“Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a mature service that has been tested on a global scale, including in the public sector. AWS has met and exceeded our city’s requirements.”
Sabae lies at the heart of the Reihoku region of the Fukui Prefecture in Japan. Long known for its textiles and lacquerware, Sabae developed a new local industry in modern times: eyeglass frames. Today, the town manufactures over 95% of all frames made in Japan. Sabae has made itself a global name as “the City of Glasses” by creating frames destined not just for Japan but the whole world.
Other than textiles, lacquerware, and glasses, Sabae now invests heavily in promoting a fourth local industry: information technology (IT). For example, a local non-governmental organization (NGO) runs the Hana Open Innovation Dojo, which aims to teach future manufacturers how to combine traditional manufacturing techniques with the latest technology. From a young age, children come to learn about programming, three-dimensional printing, laser cutting, and more.
Sabae has achieved acclaim for one particular application of IT: opening up and encouraging widespread use of administrative data. Such use of open data has been a major goal for many local governments in Japan since the Basic Act on the Advancement of Public and Private Sector Data Utilization was announced and implemented in December 2016.
Katsuhito Takashima heads the Information Statistics Division of Sabae’s Policy and Management Department. He explained that in 2010, Sabae started putting an emphasis on opening its own data. In March of the same year, Sabae enacted an ordinance to promote sharing and use of information between its citizens through measures to proactively open up and provide information. The town also thought up an epithet, “Data City Sabae,” and started releasing data in XML and RDF formats. “From 2012 on, the city began releasing all sorts of data it was sitting on – from location data about public toilets in the city to data about the operation of community buses,” Takashima recounts.
In 2014, Sabae and Yokohama participated in Constructing Infrastructure for Collaborative Data Distribution, a proof of concept for how to promote open data organized by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. Sabae shared data on the basis of the international “five stars of open data” standard and began figuring out what kind of environment would best allow providers and users to leverage data efficiently. “We confirmed that local governments of vastly different sizes, for example, Sabae and Yokohama, can use a single application to jointly handle their open data in a standard format,” says Yasukazu Makita, Information Policy Manager, the Information Statistics Division, Sabae’s Policy Management Department. The proof of concept was also an opportunity for Sabae to overhaul the public infrastructure it uses to handle open data.
Initially, Sabae rented servers from a third-party provider. However, there were certain problems which arose from this, including the time-consuming nature of contracting, so the city set out to find a new platform. Sabae worked within many constraints. Local governments that want to use cloud services have to satisfy numerous security concerns. However, when open data is concerned, the hurdles associated with this implementation are much less of an issue. After all, open availability of information is the entire point, so secrecy of data is not a concern.
Takashima agrees. “When you’re talking about security, you could argue that compared to putting your system in some server room in a municipal building where workers can walk in and out, it’s actually much safer to use a cloud service that’s managed from a robust data center that has to meet stringent security requirements. I think open data was the best place for us to start working with the cloud,” Takashima says.
Sabae’s cloud platform had to meet several criteria. It had to be a service for citizens and private companies. It had to be stable and always available without service interruptions. It also had to be affordable enough to sustainably fit within the city’s budget. Sabae looked at different services from a variety of other angles, including the time it would take to set up a system, and finally chose AWS.
Makita explains, “Another thing that motivated us to pick AWS was that the jig.jp Group’s local IT startup B Inc. recommended it after deploying AWS for its own activities. B Inc.'s President and Chief Executive Officer is Taisuke Fukuno, a fellow Sabae resident who's also Executive Chairman and Founder of the wider jig.jp Group. He's a powerful advocate for leveraging IT, and has supported Sabae’s efforts to move toward open data since 2010. AWS is a mature service that has been tested on a global scale, including in the public sector. It has met and exceeded our city’s requirements.”
Today, Fukuno confers with Makita and Takashima every day. He has become an indispensable advisor to and strong supporter of Sabae’s endeavors – from developing all sorts of applications to training human resources.
Sabae’s new open data platform built on AWS launched in June 2014. So far, the city has released open data in over 20 categories: statistical data about population and temperatures, locations of disaster shelters, municipal parking lots and spaces for wheelchairs, data about facilities like fire hydrants and AED defibrillators, data about tourism and the local assembly, maps, and more. Citizens and private companies use this open data in a wide range of ways.
Open data use in Sabae is not a one-way street. When a resident discovers a pothole that needs fixing, for example, they can use their smartphone to take a picture of it and upload the image to an app called Sabarepo. The image is used as open data to fuel civil services based on citizen participation. Once the citizen uploads an image, a city employee goes to inspect the site, decides what needs to be done and how urgently it needs to happen, and arranges for repairs.
This and other pioneering initiatives in Sabae are attracting considerable media attention. The town welcomes many visitors, particularly other local governments eager to pursue open data initiatives.
Sabae’s AWS-based open data platform is stable, just like the city wanted. As Takashima emphasizes, “We’re dealing with information that will be needed in times of emergency, for example, during natural disasters. Of course, we want to meet that need for information as much as possible. Our open data platform offers information about where disaster shelters are located, that sort of thing. If a disaster occurs, more people than usual will try to access the data all at once. If we took the regular approach of building our own on-premises facilities with enough capacity to meet such surges in demand, we’d have to maintain considerable resources that are completely superfluous while nothing out of the ordinary is going on. That would be very costly. With cloud services, you don’t have to worry about how to scale up or down to meet demand. In that sense, I think going with AWS was the reasonable thing to do.”
Sabae is positioned to continue its efforts to streamline administrative work and improve services for its citizens through the smart use of IT. Moreover, the city wants to proactively leverage the latest digital technologies. For example, Sabae is using IoT devices to measure water levels in its waterways. This is an attempt to prevent a repeat of the damage the city sustained when disastrously heavy rains struck Fukui Prefecture in 2004. Sabae has already launched an initiative to open up the data from these devices to let citizens consult it in real time.
“We plan to continue looking into how we, as a local government, can use not only IoT but also artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) to work more efficiently and provide valuable new services to our citizens,” says Makita. The city plans to keep gleaning information about the latest new technologies from companies and the media.
It will also continue to rely on advice from jig.jp to stay up to date. Sabae is an example of how local governments can leverage IT to grow and sustain their communities.