Cities have been making use of ICT (Information Communications Technologies) more and more over the last 30 years for support/automation of several of their processes, be it the surveillance of critical resources, the planning of public transportation, the interaction with citizens and so on. Today it would be difficult to find an area that has not been "contaminated" by ICT in urban environment.
Whilst in the beginning we had silos, different projects resulting in different systems now there is a growing pressure to share data that are being accrued, processed by these different systems. As an example, in Trento the "informatization" of the territory has created over hundred data bases from areas as diverse as agriculture mapping to traffic accidents monitoring and historical records. Starting in 2013 Trentino has moved to an Open Data Framework making its data available to third parties with a well defined set of rules aiming at protecting ownerships and privacy but ensuring the possibility of exploitation of data.
The growth of sensors (and more generally the Internet of Things) increases the amount of data and the availability of these data (generated in different ways, owned by different parties, and processed for different needs) creates a virtual representation of the city that can sustain an understanding based on data, that is it can create an emerging understanding through analyses of data relations.
Clearly, the ultimate goal is to provide a feedback, as shown in the figure, that will change the city behaviour (like altering the traffic light dynamics based on traffic but also on traffic priorities, like an immediate need to create a fast track for people going to an event...).
Notice, also represented in the figure, that a city behaviour is not just a consequence of its hard processes at work (cars, energy distribution, logistics...) but it also includes the behaviour of its citizens and the understanding based on data should be shared and become part of the understanding of the city by its citizens. This understanding, along with the creation of a "civic" responsible culture of its citizens is a major component in the changing of the overall city behaviour.
Hence working at data level can be a fundamental way towards the smartification of a city since it is affecting the overall behaviour. Interestingly, this was a topic of discussion at the Conference of Ubiquitous Computing and Ambient Intelligence held in 2015 in Belfast. Another example of the blending of material (city) with immaterial (here represented in the behaviour of citizens).