Dashboards and Open data

A dashboard works its magic harnessing the power of open data. That is particularly true with a city dashboard. If you take a close look at any urban dashboard, you’ll notice it brings to its users a variety of open datasets, from metro schedules, weather broadcasts to air pollution levels and highway cameras. This is data from assorted sources, such as government departments and transport agencies. Imagine such data not being public, the development of an eclectic dashboard would not be possible.

In fact, open data brings about much more than dashboards. Open data is data free for the public and all sectors to access and make use of, usually provided by authorities. Open data means opening up opportunities and possibilities as nowadays, it’s all about data.

The power of data comes not from data itself, but rather, the knowledge and value distilled from it. It may sound a bit off but when you come to think of it, it’s just the case: data matters as much as the value it inspires the users. In other words, the importance of data depends on how you use it; if no meaning is extracted from the data, it remains little more than numbers.

When authorities open up an assortment of data, the public and private sectors are free to bestow meaning and value on the data, which in better cases inspire innovations and inventions. Such innovations may come in the forms of online and mobile applications, such as warning systems for flooding and air pollution, making use of open data from water gauges and the observatory. These are practices of turning raw open data into actionable knowledge, which comes to be used through mobile apps, online portals and obviously, dashboards.

That is why such applications as online portals, mobile applications and dashboards use the data to serve a purpose, cater to a need and accommodate different users. While a city dashboard harnesses the power of open data to serve at-a-glance information reviews to its users, open data users cash in on the presentation of a dashboard to make sense of open data itself. Interesting? Let’s explore dashboards and data visualisation next week!

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What make a good dashboard?

This certainly is an interesting question: what make a good dashboard? Before being tempted to take a prompt attempt, let’s get back to what a dashboard is. A dashboard gathers streams of real-time data, where you have at one glance the current road traffic of main highways, status of key public transport, the stock market, hostel availability and weather (just to name a few). You can view a dashboard as a miniature city, where you have all the information necessary for you to act, navigate and make decisions.

A dashboard may come in different forms, city dashboards and personalised dashboards being the 2 major types. Our earlier blog post explores the traits of some city dashboards, such as London Dashboard and Venice Dashboard. If you look closer, they are all different. They differ not only in the streaming data contents, but also in what realms they incorporate as part of the dashboards. London Dashboard emphasises the traffic and transport, displaying information from traffic cameras, availability of bikes, subway status to buses and underground trains in service, which hints at its priority of urban mobility and commuting. In other words, a city dashboard lets us know a city’s priorities, and what its citizens are concerned about.

But if you come to think about it, it’s very natural: as a dashboard enables the citizens to make better decisions, it must supply information important to the citizens, which may be the realms of information making up part of their life. Obviously, a city dashboard cannot take up all the information, that’s why it must prioritise. How a dashboard prioritises by embedding certain realms of information into part of it while excluding others may shed light on what make a good dashboard.

It is vital for a dashboard to cater to its users, namely the public for city dashboards and the I for a personalised dashboard. So a dashboard varies from one another, be it a city dashboard or personal one. Apart from providing the information its citizens need, it is critical that a dashboard gives the right information, which points to the issue of accountability.

While good dashboards may vary from one another depending on a city and users, are there universal items every dashboard must incorporate? Perhaps that’ll be about public safety and mobility. Still there are uncertainties and possibilities, but along the evolution we’ll shape different dashboards and explore the different shapes of a city.

Dashboards and big data analytics

Big data analytics has been a hot topic these days. Has it anything to do with city dashboards or personal dashboards? Let’s first recall how a dashboard harnesses big data at work.

Imagine you’re with your own dashboard, take a look at it and you’ll be amazed by what you have at hand: the here and now of the city and your life. You have the real-time happening of the realms of information that matter to you. That is what a dashboard is about: bringing to its users information important to them, with the help of open big data.

In fact, how a dashboard makes use of big data should not be new to us since our life is brimming with if not made of, data, big and small. One’s routine day may start with a refreshing breakfast — the eatery you choose, what you eat and drink — it’s all about data. Enjoying your breakfast, you already contributed your share of several data sets to the eatery, such as the food and drinks you order, the time you have your breakfast, whether you eat alone or with company. The restaurant may collect their own pool of data sets, with the small data you bring alongside those of others’. Through data analytics they can distill from the data pool their customers’ preference of food and drinks and do better table arrangement for the breakfast period, etc.

Such an example of big data analytics may explain to you that data and information matter as much as the meaning you extract from it. In the case of the same restaurant, if you were the only data contributor, the restaurant manager would distill knowledge little more than one customer’s personal preference. And that from a managerial perspective is not a piece of actionable information.

So what does data analytics have to do with dashboards? While a dashboard visualises real-time open big data, all you have are only pieces of data, figures and information. How that matters to you depends on how you distill knowledge and value from the data, that is creating meaning from the information, which allows one to act and make decisions. When you come to think about it, it’s data analytics at a personal level. While meaning and knowledge can be distilled from a dashboard, conversely a dashboard may be established for a particular objective, such as an ESG Dashboard and a supply chain dashboard. Let’s explore the possibilities of a dashboard and see what it will bring to a city.

What does real-time mean?

A smart city is facilitated and monitored by pervasive computing and its economy and governance being driven by innovation and technologies. Efficiency and better decision making are empowered by big data and real-time data streaming.

Big data can prove invaluable not only to governance and the economy but also the public. We make decisions every day, from whether to take the bus or subway on our commute, to choosing which restaurant for lunch or dinner. We are making decisions every day; we judge the situation and make up or change our minds based on the information in hand. If more data and information, or even big data are at hand when we make our everyday decisions, better judgement and efficiency can be achieved. And the link missing here points to real-time data streaming and analytics.

The most common application of real-time data analytics relates to transport, where vehicle movements and road traffic on a transport network are captured by a network of cameras. Such transport and traffic data are utilized and developed into mobile applications. That is why when a traffic congestion on a particular highway occurs, one knows to avoid the affected bus routes and may opt for the subway. On the other hand some governments are putting real-time data analytics to use. In the same example, the transport data captured will be transferred continuously to a central control hub to monitor traffic flows. Better decision making such as the adjustment of traffic light sequences can be made according to real-time situations. The automatic monitoring of traffic speeds is possible too with the constant real-time streaming of vehicle movements.

The more recent attempt to tap into real-time big data streaming is to direct all of these big data streaming and analytics into a single hub. For example, London communicates real-time data to citizens through “city dashboards”, where information about the weather, air pollution, public transport delays, public bike availability, river level, electricity demand, the stock market, twitter trends in the city, look at traffic camera feeds and even the happiness level is instantly accessible. The information is presented via visualisations that aid the general public’s interpretation and monitoring of the city for their own ends.

Such centres, applications and dashboards harnessing the real-time data analytics provide an innovative lens for every individual to make sense of the city in the here-and-now.

Privacy concerns raised by big data

Data are being generated at an accelerating rate by people, systems and things. The collection and analytics of big data are benefiting every aspect of life and businesses. Big data is crucial to a smart city, which promotes efficiency and caters to people’s needs with available resources used sustainably with the help of big data. However while big data is considered such an indispensable asset of a smart city, the widespread storage and application of data impose security threats. The use of personal data and information entailed in big data analytics is raising privacy concerns.

Privacy relies on the informed consent given by an individual to the disclosure and use of their private data. However, big data is a resource that can be used and reused, posing threats on privacy issues as individuals are not aware their personal data are used and even collected.

Privacy concerns and security issues are already affecting our life, common privacy crimes including identity theft and unauthorised use of personal data. As we are entering the age of big data and data being part of our life and work, privacy and security should be addressed by concerted efforts not only of the government and the ICT sector but also the public and different sectors.

Government policies and enforcement should be at the forefront. Clear laws and regulations regarding the collection, distribution and application of personal data and information should be introduced. And companies especially those engaged in big data analytics and application should implement policies concerning the access to and usage of big data and security control. On a personal level, individuals should pay close attention to their online activities and cyber security. Certainly keeping oneself updated with the big data revolution is one of the ways of staying alert.

Urban dashboards: London and Venice

There are different smart city dashboards, the completest are London’s smart city dashboard and Venice’s smart city dashboard. Although those two dashboards share the aim of providing real-time data to help users to make better decisions and steer effectively, the two smart city dashboards are totally different and distinctive with their own features.

London’s smart city dashboard distinguishes itself with most of its parts in the transport domain, such as tube line status, transport in service, bike rental spots and traffic camera. It also highlights social issues such as mood and electricity. The focus of London’s dashboard on transport and social issues allows us to catch a glimpse of the city and its citizens. Studying London’s smart city dashboard is a good way to understand the city.

As for Venice’s smart city dashboard, it displays a wide array of real-time data available to the public, such as hotel availability, cruise arrival times, air quality and more. It is obvious that Venice’s smart city dashboard highlights elements essential to tourism. A smart city dashboard facilitates the understanding of a city and its citizens before moves to revolutionise its infrastructure

The distinctive features of a smart city dashboard show the highlights and even the essence of a city. Hong Kong Dashboard opens a door for us to explore the city and shape our own perspectives of it.

Smart city and Dashboard

A smart city drives sustainable economic development and high quality of life by tapping into information and communication technology and Internet of things. An urban dashboard can be one of the elements that help construct a smart city. It is a tool that arranges information in a way that is easy to read. Making use of open big data, a dashboard is not a new thing for data analysts. For example, a business dashboard is an information management tool to assess and monitor a business performance while an urban dashboard displays real-time data in an instantly accessible manner.

A smart city is driven by information and data needed to make better-informed decisions. Dashboards are customised according to people’s needs to display important information, otherwise scattered around, in one place. The way an urban dashboard empowers people to gain real-time data for better decision-making and higher efficiency makes it an indispensable tool for people to steer through a smart city.

Amsterdam provides an example of utilising big data to improve transport and mobility. The government makes accessible useful public data on transport and traffic, including parking vacancy, cycle paths, taxi stands and real-time traffic updates, so different kinds of dashboards can be developed utilising the real-time data. The citizens are able to make better decisions on their daily commute with the dashboards. The practice won Amsterdam the World Smart Cities Awards in the field of mobility. Amsterdam serves as a reference how new applications and dashboards making use of big public data can maximise services for its citizens, conducive to building a smart city.