Knowledge powers the smart city

When the UK government began to explore the potential of smart cities in 2014, the sheer complexity of the interfaces involved made the existence of a clear framework for guidance essential.

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills, the predecessor to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) commissioned BSI to produce the first smart city standard and since then a portfolio of standards has emerged to guide innovators through the concrete jungle.

“The number of standards produced since then shows the value of standardization within a very complex area,” said Dan Rossiter,Sector Lead at BSI. “The amount of data being shared and the number of actors potentially involved makes it necessarily complex."

“A conventional manufacturing standard may have involved manufacturers, customers and suppliers. With a smart city there are so many relationships beyond the traditional; ordinary citizens, local authorities, urban planners, financial planners, utilities, traffic control and so on.

The technology to do these things exists, the difficulty is the getting the interfaces between different systems to work. Standards help in several ways, for example by defining terminology so that there is a common understanding between the different parties involved.”

With a huge interconnected organism like a city, you are going to end up with a complex system and a lot of data. “Because there is so much data, there is the risk you might try and use the wrong data or use incomplete data to achieve your purpose;  standards play a critical role in helping people to identify the data they need and how to structure it as information,” said Dan.

There is also the pressing issue of data security. “Security is important in a situation where there are large flows of data, ensuring data is shared on a need to know basis. We have a standard, PAS 185, that provides guidance on that.”

More and more cities around the world are starting to set up smart city strategies from Barcelona in Spain to Hangzhou in China. In the UK, Peterborough, Bristol, Greenwich, Exeter, Oxford, Cambridge, Leeds and Milton Keynes, have launched smart city strategies looking at how to integrate physical, digital and human aspects to cope more efficiently and effectively.

Standards which originated as PASs in the UK have gone onto provide feeder documents for international standards. “The UK has been in the vanguard of smart city thinking, especially ways of applying digital innovation,” said Dan. “We have a very good track record of not just innovation but documenting procedures in our standards in such a way to make them easy to use."

Dan Rossiter, Sector Lead at BSI