CleanTech Management

How Municipalities Can Lead by Developing Data Road Map and Master Data Licensing Agreement

Municipalities need to take better control of data in their communities.

You can find numerous examples of companies approaching municipalities to use or install data collectors embedded in their infrastructure. Personally, I’m not against the collection and use of data, so long as the data users are following privacy laws.

In my experience working in a large municipality and working with them, I have always found certain gaps in core competency when it comes to things like data.

There are numerous companies approaching municipalities all the time with opportunities to embed their technologies among the municipalities’ infrastructure. In addition to the company generating revenues from the business model of that data, the municipalities generally view their wins in very simple ways: do we generate economic development; do we increase our tax base; is this going to help lure more companies to set up shop here; does it improve our quality of life for people to stay or more to move here. Fundamentally, it’s the perception of whether it improves the municipality or not. And if you have ever dealt with the economic development branch of a municipality, you’d know that they are there to sell you on opening up or expanding there. They don’t give you a list of demands of what they expect of you, but it’s more about convincing of the municipality why your corporate demands make sense to them.

Probably the most high-profile example of this would be SideWalk Labs trying to develop a 12 acre site in Toronto’s waterfront. Never mind that both sides were communicating in different languages. City spoke in development-ese, and SideWalk Lab spoke in data-ese. Too many mistakes were made too early on to make this work. In my opinion, where it all went wrong is data.

Here is my concept. Every municipality, through an enterprise corporation, so as to be able to monetize and generate real value, should create a data road map and master data license agreement for any company interested in deploying any data collection system embedded within their infrastructure. (That’s a mouthful)

Any investor knows that in the long run the real value of any investment will emanate from the value of its data, to be determined later. Its’ too hard to think about what purposes and uses exist for aggregated data, but we know that it is valuable to different audiences, when you’re able to capture enough of it and make it useful, to someone.

Yet, you need to build your current business models on the ability to fund operations today. That means that any company approaching a municipality with a data collection system, already has a very narrow and current use of that data, thus you, as the municipality, discuss the opportunity in its current form. I don’t blame the municipality. That’s the conversation that the vendor wants to have.

But the reality is that we know there is greater value in the data from its current intended use.

Municipality should engage experts in the development of data roadmap for internal and external opportunities, then develop a draft master data agreement for any vendor to sign. I’ll walk you through how it would work.

First, you need to bring in a consultant who specializes in data collection, data architecture and its presentment. Understanding what internal depts could possibly do with the data for their own benefit is critical in understanding what can be done to improve operations and possibly capital decisions by the municipality in assessing the data. The next part is understanding that there could be multiple data points that could be monetized later. For example, knowing that one set of data you already have is worth 1, and another set that you generate through a vendor partnership is worth 1, but the aggregated combined total is actually more like 5. You can’t possibly anticipate the worth and use of it yet, but to know that there will be a point where the value can exist, means that you design and build data sets to be mined at some point.

As well, municipalities know that if you want to monetize the data beyond your internal uses, you will need to house it, and arguably own it, under an enterprise corporation. Most municipalities have created one, and in my opinion, that enterprise corporation or an entity under it, should be the one signing the master data licensing agreement with any vendor , and for legal sake, it then licenses data to the municipality for $1 so it can use it for internal, non-revenue purposes. The enterprise corporation now enables you to aggregate data for the broader altruistic purposes of the municipality.

Most municipalities would argue that they don’t have the resources to make this happen. I would agree. But the approach could be something unique like let the consultant create the data road map and master data licensing agreement, and have vendors contribute towards the costs as an admin cost to generating the agreements. You would have your costs recovered in no time.

In practice, I know that some municipalities would be concerned that they may be putting up impediments to luring these AI and data rich companies to want to work with them, but wearing my investor hat I would argue that they would rather work with a municipality that knows wha they want and has clarity and purpose rather than one that changes the rules when they figure out that they need a data agreement.

I see many companies laying infrastructure like telecom circuits, autonomous vehicle infrastructure and energy infrastructure, as examples, and municipalities missing out on the value of that data.

If anyone is interested, I would be eager to bring in some colleagues and fit you up with a data road map and master data licensing agreement. I think the early-adopters will benefit from the media attention and driving the bus on data.

One reply on “How Municipalities Can Lead by Developing Data Road Map and Master Data Licensing Agreement”

Frank, as always, your articles are incisive and emanate the priceless experience you bring in from the power industry and the innovative mindset you carry.
I feel there is a divide between the human resource available in the current market. There are personnel from the energy industry, and then there are personnel with data skills. Real value will be created when people with a decent experience of working in the utility industry also adopt and learn data analysis. In order to understand the worth of the data you have, there has to be a decent understanding of the possibilities of data analysis.
For this very reason, I am currently in the process of learning data analysis with python and I am working towards using the data to improve my renewable energy projects.

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