Cities Today – Connecting the world's urban leaders

The value of enriching city data

Mika Rytkonen, Director, BD & Industry and Government Relations, HERE

Jonathan Andrews spoke to Mika Rytkönen, Director, BD & Industry and Government Relations, HERE

What vision does HERE have for city development and how are you working to achieve that?

It’s self-evident that urbanisation is one of the mega trends and continue to be so. More and more people are moving to cities. The way we move and live in cities is changing, and dramatically so, because there are so many people and there is not enough space.

In this new world, we can’t use traditional tools and solutions like building new infrastructure or building more roads. Instead we need to do intelligent things and we believe that starts by digitalising the city infrastructure and capturing data. To be precise, the data should have location and time components that is then used in what we call a reality index.

The next step is to create an autonomous world where multiple things are connected together. Many data-driven solutions can come to the market and provide seamless, effortless–and delightful–ways to help us live and move in a city.

What is happening is a huge disruption. It’s not just autonomous driving, or mobility as a service, or on-demand services, or roads; it’s all of them together multiplied hundreds of times over.

Tell us about some of the city projects you are working on.

We have signed a memorandum of understanding to partner with the City of Hamburg on intelligent mobility. It’s really the forward-looking cities like Hamburg that create a great opportunity for us to do things together because this is a two-way street. This is a dialogue; it’s not the companies going to the cities and saying, ‘Hey, we know what you need’. We need to work together and create solutions that improve the quality of urban life.

We are also working with an EU-funded programme called SOCRATES, alongside Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Munich and Antwerp.

In May, Rytkonen took part in the 2020 Cities roundtable discussions on connected cities in London

What are the biggest obstacles to better city/business collaboration?

This is an important question and that’s why we also see the benefits from networks like 2020 Cities [a series of roundtable meetings on data management and mobility organised by Cities Today] where industry and cities can talk, agree and share best practices and really create a common understanding. This is very, very important.

Even though every city is unique and has its own characteristics, certain elements are the same. For example, how to deal with data, how to operate with private vehicles, how to create unified solutions to enable automated driving in cities. There are multiple things that we need to do. The most important thing for us is to understand the city’s strategy. City authorities need to understand what is available and how our two worlds can then come together. I am very happy that in Europe we have public-private partnership models and I really believe that this is the model which can create sustainable solutions.

What do cities need to do to improve the collection and management of data?

First of all, we think there are going to be a lot of places in a city that are going to generate data. Some of the data is mission-critical and needs to be kept. Data will have great value in the future and there are going to be a lot of elements in a city that are producing and using data. We are building an open location platform which may be a great opportunity for many of these cities to collect, capture and manage their data. Handling data requires a little bit more thinking than many people may believe.

Data needs to be ingested from multiple things and there need to be standards. It needs to be hosted, managed and distributed in the right way. I think this is the area where the private sector can work together with cities and offer state-of-the-art tools. In our case, it is the open location platform.

There have been a lot of discussions at the European level regarding data management and data hosting. It remains to be seen in which direction this will go in the years to come.

More and more cities are appointing Chief Information or Chief Data Officers but the vast majority still do not have such officials. Can cities benefit from data management without better governance systems?

I would strongly recommend cities to first undertake a peer review and devise a strategy so they can work out how to deal with the data and what their objectives are for the city. Data is a tool, an ingredient for future services, but before a city moves forward, it needs to have a coherent and holistic story and mission.

This could involve identifying the types of services they would like to digitalise. The data needs then become clear. It’s not only about managing data and then having a CIO or CDO. The process starts from the high-level peer review and what the city would like to accomplish.

One example is in city planning; how do they see their city developing in the coming years, what kind of things do they think they need to improve and invest and change, what is their answer to automated driving, how do they deal with on-street parking, what are their views on tackling air pollution. When we have these objectives in place, then together with industry we can create data-tailored solutions which are in-line with their needs.

How can we get private sector companies to share data with cities? What business models do we need to achieve scale?

This is a very hot topic in every discussion now in Europe. For example, in DG Move, the EU Commission’s department for transport, we just finished a two-year exercise on CIPS data-driven solutions. This is a big thing at the moment. I would argue that everyone understands that there are certain kinds of data elements which need to be introduced by authorities as soon as possible.

There is a big difference between raw data and enriched data. You can record 10 kilometres of road in any city but what is the value of that? If you compare that or add and execute lots of operations through that data, then you are creating enriched data. If you can capture data from a video camera, street signs or the road surface, then the outcome is much more important than the raw data on its own.