Navigant Research Blog

While Big Data Grabs Headlines, Small Data Is What Cities Need

Ryan Citron — May 17, 2016

Bangkok SkylineSuppliers in the smart city industry offer a range of data solutions for city managers to better detect and respond to breakdowns and inefficiencies in the delivery of city services. The onset of big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) have been touted as potential solutions to the biggest challenges facing cities today. However, what cities really need is small data—in other words, clear, specific, and actionable insights filtered from the vast amounts of raw or big data being created. For example, massive amounts of traffic data is only useful if it can be used to affect how services are delivered. Useful small data would alert city officials to inform public transit riders of delays and suggest alternative routes for more efficient travel. Getting even more specific, smaller data can help city and operations managers understand how their service delivery may be affected (i.e., an incoming shipment of cargo or goods will arrive 3 hours later than expected).

Creating more actionable insights for city managers is an opportunity for business analytics in all sectors. Government agencies need clear messages and response plans to improve operations, reduce costs, and better serve their citizens. When combined with easily understandable data visualizations, the increased use of statistical analysis, simulation, and optimization can help in the process to deliver actionable data insights.

Data and predictive analytics are currently able to provide some of the following benefits in each key sector:

  • Energy: Smart meters and other smart grid technologies are enabling a more dynamic and detailed understanding of energy generation, transmission, distribution, and consumption. As the energy system of the city becomes more complex, real-time data across these systems is vital in order to manage the grid and create effective energy markets.
  • Water: Intelligent devices, communications networks, and advanced IT systems are helping the water industry face the challenges posed by rising costs of operations, maintenance requirements, global urbanization, climate change, and other pressures on supply and distribution. In the process, the industry is expected to become increasingly information-focused, drawing on real-time data from the pumping station to the meter. Communications networks in particular can help to improve water management by discovering leaks and providing alerts if the water is unsafe for drinking.
  • Mobility: Real-time data collected from sensors, cameras, and other devices can optimize connections between modes of transportation for faster travel times, reduce the costs of operation, and increase convenience through improved information services for users. Data analytics can also be used to detect and predict the likelihood of traffic accidents or vehicle breakdowns based on congestion and speed patterns. This data enables managers to be much more proactive, as they can use predictive analytics to identify potential congestion issues, adapt bus routes, and dynamically manage the availability of city parking.
  • Buildings: New capabilities go beyond basic management dashboards to the analysis of a wide range of building-related energy and operational data. Predictive analytics are being used to anticipate future conditions based on past performance and avoid unforeseen facility management issues.

As demonstrated from the examples above, data is already helping cities become more efficient and improve in the delivery of city services. Being able to more accurately and quickly gain actionable insights from large data sets will be crucial for the future growth of smart city technology. For more information on big data, the IoT, and predictive analytics, keep an eye out for Navigant Research’s upcoming global report on Smart Cities.

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