Digital platforms constitute open, technical architectures allowing parties to exchange goods or develop new products and services. The platform operator steers the transactions by means of rules and standards aiming to generate greater value for all parties involved . Popular examples are the Amazon marketplace or Google’s mobile Android operating system.
In principle, many of these factors also apply to cities:
- They are open (at least most of them) to citizens and businesses;
- users (the citizens or businesses) come together to interact with each other or to create something new using the available infrastructure; and
- the city government guides the behavior of city residents by setting and enforcing rules and policies, seeking to support the positive coexistence of all.
A city offers “users” several advantages over privately run platforms:a) it serves as a public institution that does not pursue its own profit motive and thus captures less of the jointly created value for itself; b) the city has an obligation to its citizens of being neutral and transparent in its actions, and c) the city’s potential sphere of influence is naturally limited geographically and thus contradicts the winner-take-all competition logics of globally operating platforms.
The great obstacle of many cities to become a platform comes down to both the digital and technical architecture. The two are mutually dependent and both are core value drivers for the big platform companies. While Big Tech Giants reign over app ecosystems with many thousands of third-party applications, most cities have not yet managed to offer a functioning mobile application for the customers of their own public transport — certainly a fundamental smart city challenge that goes hand in hand with the development of digital platforms.
Cities already work on becoming platforms
We should not lose hope yet — as promising initiatives are underway. London, Barcelona, and Copenhagen, are each building central data and innovation hubs. They are creating the technical infrastructure to collect and provide various data points from urban operations and make them available online as open access, in compliance with the highest privacy standards and via easy-to-use interfaces .
The city of Berlin for example is pursuing a promising platform called Jelbi. The Jelbi mobility app combines public transport services with on-demand mobility from external providers in a single application. Users of the app only need to register and provide payment information once. The external providers thus gain access to potential new customers as well as the usage data generated as part of their services. This way, the city of Berlin learns a lot about the mobility behavior of its residents in order to improve e.g. traffic planning . Win-win-win!
These promising initiatives are united by the value-driven and goal-oriented collaboration between the cities and selected technology partners. Following the platform logic, such collaborations constitute not just bilateral digitization projects — although a lot of groundwork is needed in this area as well — they are about creating open, digital technology architectures that not only address the immediate challenges of the city but also enable third parties to create additional value on this basis.
We enable cities to accelerate their platform initiatives and expand the scope with visual data
At Peregrine, we hold ourselves up to exactly this goal. We strive for value-driven collaboration, while maintaining the highest privacy standards. Solving the direct challenges of partners in the cities is a positive by-product in the creation of an open platform for information based on real-time visual traffic data. This enables the creation of new mobility services or improvement of existing offers. Our data points can be used, among other things, to identify temporarily available spaces and to create offers around them, for example for parking vehicles or installing EV charging stations.
The city benefits from our real-time, automatically analyzed street-level data which provides answers to burning questions about traffic flow and behavior, the state of the infrastructure, and the best routes for future bike lanes. The city also benefits and creates additional value for its residents by opening up the shared innovation space, based on the visual data, to third parties. Additional sources of information and thus innovation is created for the city, which helps the urban-digital platform ecosystem to flourish.
In order to collect the necessary data and make it available, Peregrine already works with a variety of fleet operators and city authorities. We gain significant insight into the road network by means of visual sensors in a large number of heavily utilized vehicles. The public transport operators, municipal service companies, and logistics vehicle fleets can serve as sensor carriers as well. Through our collaboration with cities, we can enable everyone to develop and disseminate digital innovations from visual data analysis and contribute to a safer, better-utilized, and digitally accessible urban mobility ecosystem.