What can HK learn from NYC in building a smart city? (Part 2)

New York City (NYC) was awarded as the best smart city last year. As Hong Kong OGCIO is about to reveal its study of the local smart city blueprint, Computerworld Hong Kong talked with NYC’s former CTO Minerva Tentoco, who was previously a Hong Kong-based IT executive.

In the second part of this series, Tentoco talked about the city’s open data policy and initiatives—another touchy subject in Hong Kong’s smart city initiative.

One major milestone of NYC’s smart city initiative is its open data law in 2012, which legally required city agencies to make their data available to the public. She said NYC now holds one of the largest open data portals in the US with 3,000 data sets available for download.

But the city didn’t stop there. To encourage the public to make use of the data and demonstrate the value of sharing government data, the NYC government organizes the annual hackathon Big Apps Contest to create applications for the public. The hackathon works with government agencies to develop new challenges every year. Previous challenges include affordable housing and zero waste.

“We get agencies to put out the challenges. The content injects innovation within the agencies,” she said. “It’s also a way for people to create new business and applications from this data.”

One of the past winners developed an app to provide neighborhood information, like trash pickup hours and street closures, needed for small business owners. 

“If you are running a small business, you are not going to bother with the whole data set just to find out what happens in your neighborhood,” she said. “Since it’s connected to the open data portal, it’s updated the whole time. You can subscribe to it, based on your area.”

Despite the success in Big Apps Content, Tentoco agreed the NYC government is still dealing with many challenges in its data policy. The two major challenges are data format standardization and data privacy.

She agreed many government agencies are still PDF-centric. Thus, part of her role was to help these agencies to improve their data architecture. Another role was to ensure the agencies “sanitize” the data by taking out any individual identifier before releasing it to the public to enable privacy protection.

“Each agency is different in its technical capabilities. It didn’t’ happen overnight, it took a lot of conversation to make it happen,” she said.

Public-private fund for talent

Tentoco also talked about the city’s biggest challenge—talent shortage—a problem that’s shared in Hong Kong.

“We know that we want to get New Yorkers more jobs, we want to get more tech companies in the city, but talent is a huge problem for these goals,” said Tentoco.

To solve this problem, the NYC government partnered with the private sector to develop a strategy that allowed them to share the objective and cost together.