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18 January 2016

Andrew Collinge: ‘There is significant potential for data to deliver greater convergence, interoperability and ultimately flexibility across networks’

Andrew Collinge is the chair of the Urban Platforms EIP-SCC Initiative which has the objective of improving data sharing between city services. The Urban Platforms Initiative seeks to implement the connection of growing volumes of data within cities, and it comprises the demand-side, the supply-side and standardisation challenges. 

As a member of the Senior Management Team at the Greater London Authority you have worked on the exploitation of data in a smart city setting. Yet within the energy domain, the number of companies that exploit Linked Open Data seem to be rather low. Why?

My perception is that energy companies as a whole are at the beginning of exploiting open data. The sector is not particularly data rich when it comes to the release and use of energy supply and demand data. That said, there is significant potential for data to deliver greater convergence, interoperability and ultimately flexibility across networks.

There have been some notable projects, like Low Carbon London, that have started to address this but companies still grapple with data availability, ownership, protection and competition challenges in what is a highly competitive market. But, I am positive about the exploitation of linked, open data by energy companies as the role-out smart meters happens and disruptive energy technology companies join the energy market and bring new data-led products and services to customers. 


What is your role in the Market Place?

My job is to provide clear leadership for a varied and scattered group of European cities, all of whom are interested in developing a city needs-led approach to the development of the next generation of urban data platforms.  This involves leading work to develop a set of vendor-neutral requirements.  The goal is that these can then be used by cities to procure from industry the next generation of city data platforms which will allow for value creation from an ever increasing supply of urban data.

Of course, support from city leadership is key in bringing urban platforms - and the exploitation of data they facilitate - into the mainstream and down to service level within municipal authorities.  I am, therefore, working hard to gather use cases and build executive and political support in European cities on the back of them.  Doing so will help to justify the necessary investment at city level so that we can achieve our bold and ambitious goals regarding adoption.


The Urban Platforms’ initiative seeks to accelerate the adoption of urban platforms across EU cities, specifically to serve 300 million European citizens with urban platforms in their cities by 2025. What agreement is needed between the demand and the supply side to achieve this goal?

On the face of it, it is simple.  Our set of technical requirements is based around using data to make a real difference to the lives of the citizens we serve. This needs to be brought together to correspond with the open technical architecture being development by our industry colleagues. The subsequent open interfaces, data formats and ontologies will be the tools that will help bring a practical reality to our work.


What is the role of cities and  local government to guarantee the success of the initiative? How can they collaborate with industry to avoid vendor lock-in?

One could argue that is down to ‘industry’ to get better at selling the benefits of its products and demystifying technology-focussed pitches, but the argument that municipal governments need to get better at articulating their needs with regard to data and its exploitation is just as strong.  This point is at the very heart of the city-needs led approach.  We are not saying every city authority needs its own Bill Gates or a Mark Zuckerberg, but cities do need a set of technical requirements that industry can relate to, we want cities to be capable of setting out how they want data to feed dashboards and the analytics that urban platforms support; how open or shared secure data can drive service improvement and innovation; and how data from different sources can be integrated to change the management of services and place in their respective settings.

It is this exactly this spirit of openness around a clearly defined set of requirements - one of which will be that urban platforms must be vendor neutral - that will secure the more balanced relationship with industry that will ultimately lead us towards the new data and technology-driven services which will benefit public services, industry and indeed the wider value chain.  


What set of guidelines should the initiative follow to speed the adoption of urban platforms across EU cities?

Adoption - and speed of adoption - is so often the big challenge in getting good ideas into practice.  This is why I want our group to talk about value in a very tangible way, and in a way that reflects local service, cultural barriers to overcome, and outcomes to achieve.  If we find ourselves in a technology-led discussion we’re falling back into the same old bad habits!

We as civil servants who deal with industry to deliver urban platforms, need to repeatedly ask ‘what’s in it for the city?’ What are the political and policy outcomes for our leaders and how can data and platform technologies deliver the tangible social, economic and environmental outcomes which matter to the businesses and communities they serve?

I also think there’s real value - and recognition of it - in cities collaborating and sharing their experience together to build trust and collective knowledge. With the collective confidence that this type of working creates, cities will be more likely to take the plunge and act.

Away from culture and collaboration, there is a range of (often standards-based) European Union-wide and European Commission-supported initiatives to aid adoption and we are keen to make sure that our work is complementary to these.


What are the future challenges for the Integrated Infrastructures & Processes regarding Urban Platforms?


Creating integration through urban platforms for heterogeneous infrastructure services is undoubtedly a tough challenge.  There are a few headline issues to address, the responsibility for which falls on industry and government alike:

·         Platforms need to be agile enough to accommodate new services yet to be invented. 

·         In working towards maximum interoperability, we need to make existing infrastructures and their processes interoperable beyond their own setting and part of an integrated whole. The use of proprietary and legacy systems can make the upgrade of complex environments both time-consuming and expensive.

·         Agreement on technological approaches and data standards and policies is needed to enable the integration of infrastructures and processes at the “system-of-systems” level.

And finally, back to humans and organisations, there is some plain lateral and ‘art of the possible’ thinking that is required so that new business models for city data and its exploitation can be explored and made possible in European cities.