife), Anapólis (Goiás), Porto Alegre (Rio Grande do Sul), Vitória (Espírito Santo), Colinas de Tocantins (Tocantins) and Taquaritinga (São Paulo) in Brazil.
Cities commit to four things: first, to drive development by implementation, ie. taking concrete action and experimenting. Second, to support open APIs (Application Programming Interface) to services, such as FIWARE NGSI (lightweight means to gather, publish, query and subscribe context-based, real-time information). Third, to use and improve standard data models based on experimentation and actual usage, with data models coming from the work lead by Forum Virium Helsinki for the CitySDK (City Service Development Kit) project. And lastly, cities in the OASC Task Force will publish their open data in compatible open platforms, such as CKAN (Open Knowledge Foundation’s platform).
Commitment to adopt these common standards and principles is supported by the signature of a “Letter of Intent” by cities that become part of the initiative, several of which were present at CeBIT.
The announcement was the first wave in an ongoing series where national networks of cities join the Open & Agile Smart Cities initiative. The process is open to every city in the world which implements the mechanisms, as long as they join up at least two cities from a nation or territory.
The next wave is expected in early summer. Cities from the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Mexico are already on track.
This is a unique opportunity to develop de facto standards in an open and collaborative manner which complements the traditional standards development processes, and focuses on the needs of cities as a whole, including opportunities for local job creation and SME involvement.

Cities & Big Data


John Tolva & DJ Elukka DJ’ing in Mbar, Club Chicago.

We were glad to host John Tolva in Helsinki a few weeks back. He visited us as a guest of “Welcome to Helsinki” program of the City of Helsinki. The program was PACKED, with meetings with both nerds and civil servants, a DJ gig in Club Chicago in Mbar, barbecue in our house and of course Vappu, the eve of the first of May mayhem.

One of the buzzes of the day is Big Data. John should know a thing or two about it: he is the president of Positive Energy Practice, former CEO of the City of Chicago, and one of the creators of City Forward, the city data visualisation & analysis tool by IBM.

John discusses big data & cities in the recent interview in NewCity Design (and in his blog Ascent Stage). The “rise of data” in cities  is caused by two factors; first, the fact that even though cities have always produced lots of data, only now we have the tools to collect and analyse really large datasets; and second, that cities are now opening the data for external use, creating opportunities for innovative use of data, new product, business intelligence, transparency and in general better understanding of the city.

It’s a great vision. But let’s compare cities to two other sectors benefiting from big data. The impact of data has been most staggering in the finance sector. The combination of big data, super fast data analysis and automated trading tools have created completely new business sectors worth thousands of billions (we can – and should – of course debate which real value those have brought to the society). The other sector, with much more concrete positive outcomes, is medicine, where big data is changing both diagnosis and treatment processes.

However, the worlds of finance and medicine data are (almost) globally harmonised. That is not the case with cities. One-city big data is not all that big. This is be the key challenge of cities: how & when can they jointly create the global city big data ecosystem? The cities of the world is a big Babel of incompatible processes, data and interfaces. Harmonising that will need lots of footwork, and city2city collaboration. One city for all, all for one.


Helsinki Praised In Guardian – Twice

Our presence in the Barcelona Smart City Expo (remember – the one where you could buy lots of smart cities in a box) was noticed by the press, more precisely the Guardian. Their focus is in the Open Smart City approach of Helsinki.

The New Smart City article quotes Hanna Niemi-Hugaerts of Forum Virium Helsinki: “Open311 interface allows citizens to send photos or update reports on anything from pot holes to traffic signs, the imagination is the limit. Open311 is also an open dataset, allowing third party developers or the citizens themselves to develop apps or services”.

In the provocatively headlined Stupid Mayors Are Putting The Wrong Things At The Heart Of Smart Cities  the newspaper points out, that “truly smart cities such as Helsinki are using technology that is already out on the streets and on the web, enabling residents to input and update via smartphones, while apps help them to navigate the city more efficiently.”

Thanks for the support & keep spreading the word.

ImageThe Helsinki issue tracking API makes it possible for developers to build different solutions for citizen feedback – and the city will hear.

The Winner Takes It All!

Oh yes, sometimes it IS sexy to collaborate in the European Commission projects (you can call me perverted if you want). Our open data project Helsinki Region Infoshare was awarded the Commission prize for the best innovation in public administration in Dublin, selected out of 203 proposals (the commission press release here).


Ville Meloni of Forum Virium, all smiles in Dublin.

The prize of 100,000 € will be used to develop services further, including access to public information about city decision making – that’s a whopping one million pages per year. The Open Ahjo API is one of the first cases in the new Helsinki Loves Developers action.


Open Data in the Finnish TV prime time


I got the chance to explain the benefits of open data to the Finnish public in the most popular talk show of the country, hosted by Arto Nyberg. Hard thing to do in 15 minutes, but my mother thinks it went OK. And she should know. For the international network, this is a good chance to practice your Finnish.