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Cities in the Age of the Platform


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Cities in the Age of the Platform

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This presentation looks at what 'The Age of the Platform' means for smart city policy challenges and opportunities. Presented as a Keynote Address a the Media Architecture Biennale held as part of Sydney's Vivid Festival in June 2016.

This presentation looks at what 'The Age of the Platform' means for smart city policy challenges and opportunities. Presented as a Keynote Address a the Media Architecture Biennale held as part of Sydney's Vivid Festival in June 2016.


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Cities in the Age of the Platform

  1. 1. Cities in the Age of the Platform Getting the Deal Right on City Data Smart Cities and Urban Innovation Forum UNSW 1 June 2016 Dr. Sarah Barns, Urban Studies Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow Western Sydney University Director, Esem Projects Future Cities Advisor, Data61/CSIRO
  2. 2. ‘Life on Demand’ Media habits in daily life
  3. 3. Metcalfe’s Law: value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users to the network
  4. 4. ‘A new science of cities’ “New sources of data coordinated with urban policy can be applied following fundamental principles of engineering to achieve new solutions to important age-old urban problems” – Luis Bettencourt, Santa Fe Institute THE STUDY OF THE CITY AS A SYSTEM…to help it become more productive, livable, equitable and resilient
  5. 5. “Not since the planting of cobblestones, the laying of water mains, or the roll out of sewage pipes have we installed such a vast and versatile new infrastructure for controlling and organising our physical world” Anthony Townsend, Smart Cities, 2013
  6. 6. In 2012, for the first time ever, the TED Prize went not to an individual, but to an idea on which our planet's future depends: the City 2.0
  7. 7. “[From] 2012 it made less and less sense to talk about 'the Internet’, 'the PC business,' 'telephones,' 'Silicon Valley,' or 'the media,' and much more sense to just study Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. These big five American vertically organized silos are re-making the world in their image. ” -Bruce Stirling speaking to Kevin Kelly (Wired)
  8. 8. Combine technology layer, data layer and community layer. APIs build ecosystems of producers and consumers that deliver services to each other on a common platform. Platforms are software-driven innovation ecosystem
  9. 9. ‘The Age of the Platform-Play’
  10. 10. What does the Age of the Platform mean for smart cities?
  11. 11. Smart Cities in The Age of the Platform
  12. 12. “Nurturing platforms requires thinking at the nexus of software design and business strategy” “The architecture of a platform is inseparable from how it ought to be governed” —Amrit Tiwana “Platforms are only as useful as the communities that use them” —Tom Baker
  13. 13. second wave of digital transformation in government – Gov.Uk’ ‘Government as a Platform’
  14. 14. Data Services Constantine Kontokosta & team
  15. 15. “Underlying every other crisis in the city was an information crisis.” – Detroit (Jerry Paffendorf)
  17. 17. Integrating open data with performance monitoring and governance?
  18. 18. Governments lack access to essential data to improve data-driven decision making Dealing with data shadows…
  19. 19. Document & measure impact Match public challenge areas & data custodians in trusted environments Convene data providers and users Experiment and scale Data Collaboratives Source: Gov Lab, Verherst
  20. 20. Technology & data services Digital Entrepreneur s City Governments Citizens & Researchers
  21. 21. Thank you! s.barns@westernsydney.edu.au @_sarahbarns

Notes de l'éditeur

  • Thanks for the opportunity to be here today.

    Very stimulating and exciting set of sessions from UNSW – innovation ecosystems, entreprenuership

    Love the connectivity across smart cities and digital place making – both areas are very dear to my heart.

    I work across a few different domains – smart cities, digital placemaking and urban research. Some in university, some in small business, some with tech companies and orgs.

    I’ve always found working across domains offers a good perspective
    Today I’m here to talk about ‘Cities in the Age of the Platform’. This essentially combines thinking from my work in digital strategy with experience working with city governments on data discovery and data governance.

    In my day to day work we often do a lot of wrangling around the art of the feasible or possible, but a forum like this hopefully allows us to life our vision and look at some of the bigger issues we need to consider.

  • Start with a bit about me

    I’m someone who has spent the past decade exploring and navigating the opportunities that digital technologies offer to how we experience and manage cities.

    While I already had a degree in city policy and planning, I spent the early part of my career advising the Government on broadband policy, and then R&D for the ABC.

    We used to wonder what people were going to do with these devices technology companies were developing, and how to design and push the boundaries of content innovation for these platforms.
    A bit like Mark Weiser. – see image, late 1980s – wondered what it would be like when computers moved into the foreground of our attention. What kinds of experiences could be designed?
    It was as a digital researcher for the ABC working with 3G mobile technology that I started developing media platforms that really interrogated how we might design content that took into account not only the user interfaces of the screen, but also the interfaces of the street, the public domain.

    At the time very speculative ideas about how people might use technology.

  • Fast forward a few years, and today of course, we are in a less speculative mode.

    Smartphone enabled navigation is a daily reality for millions around the world, and more and more of our everyday social and economic interactions are migrating online, generating petabytes of data every second.

    The ‘data exhaust’ generated by our daily lives, is now a productive resource – some have called it the ‘new oil’ – from which more and more services are designed – whether its transit apps, ride sharing apps, accommodation services, bike rental services.

    Increasingly, designing and responding to the conditions of urban life & behaviour is becoming as much an information design challenge as it is an urban design challenge.

     Its this sense of data abundance that really drives the excitement around smart cities and the potential to design and manage cities differently in the digital age

    I was lucky enough to win a postdoctoral award from a UK organisation called the Urban Studies Foundation which has enabled me to look at how this data-driven future is being tackled by cities around the world.

  • We not only have smart phones generating data, but a wider array of connected devices.

    “An explosion of connected possibility“

    Here we have the IoT landscape of connected devices. Here the power of connected devices grows exponentially.

    Sense of data abundance and its powerful possibilities is driven by the assumed power of the network

    Think in terms of Metcalfe’s Law, which says that the value of a network increases proportionately to the square of the number of users.

    In essence, the power of the network is greater than the sum of its parts, making the Internet of Everything, incredibly powerful

  • Giving rise to a new science of cities.

    We have UNSW Professor of Urban Science, urban science labs.

    Sense that we may be able to solve age old problems – finally show how the city is comprised of systems of systems
  • There is a sense of this vast new power – data infrastructure for controlling and organising our physical world.

    Somewhere along the lines, data went from being something about the messages we sent each other, to being a fundamental infrastructure of the city

  • There has also been this great sense of optimism around how urban technologists can reshape city services – adapting the crowd sharing and collaborative nature of Web 2.0 technologies and thinking about how these might be applied these to urban life.

  • Reflecting this optimism, we have seen new digital players were emerging

    Where previously urban design was (still is) a field populated by strategic planners, architects, urban designers, quantity surveyors, city administrators – there was this whole new field of city focused professions emerging that were in a sense making new claims on their ability to design city outcomes
    Data scientists, app builders, digital strategists, data infomediairies, Building information modellers, city information modellers GIS professionals, civic hackers – all becoming increasingly central to the way a city is experienced, designed.

  • But while there was this optimism, there were also increasing concerns about the politics and economics of the internet itself.

    Was the internet simply an opportunity for the creation of large monopolistic companies?

    Just as there was this great optimism about city transformation, there was this growing concern that the ‘networks of networks’ age of data abundance might not quite enable the freedoms we wanted to see.

    Backlash against smart city – would this just lead to too much power in the hands of technology companies?

  • This rise of these vertically integrated companies ‘taking over the internet’ has since become the focus of many digital and business strategy books

    Countless books on the rise of the Platform – you can look them up.

    The platform play is really fundamental to the digital disruption we see all around us.

    Anyone who has worked in digital industries over past 10 years knows – core to digital entrepreneurialism.

    Apple was the first

    The key players and their disruptions are obvious – Uber, AirBnB, Facebook, YouTube, Google.

    Media, Hotel, Taxi industries

    ‘The Platform’ has been described as - ‘the business model of the 21st century’ – as other companies emulate this model and as these specific platforms reshape a number of different industries.

  • What defines a platform?

    It would be a mistake to think of a platform as purely a technology platform, or an app, or a social media service

    Combine technology, data and community into a software driven innovation ecosystem
    Success is defined by providing a marketplace in which buyers and sellers can exchange goods or services.

    No longer build websites, we build platform ecosystems.

    As the platform provider, the owner is not the only one creating the services

    Majority of successful digital user interfaces are driven by platform-based ecosystems

  • The platform business model explains the kind of scale of company we’re seeing more and more. The effectiveness of companies like Uber

    I have become aware of how we often look at the opportunities through the lens of the technologies, but ultimately it’s the business strategy that leads to a sustainable digital engagement, whether from a government or a business.

    I find it a bit curious how little this digital business strategy gets discussed when it comes to smart cities and urban innovation.

  • Is this a problem? Well, yes. Platform plays can result in their own challenges for cities.

    The problem is that it’s leading to an increasing asymmetry - between what’s going on in the private sector, and the capacity of governments to respond to these opportunities, in ways that can improve their ability to build a digital economy to support a city over time.

    In a platform play, data driven by interaction is the infrastructure that creates value, in the form of targeted services to users.

    As we’ve heard many times before, if you’re not paying for something, it’s you that’s being sold.
    Because it drives the value of the platform, much of the data generated by user interactions on a platform is not open or usable by others – or only on very defined terms.


    Fields of intersection: city management, digital business, data governance and citizens.

    Spent some time in New York at the Centre for Urban Science and Progress, and later this year with the Greater London Authority, and last year working with Department of Planning helping to advise on data development strategy for the Greater Sydney Commission.

    What I’ve discovered is that we need to interrogate a bit more this idea of data abundance. There is this sense that there is absolute freedom to re-invent in the midst of the abundance, but this is absolutely not the case.

  • Instead of a cornicopia of networks, smart cities may look more like this

    Instead of building large warehouses of data, we have APIs than enable connectivity between these platforms ecosystems.

  • There are some important lessons and insights around building successful platform.

    Don’t only think about technology or software
    Setting up a platform requires ongoing governance

  • Platform model increasingly recognised as one of the key ways that governments are positioning themselves in an age of big data

    Gov as platform is being pursued at national scales by US and UK government, a very significant new digital era governance framework. Now also being implemented in Australia.

    The idea of ‘Government as a Platform’ actually originated from Tim O’Relly back in 2008. It was part of the motivations behind the open data – the call for governments to release their data in open, machine readable formats.

    “Release the data so that your customers and partners can build new features, before you do” O Reilly

    Build only fundamental applications and services on which others can innovate and deliver new products –

    In this model, government is a convenor and an enabler rather than a first mover of civic action (Oreilly, 2010).
  • This model has helped drive the open data policies of many city governments around the world.

    This is the New York open data site – thousands of data sets released on a whole range of different topics.

    In Australia we have open data sites in most states and territories, Turnbull has aggressively pursued at the federal level.

    Now, it’s been about 8 years – nearly a decade! – since this work began, so what outcomes are we seeing?

    How is the platform model shaping city services for governments?
  • One of the biggest success stories is Socrata - has made a strong platform play into the open data hosting space

    ‘A cloud software company focused exclusively on democratising access to government data’. –Socrata

    These days I’ve heard Socrata described as the Microsoft of cities open data – the problem is that cities get locked into the hosting service, and so much investment in the platform that it makes no sense to pull out.
  • Collaborations between cities and educational institutions is an important area of innovation.

    NY City and Centre for Urban Science produced this visualisation.

    This paper details two ongoing projects to increase both the availability and comprehensiveness of building energy data. The first is a web-based visualization tool which allows users to understand patterns of energy consumption in individual buildings and across the city.

    The second project attempts to generalize from disclosure data by creating a predictive model of annual energy consumption for each building in the city.
  • Open data has been used to good effect in places like Detroit – combine city government data with crowdsourced data to help identify site of urban blight.
  • We’re also starting to see progress in aligning open data programs with performance indicators.

    The ISO 37210 measures cities progress against a number of goals, and as part of the process of signing up a city will also contribute its data to this global portal.

    You need to be a signatory city to get the data, otherwise I believe you have to pay

    Integrating the two – strategic planning and digital strategy – isn’t easy, but there is progress being made.

  • The Greater London Datastore is also an interesting initiative -

    This combines the platform of the data dictionary, API model but it is actually supported to improve city-wide governance, under the remit of the Greater London Authority.

    Datastore is supported by active Data Partnerships, that recognise that urban issues cut across adminstrative boundaries, so you need better co-ordination across government departments to add high value data to the system

    Having worked on this with the Greater Sydney Commission, I think it’s clear that these platforms and services aren’t really going far enough.

    Part of the major issues is a lack of high value data being released by city governments – and a

  • Progress is being made - but is this enough? Very nascent

    Releasing data helps to support a city data ecosystem, and may support some app developers, but I feel we’re yet to see real transformative value for cities from these initiatives.

    I am increasingly concerned that what is happening in the public sector is out of synch with the wider digital economy.

    Part of the reason for this is a lack of understanding of how to benefit from the virtues of the platform model.

    Many platforms are developed that focus on the data release programs, but not the community of users that build value.

    As we heard, the success of any platform lies in the interactions of its users. Many of the public sector platforms are not promoting an ecosystem approach that sees users create value. Instead, it’s a case of release the data and hope for the best!

  • Access to high value data to support government decision making is an issue

  • Widespread privatisation of city infrastructures means that City governments do not in fact have access to enough urban scale data to allow for effective city peformance monitoring using real time data feeds.

  • This issue is now widely recognised across many different sectors, as governments increasingly partner with the private sector to support improved management of services.

    World Bank is actively pursuing ‘Data PPPs’

    Data philanthropy is a growing area for corporations

    Emergence of data sharing, data philanthropy, neighborhood data labs - recognition of the need to think about the value of data for the public good.

    Data for public good recognises that it is effective data ecosystems that allow a range of partners to work collaboratively to leverage data assets for the good of cities.

    In other words, smart cities need to value their public data ecosystems in the way that they might have valued public spaces of the past

  • If we truly want to leverage the potential of data to improve people’s lives, then we need to accelerate the creation and use of “data collaboratives.”

    Execute a data strategy around a goal, strategy. Not a closed group that enacts that digital product, but a process of data engagement, partnership and experimentation
  • Look at the traditional goals of urban strategy – strategic planning – here is a set that most from NSW Planning

    This list is indicative of many city strategies

    Think more strategically about the health of a cities data ecosystem. Can we focus efforts around building data ecosystems around these strategies?

  • In an age of smart cities, a city’s data assets need to be understood as a core public asset, an important basis from which urban services and quality of life can be effectively supported.

    Achieving this puts the onus on city governments to understand how to do platform strategy well – not only release data sets, but ensure strong ecosystems of different users and contributors that are each building value of the ecosystem.

    Here is a sense of the range of users and perspectives that should be engaged in this effort

    When cities fund new infrastructure they should ensure the right data sharing arrangements are in place

    Digital urban strategy is becoming an important dimension to the wider planning process - and needs to become an important tool for city governance

    When it comes to digital platforms, we need to move away from pure product focus towards instutitional service design

    This will ultimately mean rethinking smart city not just as a set of data-driven technology services but as collaborative platforms for value generation by their users that support city challenge areas.

    This is an ongoing institutional effort, not only a technology agenda.

  • We often think of data in terms of protection of privacy – but what about the protection of one of our greatest public goods – the city?

    The failure to think of city data as a public good can will only lead to greater assymetries between public and private players – with the strongest platform provider ultimately having the greatest influence on the shape of a city.
    Puts too much power in a small number of hands – perhaps only one?!
    Getting this deal right will be a core challenge for city in the future, if they want to be smart.

    It may be hard work, but we should at least try.