columbus, ohio, skyline (YurkaImmortal/

A closer look at the Smart Columbus Operating System

“A city is smart because of the data, and you have to have a strong backbone to support that,” said Jodi Bare. “The operating system makes that happen.”

Bare is the deputy program manager with the Columbus, Ohio, Department of Technology, and the system she’s referring to is the Smart Columbus Operating System  (SCOS) that was unveiled earlier this month.

It has been almost two years since Columbus won the Department of Transportation's Smart City Challenge with a proposal to leverage connected vehicle technology and even decrease the infant mortality rate. Before those projects can become a reality, Bare said, there needs to be an underlying operating system.

In its current form, which the city is calling the “initial iteration," the web-based SCOS looks much like any other open data portal with its more than 1,000 datasets that can be viewed and downloaded. But there are a few features that separate it from a typical government open data website, Bare said.

“What makes it different is it's not just an open data portal for public data,” she said. “We’re bringing in private data as well.” Application programming interfaces will pull data from elsewhere and stream it into the operating system.

SCOS is hosted in an Amazon Web Services cloud. Besides the datasets, platform will also host smart city applications, another differentiator from traditional open data websites. The datasets will act as individual, modular pieces that can be added to different applications, and the applications will be built as microservices.

“When we host applications in a microservice, it breaks the applications down into modular pieces, so it can operate in the most optimal way, especially with large amounts of data,” Bare  said.

The first phase of SCOS was built by a small team of city developers, but now PillarTechnology has been contracted to bring a team of 20 to help the city add functionality, Columbus Deputy Innovation Officer Brandi Braun said. This includes application hosting, which the city expects to be running by the end of this year or the first quarter of next year.

But Columbus has already started thinking about what applications powered with its data could look like. Earlier this month, it held a hackathon where about 120 civic hackers spent the weekend developing applications that leverage the data in the operating system.

The next step for the operating system, though, is getting the real-time data streams up and running. The first use case will be transit information from the Central Ohio Transit Authority.

“We need to have that in place, especially for the connected vehicle environment,” Bare said, adding it should be running by the end of June.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.

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