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Cities need more ‘built environment’ data



University of Reading report highlights potential and challenges in using data from building and property businesses to support smart cities

Data from the building and property industries could make a big contribution to smart cities initiatives, but government might have to provide some financial incentives, according to one of the authors of a new report.

Professor Tim Dixon (pictured) from the School of the Built Environment at the University of Reading outlined the thinking at the Big Data World event in London last week.

He spoke the day before the publication of Smart Cities, Big Data and the Build Environment: What’s Required?, sponsored by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Research Trust. It was researched through an online scoping survey of smart cities around the world, case studies in Bristol, Milton Keynes, Amsterdam and Taipei, and a workshop of UK based experts.

One of its key findings is that the real estate and construction sectors hold big data and are using it internally, and that it could be used by public authorities in developing smart cities. But little progress has been made and there are obstacles in the way, especially around the business value of the data.

“The message is that the built environment sector is failing to connect with the smart cities agenda and that there is a need to use big data,” Dixon told the conference, adding: “We can see a primary focus on open data in all four cities, and there is no real charge for the data.

“But if we are going to get business onboard – for example, property owners with lots of assets across cities – there probably has to be a market exchange or case to pay for many to see the advantages.”

Secondary role

He said that big data is currently taking a secondary role in smart city programmes, and that it can be held back by uncertainties caused by different definitions and difficulties in verifying the quality of data. But the understanding and usage is evolving.

“Maybe we scare people off by talking about big data,” he said. “Maybe we should just focus on the concept of data and look at if we should create a marketplace and fund it.”

Among the other findings is that there is an apparent lack of strategic thinking in smart cities in the UK, with only 22% in the survey having a relevant action plan and framework, only 33% having a data strategy. There is also more emphasis on open data than big data, with 61% of the cities have a platform for the former but just 22% even mentioning the latter.

The report also says that most data used in smart cities comes from local and national public data sources (33% and 30% respectively), with just 19% each coming from the private sector and the public. The largest categories are infrastructure and sensor data (19% and 16%).

Dixon also pointed out that the case studies were put together before the Brexit vote, and that “it will be interesting to see how it plays out”.

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