4 Tips on Finding a Balance Between Sharing Data and Protecting Data

We are all familiar — in concept if not in practical experience — with encryption protocols that we use everyday to protect our sensitive personal information along the internet’s pathways. We are also familiar with how necessary it has become in today’s world to share our personal information with various organizations, with financial institutions, and with many government agencies (Social Security, state and federal taxes, just to name two). To get ahead in this digital, data intense world we live in, it is clear that finding a balance between sharing data and protecting data is vital. Well, we just happen to have four tips on ways to accomplish just that.

Open Data = Sensitive Data. It is an unwritten “rule” that local governments often find that open data equals sensitive data. In addition, the “law of unintended consequences” often comes into play when  data set expansion allows hackers to mine data already in the public space until they eventually identify individuals. Cybersecurity experts know this as the mosaic effect, which often weakens long-established best efforts at data protection.

Tension between sharing data and protecting data. It is safe to say that there is a natural tension between sharing data and protecting data. Open government proponents want to see more sharing of information. The popular move toward smart cities means the big data publicly available to government entities as well as various business organizations will skyrocket. The problem is not the release of sensitive data to the public. Rather, it is the potential for hackers to mine information already out in the public domain. It is the potential for hackers to take advantage of information the government or other organization did not need for its project and should avoid storing it in the first place.

Four ideas for IT officers. The following are the suggestions for finding the balance between sharing and protection.

  • Find the level of risk that government officials and the public can tolerate. Start with the understanding that zero tolerance is not possible. Before creating any data sharing program, do due diligence in a risk-benefit analysis. That is identifying the possible vulnerabilities, potential threats, and how likely the threats will happen. To do this, developers must know who will use the data, who will benefit from the data, and how those individuals will use the data.
  • Privacy, Privacy, Privacy. That means privacy is a major concern during all phases of the data’s life. It’s important for data collection, maintenance, release, and removal when no longer relevant.  For practical purposes, remaining cognizant of privacy means not collecting sensitive information that is not relevant to the project and could result in a vulnerability.
  • Privacy framework. Local governments are on their own for the privacy framework because the federal government and most states have few guidelines. Researchers say cities should develop their own frameworks with their own privacy standards and consistent procedures.
  • Keep Public Informed. Whenever cities decide to release data, researchers say that the public should know how the government developed the data, how it benefits the city, and what precautions they took with regard to the data in order to protect sensitive information. The watchword is transparency. Part of transparency means developing access to information as well assigning and maintaining responsibility for the results and creating ways to assess benefits and risks.

Harvard researchers developed the “Open Data Privacy Playbook” with suggestions for local governments on how to find the right balance between sharing and protecting data.  It is well worth a read as is the Citylab.com article entitled “A Playbook for How Cities Should Share and Protect Data” which was the inspiration for this post.

5 Reasons Why Governments Should Embrace Artificial Intelligence

Science fiction has long painted artificial intelligence as the destroyer of worlds, the inevitable takeover that will doom the entire species. Although some of the dangers of artificial intelligence are real, if not dramatically overstated, there are also plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the ongoing collaboration between humans and cutting-edge AI. The upside is particularly apparent as governments begin to use artificial intelligence to untangle the frequently messy knot of bureaucracy, often with limited resources. Here are five reasons why governments should embrace artificial intelligence instead of running from it.

1. Predicting the (short-term) future

For the longer term, artificial intelligence will be able to give us more accurate predictions than humans can calculate manually, although that’s not where we stand to immediately benefit from the predicting capabilities of artificial intelligence. One arm of the U.S. government that is already moving forward quickly in this field is with health monitors for soldiers, which can provide a commander or physician with health updates in real-time. This type of information could be an absolute game-changer for combat and special forces units, allowing an expedited diagnosis and health predictions for wounded soldiers that could be the difference between life and death. Meanwhile, the Department of Energy is also pushing forward with its own usage of artificial intelligence, particularly while trying to maximize the benefits of solar power. Collaborating with IBM, the Department of Energy continues to work on a SunShot Initiative that will utilize artificial intelligence to calculate weather conditions and maximize solar output, with the goal being to dramatically lower the overall cost of solar electricity in the coming decades. Thanks to a wide range of potential applications, being able to predict the short-term could become an invaluable part of a healthy and functioning government.

2. Efficiency

A critique that is habitually thrown at governments in general is a lack of efficiency, as government agencies both small and large regularly have trouble keeping up with the daunting level of information to process. One example of where governments are deeply inefficient is with information call centers, which effectively turn well-trained employees into switchboard operators for basic operations that could easily be handled with artificial intelligence. With the recent advances in communication between humans and bots, as well as growing familiarity among users, a bulk of the volume at call centers could be handled by AI while skilled employees would be able to focus on other priorities that cannot be solved through artificial intelligence at this time. Artificial intelligence can not only improve efficiency and cut backlogs for various government programs, including emergency informational systems, but help ensure that you can talk to the right human for the job, if necessary.

3. Safety and reliability

Call centers are certainly not the only places where governments can rapidly improve current processes either, as electrical and transportation grids continue to bring about escalating challenges that can be eased by the advantages of AI. As transportation automatizes, correctly implementing artificial intelligence is predicted to be absolutely critical in creating a safe and reliable transportation system deep into the 21st century. Although automatizing transportation systems also comes with security concerns that will need to be dealt with, safe travel in a quickly changing world will become a much more realistic possibility if governments can get ahead of the curve on artificial intelligence.

4. A crucial supplement to rapid transformation

With the baby boomer generation beginning to retire and create vacancies, understanding and working with the benefits of intelligent automation could be crucial in filling the fairly large gap in skilled workers that continues to widen. An area where governments can specifically benefit from intelligent automation is with continually changing regulations, which can often leave an agency overwhelmed while attempting to comply. Without a major shift in the infrastructure of an agency, correct use of intelligent automation can sift through large volumes of information and provide an extremely quick analysis of a specific sector, allowing an agency to stay up-to-date with shifting dynamics despite limited resources.

5. Learning from the private sector

An unusual advantage that the public sector has is that it’s actually not on the forefront of AI discovery, as the private sector is already seeing exponential growth in artificial intelligence investments. For governments, this is actually a great development, as public officials can study the pros and cons of private artificial intelligence implementation and come up with a middle and long-term plan that better suits the needs of an agency. While the road to artificial intelligence will certainly contain many pitfalls, governments are in a perfect position to implement technologies only after they are nearing perfection.

4 Ways Technology Can Improve Your Council Meetings

Council meetings have a long tradition in America, going all the way back to the colonial days. Local representatives would have meetings in places where the public could hear what was being discussed, where they could offer their views, and ask questions. It ensured a transparent system of government, and let everyone see how the machinery worked.

However, things have changed since then. While the idea of keeping council meetings open to the public is certainly good, we live in a much faster-paced world than we used to. A world where people can’t stop everything they’re doing to drive across town spending several hours listening to a council meeting. Fortunately, our technology allows us to improve our meetings in a variety of ways.

1. Improve Accessibility

People lead busy lives in the modern age. We work around the clock, we go to school, and we try to better ourselves and our situations. Even if we have an interest in government, we can’t always block out an hour or three in the middle of a Thursday to go attend a meeting. What we can do, though, is watch that meeting on our smartphones, leave comments in a live chat, and interact with politicians that way.

All it takes is a camera and Sliq software to take a meeting that only a few people could attend, if they chose, and open it up to everyone who has an interest in finding out what’s happening in their constituency.

2. Save Time

Another reason old-fashioned meetings might not be attended with the same regularity that they once were is that they take time. Both council members and members of the public have to block out the time, they have to travel, find parking, and go through a dozen other hassles. Technology can cut all of those hoops out of the process, and allow everyone to get right down to business. Council members could log in straight from their offices, and have digital meetings in an online space. Constituents can tune-in from wherever they are to watch. And no one has to leave their house, or cancel their evening plans, to see what’s going on.

3. Encourage Engagement

When you take down barriers to attending an event, the result is that more people tend to show interest in that event. Council meetings that take place at 6:30 on a Friday night might be convenient for some people, but those who have work, or who can’t beat traffic, or who otherwise can’t make that time can’t participate. People who are free, but who don’t want to go through the hassle of physically attending would also be turned off. But by removing those barriers and taking a meeting digital, more people would engage with it. Because taking out your phone and watching a meeting, whether live or recorded, is a lot easier than trying to fit in into an already busy schedule.

Additionally, technology can be used to let people know when and where meetings are taking place with greater ease. Instead of burying the details in a website, it’s now possible to put meetings up on the council’s social media pages, and to blast links to anyone who cares to watch. Technology can actively reach out to people who would otherwise not even be involved.

4. Go Green

Another of the great benefits of integrating technology into your council meetings is that they become more green. Most of the time, though, this happens in subtle ways.

For example, say that meetings are largely attended digitally instead of in-person. Ask how many people are no longer driving across town, burning fuel to attend. How many resources are saved by using a smaller room that doesn’t take as much energy to heat or cool, and how much less power it takes to communicate digitally.

To read more about how technology can improve your council meetings, read GovTech’s article entitled “How Technology is Giving Town Hall Meetings a Modern Twist“.

The Hard Truth You Need to Hear: Citizens Don’t Have Time For Your Meetings

The idea of a city council meeting is a fairly simple one; being open and transparent with your citizens. It’s a tradition in America that when government officials are discussing decisions that can affect their constituents, those constituents should be privy to the discussion. They should also have a chance to raise their voices, and be heard.

All of that sounds great, but there’s a problem. Most citizens do not have the time to show up to council meetings. Not because they aren’t interested, of course, but because we live fast-paced lives in the modern world. Even if citizens are very interested in the issues being discussed, they have jobs to go to, families to spend time with, and a thousand tasks filling every day. They can’t drop everything they’re doing just to show up to a city council meeting, much as they might wish they could.

The result is that, even if an issue is genuinely important to the public, the public largely won’t be able to show up. Fortunately, because we live in the age of the Internet, it’s possible to bring city council meetings into the 21st century. If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, and find solutions that will work.

Bring The Meeting To Them

Even if a meeting isn’t attended in-person, that doesn’t mean you can’t make it possible for people to watch the proceedings. Thanks to the proliferation of technology, it’s possible to broadcast a meeting over the Internet. Not only that, but opening a forum for public commentary can allow people who may not be able to attend to still voice their opinions on the proceedings. This allows you to make sure the public is aware of what’s happening, and to collect the views of the citizens, without expecting people to clear their schedules to be in the same room as council members.

It isn’t enough to simply make access possible, though. You need to make sure the citizens can easily find when meetings are being broadcast, and that they can find the archives of past meetings in case they need more context for what is happening. All of the relevant information regarding the current issue needs to be on-hand, and it all needs to be simple to find. Putting the information on the city government’s homepage, social media accounts, and other locations are all positive steps forward to ensure everyone can be as informed as possible about what’s happening.

Encourage Participation, And Listen To The Citizens

Government is often slow to adapt when it comes to the latest technology. However, with communication moving at the speed of light, and shrinking our world on a daily basis, there’s no reason not to embrace it as a solution to the gap between the government and the citizens. Especially when most of these solutions can be implemented for relatively little cost (if not for free).

You don’t want your meetings to be the proverbial tree falling in the forest, though. You need to make sure you publicize your activities, and reach out to the public so they know where to go, and when to watch, to find out about the issues that matter to them. Check the metrics, and see how many people are watching. Listen to the criticism that’s made, and try to adjust to better suit the needs of the public. Make your meetings a conversation between the council and the citizens, and those citizens will make the effort to get more involved. Even if they’re doing it from a mobile device, rather than from the third row of the meeting room.

The Best 5 Ways to Become a Smarter City

You’re going to see a lot of advice in the media explaining how cities may become smart cities. Well, we thought it helpful to gather 5 ways to become a smarter city. Read on to discover our favorites, the best five tips that you will see all year.

The City of Mississauga has been very active in the smart city movement: Wi-Fi Blanket, Public transit, public outreach, IoT

1. Collaborate with other cities and industries

The Internet of Things (IOT) demands that cities and private industries share information and technology instead of hoarding it. Lessons learned in one locality may well find value in another location. The cities who share information and technology will get ahead in 2017 and the ones who don’t will find themselves stymied and behind the technology 8 ball. The world is on the brink of a new and exciting technological age. Those who do not join the shared movement will do so at their peril.

2. Eliminate silos

On a company level, information sharing must start within. Companies must eliminate silos, departmental sets of data files or databases that do not reside within the company-wide data administration. Silos prevent critical information from dissemination to all departments. So it is with cities. There is a cost detriment to doing projects piece-meal. Such projects may also face dangerous results if crucial information is not passed along to all departments. Multiple departments must have access to the hardware, software, and tools to create multi-purpose platforms. An example is IOT sensors in the streets that “hear” reports of gun play and “see” criminal activity. To enable police and emergency assistance, IOT must share such information with other departments that have the strategic and operational capability to render aid.

3. Migrate to the Cloud

Cloud computing is an overarching theme relevant to developing smart cities. Many cities today see the value in Cloud computing and in buying as-a-service offerings but their legacy procurement policies and regulations often stand in the way. In 2017, cities must find their way to take advantage of their technicians’ desire to migrate to the Cloud if they are to become smart cities. They must begin by addressing the policy and regulatory changes they need to adopt before they can join the 21st century in the Cloud.

4. Machine Learning

No, it’s not something that’s coming only in the future. Machine learning is already here. We have Amazon’s Alexa, the household personal assistant, who can act on our verbal commands to either search the internet for information we need or to run other household devices. We have refrigerators that can tell us what items we need to order. We have smart phones that learn where we like to shop and what movie theaters we visit most. Machine learning moves now toward machine-to-machine learning (M2M). M2M learning describes technology that allows networked devices to exchange information with each other and to perform the required actions using the technology without any interference or assistance from humans. For example, the rise of IOT has put new technology in the hands of cities in the form of high-tech sensors that can collect information and store it. The next step is for the IOT to pass that information along to city departments in the effort to make citizens safer, healthier, and to help cities spot problems before they occur.

5. Leverage Big Data

Smart buildings and street sensors collect an astounding amount of information. The smart city’s challenge is to leverage all that data into new ways to make city services more efficient. That means not only collecting the data, but analyzing it to reveal insights into areas of city services in order to improve the way the city meets the needs of the people. It also means passing those insights along to the city departments that need it most and that can use the information to increase efficiencies and safety initiatives for its citizens. And that brings us back again to the idea that smart cities must collaborate with those industries creating new M2M devices to give them the information they need to create the IOT of the future.

To read more about the smart city movement, read the WallStreetJournal.com’s article entitled “The Rise of the Smart City.”

Small Cities Can Be Smart Cities: 2 Shining Examples

Smaller cities can be smart cities just as easily as large cities can, but it’s true that when we consider smart cities, our minds go to the larger, more populated, urban areas first. It’s not just because they are more famous and get more attention from the press, they also have well-established infrastructures, larger local government networks and bigger budgets to make innovation happen.

What are the smart cities doing?

Take Amsterdam for example. Their Smart City program began in 2009 and continues to make giant, innovative strides in areas based on these 6 themes:

  • Infrastructure and Technology: working to create stronger and more expansive connections between citizens and technology
  • Energy, Water and Waste: these programs follow the belief that sustainable energy programs are the future
  • Mobility: transportation by cycling, electric cars and car sharing is growing steadily
  • Circular City: programs to minimize waste and pollution by reducing usage, recycling and re-using
  • Government and Education: bringing ASC teams together with government and education to “make innovation happen”
  • Citizens and Living: these programs work together with citizens getting their ideas and feedback on how to create a more livable city

Hundreds of large cities around the world like Amsterdam, Stockholm and London in Europe; or Seattle, Boston and San Francisco in the United States are integrating information and communication technology with the Internet of things technology to become smart cities in efforts to reduce energy consumption, pollution levels, water waste and to raise the standard of living for their residents.

What about small cities?

While many still believe that smart city technology is only successful in large urban areas, the 2016 Smart Cities Survey conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors suggests otherwise. Their numbers show that out of 335 total projects taking place in 54 cities, the majority (98) were in small cities, compared to 69 in large cities. Small cities beat large cities for future projects in the planning stages, too.

More and more small cities are taking part in smart city programs to control energy and water waste, to provide a comfortable, safe environment for residents and to prepare for a future that promises to include an ever-increasing amount of technology. But, according to the Smart Cities Survey, there are more advantages  to implementing smart programs:

  • new technology is easier to use and test in smaller environments
  • investing in smart technology attracts more outside investment
  • smart technology spurs economic growth
  • smart technology is costly, but smaller cities are eligible, and more likely to obtain, federal funding

Examples of successful small, smart cities

Ketchum, Idaho  has 2,728 in-city residents and another 2,700 daily commuters that work in town. In Ketchum, there are a number of smart city projects underway and more in the planning stage. The most well-known, The Walkable Ketchum Project, aims at improving the city for pedestrians. Technological improvements associated with this project include solar streetlights with sensors to control the lights automatically, according to the flow of traffic and way-finding signage for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles.   Still in the planning stage as of June 2016 is a smart irrigation project which includes the use of weather and soil activated sensors. Estimated results of the project show a reduction in water consumption between 20 to 60 percent, meaning a savings of over 1 million gallons of water per year.

Cherry Hill Township, New Jersey is a small community of around 71,000 residents that has been at the forefront of smart city innovation since 2013 when the town council voted to implement a new program to monitor use of municipal resources. Their goals were to cut costs and make their systems more efficient. They became the first municipality in the United States to use a web-based management tool for projects such as this and soon became a model for other cities to follow.

In the 2016 rankings of Best Places to Live in the U.S., Money Magazine placed Cherry Hill in spot 26 out of a total of 800 and Moody’s Investors Service just gave the Cherry Hill Township a bond rating of Aa1 due to their devotion to economic growth and successful financial management. These are all proof that their steps towards becoming a smart city are paying off.

When it comes to smart cities, size doesn’t matter, the issues and goals are the same. People want to live in a city that offers a high quality of life, is environmentally aware and fiscally responsible, whether it is small or large.