Smart City Applications: using a Fog Computing approach

While the majority of Smart City applications can be developed and deployed using traditional approaches, researchers are investigating how a new class of large scale, dynamic applications can leverage the power of Fog Computing, to build and deploy applications that are distributed throughout the smart city running on a variety of devices ranging from city servers, down to embedded computers in traffic signals and light posts.

As part of a longer term research project, Urban Opus has been working with researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) to design and build a framework for these class of large scale city wide applications.

Using an extended version of the Node-RED IoT programming language, known as Distributed Node-RED (DNR) application developers can quickly compose their applications using a visual development tool, and then apply constraints to the components to direct where in the city they should run

Once the application is deployed, it is automatically distributed to processing nodes throughout the city – the details of the breaking the application into pieces, their distribution, and making sure they continue to communicate, even when they are relocated, is handled by the underlying DNR platform.

Using this approach – smart city applications can be quickly developed and deployed into the city infrastructure allowing a new class of large scale, dynamic city applications.

Full details are available in this technical paper

Giang, Nam Ky, Rodger Lea, Michael Blackstock and Victor C. M. Leung. “Fog at the Edge: Experiences Building an Edge Computing Platform.” 2018 IEEE International Conference on Edge Computing (EDGE) (2018): 9-16.

The case for a Smart City Data Brokerage

Central to the mission of several Smart City initiatives, eg Urban Opus and UTA, has been the idea of a citizen centric data brokerage – a means for citizens to take control of their data and manage who uses it and how they use it. A data brokerage works by allowing anybody to make their data available, and then to offer that data to others in a controlled manner.

Data brokerage versus open data

You hear a lot about open-data in the smart city community, data that is made freely available, often by cities or other public organizations, and available for anyone to use. It’s well understood by now that data is a powerful tool in the Smart City arsenal – it allows cities to better understand how they operate, where their inefficiencies lie and to better understand the needs of their citizens. Open data is powerful, but has some limitations, not least because it is mostly infrastructure centric or anonymized in such a way to ensure privacy, but reduce usefulness. Importantly, open data is often ‘low value’ data, data that cities and others are willing to ‘give away’.

Data brokerage is an attempt to solve this problem, it focuses on making data available, but in a controlled manner that allows organizations to manage who uses their data and what they do with. In some cases it also allows them to monetize their data – although that’s not required for a data brokerage to operate.

The key distinction is that organizations are able to make data available and control who can use it. Control is managed through specific licensing which in turn offers an ability to control how data is being used. A base level case would be similar to open data hubs, data is made available, anybody can use it and they simply need to acknowledge that the data is made available under one of the many free and open data licenses, e.g. Open Gov or Creative Commons

However, the power of the data brokerage model is that the data could also be licensed, for a fee, with a specific license that allows a single use. Obviously this is the other end of the spectrum from a freely available open source data set – but it serves to show the range of options that a data brokerage offers.

What about citizen data?

The true power of a data broker becomes clear when we consider the case of citizen data. In todays world citizen data is freely harvested by data companies such as Equifax, Datalogix and Exactis, or is gathered in exchange for free services such as google or facebook. However citizens have no control over the data, its usage and in many cases are not even aware that their personal data is being used by third parties. The data broker offers a means to change this situation. How?

By empowering citizens with a means for them to take back control of their data, to control who can access it, and to give them the freedom to rescind access if they wish to.

Data brokerage allows citizens to register, and validate their identity, and then to upload personal data. This could be basic data they provide themselves, or data they take from 3rd parties. For example, Google now allows users to download their own data sets of all data that google holds on them. Imagine the power if users could take this data, and rather than Google deciding who can use it, they can decide themselves – and monetize it if they want to.

Data brokerage is a new idea, and still requires significant work. But its a powerful tool to both unlock valuable data, and give citizens more control over their personal data. Urban Opus is working hard to push these ideas forward. If you want to help, contact us!

Data Brokerage – background reading

Copenhagen’s experiences with data brokerage

Using blockchains to secure and manage data – databroker DOA

Smart City Data Brokerage: lessons from Copenhagen

A city data brokerage is the next step for open data and provides a means for individuals and organisations to publish, buy, sell and trade data. It provides an essential level of trust and control to encourage organizations to make available high value data sets. It also offers a framework in which individuals can begin to share and control access to their personal data.

One of the forefront cities in exploring this concept is Copenhagen, who have deployed a trial data brokerage since 2016. We blogged about the project in 2016 in

Recently, Copenhagen have published some of their initial finding and lessons learnt in a report that makes interesting reading for those trying to understand how to go beyond the open data model.

Some key facts are:

  1. Data broker built and managed by Hitachi as a PPI type initiative
  2. 140 different datasets available for purchase/use
  3. Over 1000 individuals/organizations involved in the trial
  4. Significant outreach (workshops, hackathons, 1 on 1s) to understand the data landscape

Some key learnings:

  1. data brokerage is still an immature market and needs well developed use cases

Interestingly, the main stumbling block for data sharing is a lack of clear uses cases or exemplars for potential participants. Owners of data are aware that the data has value, and are willing to consider sharing, but they want some clear use cases to help them identify potential buys and help them put a value on the data. Equally, potential data consumers are looking for clear use cases before they commit to buying/using data. A clear lesson, which we already know from the open data movement, is that publishing data in the hope that people will use it, doesn’t really work. Copenhagen heard a clear message that use cases differ significantly for any data set and data needs adapting, augmenting, cleaning in different ways for different users. They offer an interesting example of people movement patterns. While many potential users agree they would like access to such data, what each means by ‘people mobility data’ is very different, eg real time versus historic, granularity of data, geographic spread, data format etc all differ depending on the use case.

  1. Create a data competence hub

This lesson grew out of their experiences working with data providers and consumers. While there was a significant interest in data sharing and brokerage, a significant amount of discussion was needed to engage and work to partner organizations. This was partly because of the immaturity of the market, but also because of trust and liability issues. As such, the project spent considerable time working with potential data users, and matchmaking via individual or group meetings. In a similar fashion, and related to the use case point above, it was clear that data often needed to be adapted or combined before  it became useful to potential users. Again this required discussion around tools and techniques to work with data.

A significant outcome of the project was the realization that a technical data sharing platform, ie the data broker, was a necessary requirement for data sharing, but not sufficient on its own. It needs to augmented by a mechanism or approach that allowed data providers and consumers to engage and negotiate data formats, details and usage. The project has highlighted the notion of data collaboratives – marketplaces where data providers can interact with potential buyers and discuss how to collaborate around data sets. (see

  1. Create simple guidelines and standards for data publishing

A final lesson was the need to develop guidelines for data publishing, and agree on common formats. This is driven out of the difficulty many potential data users had in accessing and using data. This was partly due to formatting issues with available data – the ubiquitous use of PDF in open-data sets is a common issue – since PDF is a difficult data format to access, tease apart and reuse. However it was also related to the need for toolchains around data that make it simple to access and use the data – for example, a common request was basic visualizations of data to allow potential users to explore data before buying.


The lessons from 2 years of real data brokerage in Copenhagen are important for any City looking to move beyond the simple provision of open data. Innovation and improved services are possible through better use of data, but it’s not as simple as making the data available and assuming great things will happen. A careful program of technology platform (the data broker) and support via use cases and date community development is also needed.

Smart City Standards: An overview

Making sense of Smart City standardization activities

Update: For a fuller discussion of Smart City technologies, including standards, read Smart City Technology Trends

Last year I was asked to write an article on Smart City standards for the IEEE standards magazine. This blog post was the basis for that article, but also acts as an evolving document as I update it to reflect standards activities.

First step – get some sort of framework to understand where different standards fit

The amount of activity in Smart City standardization is truly overwhelming – this is partly due to the breadth and scope of Smart City activities – from water pipes to people – and partly because it is early in the process and the standards bodies are still trying to understand how best to contribute.

After spending several days drowning in standards, I decided to step back and try and find a way of categorizing the different standards. I came across a useful framework from the UK’s standards body, the British Standards Institute (BSI), which is part of an excellent (and free) report they’ve written on Smart Cities (PD 8100 Smart city overview)

The Framework categorizes standards into 3 main levels, Strategic, Process and Technical

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Levels of Smart City standards (Copyright BSI 2015)

  • Level 1: Strategic: These are smart city standards that aim to provide guidance to city leadership and other bodies on the “process of developing a clear and effective overall smart city strategy”. They include guidance in identifying priorities, how to develop a roadmap for implementation and how to effectively monitor and evaluate progress along the roadmap.
  • Level 2: Process: Standards in this category are focused on procuring and managing smart city projects – in particular those that cross both organizations and sectors. These essentially offer best practices and associated guidelines.
  • Level 3Technical: This level covers the myriad technical specifications that are needed to actually implement Smart City products and services so that they meet the overall objectives

As the BSI state: “Strategic-level standards are of most relevance to city leadership and process-level standards to people in management posts. However, even technical specifications are relevant to people in management posts as they need to know which standards they need to refer to when procuring technical products and services.”

Using the Framework to position and group standards activities

Once we have a usable framework, the process of trying to fit standards into the levels can begin. The BSI folks have made a useful start – highlighting a number of ongoing international activities that they, as the UK’s standards body, collaborate on – and placing them in the framework.

The main international bodies are:

  • ISO: International Organization for Standards . The main global body that national standards bodies work with and with which many of us are familiar with via “ISO certified”
  • CEN/CENELEC/ETSI: In Europe, standards are developed and agreed by the three officially recognized European Standardization Organisations: the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).
  • ITU: ITU is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies – ICTs
  • IEC: Founded in 1906, the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) is the world’s leading organization for the preparation and publication of International Standards for all electrical, electronic and related technologies. These are known collectively as “electrotechnology”.

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Placing major worldwide standards activities in BSI framework (Copyright BSI 2015)

It’s still a fairly daunting set of activities, but at least we now have a sense of where the major international standards groups are focused and we can begin to take a look at some of the more important activities. In the next section, I highlight a few activities that I’ve come across that I think are important and seem to have significant momentum. If you are looking for a more comprehensive list, then in the final section, I’ve listed up all the activities I’ve come across.

Note, most actual standards documents are expensive – unless you are a member of the standards body – so a casual browse isn’t an option. I’ve linked to official documents and summaries below and if I’ve come across a publicly accessible overview, I’ve added that – if you know of better public information, let me know.

If you are working on Smart Cities today – here’s some standards activities you should at least be aware of

  • ISO 37120 Sustainable development of communities — Indicators for city services and quality of life. This standard, part of a suite by ISO’s Technical Committee 268  identifies 100 indicators that cities should track to allow them to benchmark progress. Actually there are 17 areas, 46 core and 54 supporting indicators that cities either “shall” (core) or “should” (supporting) track and report. The World Council on City Data (WCCD) has been set up by cities to benchmark cities and has certified 17 global cities. Worth taking a look.
  • From the BSI, BS 8904 has a focus on sustainable communities and “provides a framework as recommendations and guidance that assist communities to improve. The recommendations and guidance are intended to be applied by communities of any size, structure and type.”
  • Two draft ISO standards also looking at sustainable communities are ISO 37101: Sustainable development & resilience of communities – Management systems – General principles & requirements  and ISO 37102: Sustainable development & resilience of communities – Vocabulary. An overview of this ongoing work is here
  • The development by the BIS of a Smart city framework standard (PAS 181) falls into the Process category: “It provides practical, ‘how-to’ advice, reflecting current good practice as identified by a broad range of public, private and voluntary sector practitioners engaged in facilitating UK smart cities”
  • The development of a Data concept model for smart cities (PAS 182). This is probably worth a look at if you are interested in data hubs and data interoperability issues as it bases some of its work on the UK’s HyperCat IoT interoperability standard.
  • Two technical standards that are still under development, (from the ISO/IEC JTC1 group) but worth tracking are ISO/IEC AWI 30145  Information technology – Smart city ICT reference framework and the associated ISO/IEC AWI 30146  Information technology – Smart city ICT indicators which are both looking at the ICT infrastructure needed for Smart Cities. Need a publicly available overview for these. Draft versions of these documents are available here
  • ISO: Report from JTC1 – looking at ICT for smart cities: A 2014 document that lays out the Smart City space from a technical point of view. There’s a useful diagram (fig 4) that highlights the technical areas that ISO, IEC and ITU are working on as well as details of their standards work and of the overall activities of JTC1 – great info but heavy going.
  • IEEE P2413 ( is a developing standard from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) for an architectural framework for the Internet of Things (IoT). The standard is being designed, when completed, to offer a reference model defining relationships among various IoT verticals such as transportation and healthcare (the same verticals that are being transformed in the world’s transition to smart cities) and their common architecture elements.

It’s also worth taking a look at the full set of BSI standards for Smart Cities. Although these are national standards, the UK seems to have developed a comprehensive set of Smart City activities quite early and they appear to be feeding in to ongoing international organizations.

A somewhat more nascent effort by the US National Institute of Standards (NIST) can be found here – this seems to be more of a ‘call to action’ than actual NIST endorsed standards, but worth taking a look at if you are USA based.

A more comprehensive list of the standards activities in the various International groups

Don’t read any further if you are already feeling overwhelmed – but for those who care (or just like this stuff) here’s a more comprehensive list of standards I’ve come across – returning to the BSI framework:

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The BSI Framework for Smart City Standards activities (Copyright BSI 2015)

ISO activities

  • ISO 37120: Sustainable development & resilience of communities – Indicators for city services & quality of life
  • ISO/TR 37150: Smart community infrastructures – Review of existing activities relevant to metrics
  • ISO 37101: Sustainable development & resilience of communities – Management systems – General principles & requirements
  • ISO 37102: Sustainable development & resilience of communities – Vocabulary
  • ISO/TR 37121: Inventory & review of existing indicators on sustainable development & resilience in cities
  • ISO/TS 37151: Smart community infrastructure metrics – General principles & requirements 7.
  • ISO/TR 37152: Smart community infrastructures — Common framework for development & operation
  • A useful slide deck describing activities of ISO JTC1 – Working group on Smart Cities (WG 11) is here

IEC activities

  • IEC/SEG 1: Systems Evaluation Group on Smart Cities – Most of their activities seem to be working group reports, a list that reference ‘Smart Cities’ can be found here

ITU activities

  • ITU-T SG5 FG-SSC: Focus group on smart sustainable cities
    • SSC-0100-Rev 2: Smart Sustainable cities – Analysis of Definitions
    • SSC-0110: Technical Report on Standardization Activities and Gaps for SSC and suggestion to SG5, ITU-T
    • SSC 162: Key performance indicators (KPIs) definitions for smart sustainable cities

CEN-CENELE-ETSI (aka European) activities

Related Standards

While not directly related to Smart Cities, the following technical standards will play a part because they focus on constituent parts of the smart city:

  • General – IEEE has a document that lists up their standards that they think are related to Smart Cities – available here.
  • Security
    • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released a preliminary discussion draft of its Framework for Cyber-Physical Systems. The draft has an ambitious goal: to create an integrated framework of standards that will form the blueprint for the creation of a massive interoperable network of cyber-physical systems (CPS), also known as the “Internet of Things.” In 2014, NIST established the cyber-physical systems public working group(CPS PWG)—an open public forum.


 You may be interested in my article on Technology Trends affecting Smart Cities which includes a discussion of Smart City Standards.

 This blog has been turned into an article for the IEEE standards online Magazine, read it here