By Ryan Stanton, Smart Cities Leader, Schneider Electric //
From big data to open data, the discussion of digital data is a hot topic for cities right now. And for good reason, digital data promises to improve decision making by understanding the health of our cities while increasing transparency to citizens and stakeholders. While the use of data has long played a critical role in cities, new technology continues to enable previously unimagined sources and uses of data.
In fact, researchers at IDC report that between 2005 and 2020, the world output of digital data will increase by a factor of 300. Connected sensors now exist in all corners of our cities, providing an almost endless stream of information from smart buildings, traffic sensors, parking sensors, and even citizens themselves. And the pace of deploying connected sensors will only continue, yielding an unfathomable increase in data in just the next 5 years. Yet, the use of this additional data in decision-making doesn’t seem to have caught up.
The problem today lies not in the data itself, rather, in how it’s presented and to whom.
The promise of using tech-driven data to understand the health of cities, make better decisions, and increase transparency requires transforming incredibly complex datasets into simple and relevant information for everyone. In essence, digital data needs to be controlled and tamed in order to be helpful.
City dashboards and vital signs
This leads us to a topic of discussion at the upcoming CEOs for Cities 2014 National Meeting in Nashville: Metrics and dashboards. This panel discussion will be focused on the use of metrics and dashboards to benchmark and monitor progress in all areas of cities. Distilling data into usable, easy-to-understand, and actionable information requires not only thorough analysis, but a clear understanding of the audience.
For example, Schneider Electric uses digital metrics and dashboards to track our progress toward strategic business goals. Since our industry can change rapidly, it’s vital for us to have real-time data and watch metrics closely. To accomplish this, Schneider partnered with Salesforce to deploy a company-wide digital platform to track and report customer relationships, business opportunities, and sales.
This platform allows us to create customized metrics and dashboards for each audience, including management, operations, sales, and more. This way, each user can track what’s most important to them, dramatically increasing our visibility into the health of the business, while driving better decision-making.
Quite simply, we’ve undergone a transformation through the use of digital data.
The right dashboard for the right audience
Cities face similar challenges around the use of data. In the same way our finance department tracks different metrics than project managers, Mayors, department heads, and operational staff each has their own valuable metrics to monitor. Dashboards for each audience should give them relevant and easy to understand information.
The Mayor’s dashboard may feature big picture metrics such as operational costs and progress against the city’s annual goals. Dashboards for operational staff may include countdowns to scheduled maintenance, operating temperatures, and pressures. Meanwhile, the dashboard for citizens may feature the number of taxpayers’ dollars saved or which city building is the greenest.
For the City of Boston, Schneider Electric recently deployed an energy management system that includes a dashboard platform which provides configurable metrics for energy and sustainability data. In this way, the Mayor could see metrics that matter to him, like overall energy costs for the city, while department heads can create dashboards to compare the energy use of individual buildings at specific times.
The growth of digital data should empower decision-making and improve transparency. But without taming data into actionable metrics and information for each audience, the data you have can become a lost opportunity.