Two years ago, Denver scored a $6 million grant from the federal government to pursue a smarter transportation infrastructure. The city matched those funds and so has roughly $12 million to spend on improving its transportation infrastructure with technology over the next four years.
What’s notable isn’t the Colorado city’s plan to invest in some kind of IoT infrastructure, but its plan to build out a set of rules ahead of time that will govern how it chooses, deploys, and runs its connected infrastructure. The long-range plans created by the city’s IT group start with an enterprise data management platform, which is what caught the federal grantmaker’s attention in the first place.
According to David Edinger, the CIO of Denver, the city started out with a few core principles around smart tech. The first was that the city had to control the data, despite what Edinger said were offers by many vendors to do it on the city’s behalf. The second was that everything the city deployed should be built as shareable infrastructure; in other words, that it should use open-source software and open software platforms.
That second principle ties in closely with the third and fourth. The third principle was that the digitl infrastructure deployed should be standards-based, in the sense that it’s based on tech that has been tested and vetted by outside groups. Examples include technology that follows NIST standards or technology that is part of a standards-setting group with a deep roster of members.
The fourth principle calls for interoperability between vendors working on Denver tech platforms. For example, the sensors used to measure water levels in the sewer should be able to communicate with dashboards within the water treatment plant, but their data should also easily integrate into emergency management systems even if those systems are built by another company.
While these principles don’t touch on elements such as community input or the rights of citizens, they are a solid start toward building something that the city can change over time as its needs change. They also support the development of technology that Denver can share with other communities if those other communities want to emulate any of Denver’s efforts.
But when I asked if vendors were playing along, Edinger’s response was diplomatic. “The results are mixed,” he said. “We’re looking to transform the type of relationship we have with vendors from transactional to collaborative, and trying to find those who are interested in that.” I took that to meant that some of them are not, in fact, playing along.
However, the thought and care that Denver has put into building digital infrastructure that can be shared by other governmental agencies, and with an eye to controlling the city’s data, is worth promoting. To that end, the city is working with non-profit US Ignite to codify and share some of its learnings as it tries to build out this infrastructure.
Such efforts are gaining ground. This week, US Ignite and the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions, a standards body, started soliciting other cities and towns to participate in an effort that will take the sort of things Denver is doing and create some kind of formal data exchange for smart cities. Ideally cities will stick to Denver’s demands around data ownership and rules about interoperability.