The article was originally published in Forbes magazine.

With the development of the Smart Cities concept (classified according to the scale proposed by Boyd Cohen), the approach to the possibilities and directions of implementing intelligent solutions have changed. Currently, “smart” wants to be – and more importantly – can be any city no matter if it has 1 million, 300 thousand or 50 thousand inhabitants. This is due to the availability and implementation of numerous programs and projects for the implementation of modern technologies in various areas of the city.

One of the aspects of the Smart Cities 2.0 idea, the implementation which predominates in Poland, is to open up city data resources for use by external entities. Systems for managing public transport, traffic, energy, greenery and many more areas generate huge data sets. The implementation of the process of its sharing carries with it substantial benefits, starting with increasing the transparency and effectiveness of the functioning of public administration bodies, increasing the participation of citizens in exercising power and in the process of data re-use or building an innovative environment as a support for companies and the creative industry (according to the Open Data Program for 2021-2027). Therefore, currently data opening is not a trend or a practice of the largest agglomerations, but a necessity from the point of view of the development of each city.

Legal regulations regarding open data

The updated Act on open data and re-use of public sector information, effective on December 8, 2021, obliges the entities specified therein, e.g. public finance sector units, to share or transfer this information for re-use. An additional stimulus activating the process is the attachment to the act on the Open Data Program (ODP) and the Data Portal. The main goals of these actions are, among others: increasing the availability of data on the Portal, improving its quality, increasing the use and exchange of data or increasing the knowledge of public administration employees in the field of opening and managing data.

The aforementioned act will certainly influence the development of the open data market – more of them may be used to conduct analyses and research. There is a group, consisting mostly of large urban agglomerations, that have already implemented such solutions as part of the implementation of strategic activities or the implementation of IS037120 standard Sustainable Social Development – Indicators of urban services and quality of life. However, it is important to bear in mind the wide range of public entities that have not yet implemented data opening practices. This group also includes small and medium-sized cities covered by the act.

– We meet the needs of the smaller local governments – cities with a population of between 30,00 and 50,00. We say that we will help them open data to meet statutory requirements, but we also show that it is worth getting ahead a bit, because it will be profitable. – says Mirosław Eggert, President of ELDRO TECHNOLOGIE company, which is experienced in the Smart City area, including opening data from city systems.

In recent years, it can be observed with what dynamics these smaller local governments implement modern technologies in individual functioning areas, becoming more innovative. Open data is one aspect of urban change that attracts more and more entities willing to take advantage of public sector resources. Therefore, cities that do not limit themselves to the implementation of minimum statutory requirements and make an effort to develop this idea, will gain a significant advantage over the next few years and have a chance to set trends in this area.

Not all data has the same value

In the case of “data opening”, this activity is misinterpreted by the obligated entities. The mere publication of public information on a website or in the Public Information Bulletin does not meet the requirements set in the act. Data opening is a process based on the re-use of public sector information by users, provided in electronic form with the principles of its completeness, currency, source version and an open, machine-readable format.

The key issue is the so-called data openness levels (by Tim Berners-Lee), which determine the quality of their preparation in terms of further processing. One should strive to provide data in a machine-readable format. The aim is to enable them to be processed or collated, which increases their value. In this context it is worth noting that it is not recommended to publish data on the first level of openness (e.g. a scan of a document placed on the portal as a JPG or PDF file).

We can talk about good and useful data quality from the third level, which gives a number of processing options, in particular sharing them over a programming interface (API). This is the most desirable form of access, ensuring users the ability to build new interactions between applications that we use every day.

Opening data is a process

– In the cities we talk to, we notice that opening data is associated with a project with a clearly defined beginning and end. In addition, there is a belief that this process requires a lot of one-time work and providing literally all city data at the same time. – adds Paweł Piechowiak, Advisor to the Management Board of ELDRO TECHNOLOGIE. – In both cases it must be denied, and this in turn shows that the biggest challenge for opening data is not organizational changes or the implementation of new technologies, but the change of mindset.

Therefore, it is worth starting the whole process with an analysis of the existing situation: checking legal regulations in the city, inventorying IT systems, as well as records of already functioning data sets. Only the next stage is the implementation of a dedicated platform on which the data can be shared in stages, taking into account the degree of their preparation and claimability.

The second factor that is often a barrier to action for cities is the feeling that they need to know what to do with this data, what to use it for – however, this is not the role of offices. The purpose of data opening is to use the potential of public sector information, and creating added value mainly belongs to business and science. Within their scope, cities should assess which data may be valuable from the point of view of enterprises, which may additionally stimulate innovation.

Why is it worth to open data?

Firstly, social expectations regarding the transparency of local governments activities are becoming greater and the desired level of stakeholder satisfaction in this area can be achieved most easily by opening city data sets. There are also image-related aspects that prompted the largest cities in Poland to create dedicated data portals. This group includes, among others Warsaw, Gdańsk, Gdynia or Rzeszów.

Secondly, cooperation with business. One of the main purposes of opening data is to stimulate innovation, and the entrepreneurs do not lack it. Data provided in an appropriate format can contribute to the creation of a product or service whose final beneficiaries are the residents. It is these users who constitute the main determinant of the proper direction of functioning for cities. An excellent example of activities serving the residents is the construction of all types of applications that provide information about public transport. Local governments that decide to share data are perceived by the private sector as innovative, open to new technologies, which helps to attract new investors and enterprises, including start-ups.

Thirdly, legal regulations. The act passed this year obliges the units of the public finance sector (including local governments, metropolitan associations) to open data in accordance with specific guidelines, stating i.a. about the quality of this data. Central activities, in particular the support offered by ODP, have a real chance to promote dissemination of data opening in a form expected by the residents and the business.

– The question that each city must answer is whether it wants to simply fulfill the statutory obligation or apply best practices based on the implemented solutions. Examples of cities cooperating with us in this respect show that the purpose of using the data sharing practice is synergy between: satisfied residents, owners of organizations operating in the city and the city itself, which not only acquires an attractive image, but also new strategic partners from the business circle.– comments Marcin Piekarek, Operations Director at ELDRO TECHNOLOGIE.

Cloud solutions as an optimal implementation path

By implementing an open data platform, cities may decide to build their own infrastructure (including the server room and its operation) or choose the option of service solution “in the cloud”. This modern option is all the more attractive due to the fact that there is an entity operating on the market – National Cloud Operator, which is the most specialized cloud computing provider in Poland.

– Our goal is to accelerate the digital transformation of enterprises, but also public institutions, which is why we offer them a flexible and scalable infrastructure in a service model and a whole range of ready-made solutions available in the cloud. Organizations that want to use them can choose our own platform and public clouds of global suppliers: Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure. Each of them can be equipped with specialized solutions of our technology partners, such as ELDRO TECHNOLOGIE – in this case, for opening the data. – says Paweł Ławecki, Vice President of the National Cloud Operator.

The advantage of a cloud data portal is primarily the speed and efficiency of implementation. Thanks to the experience of both entities, the process of opening data in the city can be carried out comprehensively – from the analysis of the situation to the implementation of the system. There is also no need to invest in the infrastructure that must guarantee data security as well as withstand high loads. This, in turn, translates into lower costs of the entire task. And perhaps the most important – the technology used allows for faster expansion and functional development of the system.

– Given the above considerations, opening data need not – and even should not – be a process that cities fear. We hope that with the support of the National Cloud Operator, we are able to reach small and medium-sized cities with this message above all. We are convinced that they can not only carry out the tasks resulting from the act, but also set trends in this area, showing that a city of any size can be smart. – adds Paweł Piechowiak, Advisor to the Management Board of ELDRO TECHNOLOGIE.

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