The creation of centralised platforms that aggregate all available information on the performance of urban environments can serve to dramatically enhance their efficiency and spur the development of new and innovative application for the droves big data they amass.

According to Sara Gardner, chief innovation officer, social innovation, Hitachi Data Systems, the Danish capital of Copenhagen exemplifies the potential benefits that can be created by the creation of “big data lakes” using a centralised information platform.

In March, Copenhagen enlisted Hitachi Consulting’s assistance in the creation of a City Data Exchange that will serve as a centralised platform for the myriad streams of information on the functioning of the city from both public and private data owners.

“It’s the fundamental digital platform upon which the whole city sits, consisting of a secure lake of data that resides in the cloud,” said Gardner. “There are a huge number of sensors present around the city, installed in smart street lamps and smart car parks, all of which is generating data on the way that the city’s performing.

“The platform is basically ingesting all of that information, aggregating it, making sure it’s protected, as well as filtering and transforming it, before pushing it into a big data lake that resides in the cloud, which means that Copenhagen don’t have to manage it themselves in their own data centre.”

One of the chief motivations for the development of the City Data Exchange is to improve the sustainability of Copenhagen and enable it to meet its ambitious target of becoming carbon neutral by 2025.

To this end, Hitachi Consulting is already developing two apps for the specific purpose of using the information provided by the City Data Exchange to improve Copenhagen’s sustainability performance. One will enable companies and citizens to track their energy consumption and greenhouse gas footprint, and another will enable individuals to monitor their transportation routes via their smart phones in order to determine how much time their spent on their itineraries, as well as how many calories they’ve burned or what volume of greenhouse gases they’ve generated.

While these apps could mean the City Data Exchange plays a pivotal role in enabling Copenhagen to become carbon-free within the next decade, Gardner notes that the establishment of the centralised platform could also serve to spur the development of new and innovative applications for all the big data that it collects by making it more readily accessible to multiple parties.

“It’s a great way of providing information to the businesses and citizens of city – you will get more and more different ways to slice and dice that data when you open it up as an ecosystem, and let people innovate in terms of the applications they build,” she said. “From the perspective of citizens and companies you don’t even have to log in, you just go to the website and set up an account in order to access all the data we deem appropriate to show publicly.

“Copenhagen wants to encourage businesses to take the opportunity to build new streams of revenues through the exchange, and they’re hoping in the same way that businesses will discover each other through the data exchange as well as create new partnerships.

“The idea is that in time we’ll be able to browse through a marketplace of applications and grab additional application as well, and that in future businesses will be able to put up data for which they’ve performed special analytics, to which revenue will be attached.”

In order to make this big data lake on the functioning of the city available to the public, however, it’s imperative that centralised information suppliers protect the privacy rights of individuals.

“Establishing a platform like this isn’t a simple proposition,” said Gardner. “There’s no opportunity for privacy compromise and huge amount of work has to go into the governance side, so a lot of what Hitachi Consulting has actually to make sure that the data that’s up there isn’t personal or violating anyone’s rights.

“Similarly with the application platform, which will take a little longer to go live, we’re currently making sure that everything is locked down and secure, otherwise this model doesn’t work.

“In time, however, I think this is going to be the way forward for a lot of cities around the globe.”