Designing HP smart city we want to live in
Many urban development plans are incorporating technology that genuinely benefits citizens. Here’s a roundup of information to bring you up to speed on what’s possible, what’s been done, and the potholes on your road to success.
City governments aiming to provide online services have lots of tough decisions to make. As everyone and everything gets connected, it becomes critical to build the appropriate city platform.
“Living just enough, just enough for the city,” sang Stevie Wonder, eloquently expressing the promise of better options in new environments. Plenty of people have followed that hopeful path to urban living: Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and by 2050, 6.4 billion people will do so, the United Nations estimates.
In an ideal world—the one we each work to create—our local governments provide services that give citizens more power, whether mundane (pay utility bills online), additional services (find a bicycle to rent), or human rights matters (transparency of government data). They and we are motivated by cost savings, streamlined human processes (because nobody wants to spend time in line at the department of motor vehicles), and city residents’ well-being. We may not have jetpacks yet, but we do want to improve our day-to-day lives with the help of municipal governments. Ultimately, smart cities are a process of putting data at the service of citizens, responding to their expectations and interests, with respect for privacy.
We have covered each of these topics in some depth because they touch on each of the business and technology areas we care about. Here’s an overview of what is possible in terms of designing smart city services, the infrastructure and data management issues to contemplate, and what could go wrong.
Eyes on the prize: What can be done?
As with so many other endeavors, it makes sense to first think about the goals you want to accomplish—and the results others have experienced in similar efforts. Before any city gets started on a path to future cities, its IT department (and interested citizens) should learn from what other cities have done. There are excellent examples of cities with blueprints and road maps:
Cities push predictive analytics to combat social ills: Cities want better insights on what causes their biggest societal problems. Enter predictive analytics. Kansas City is adopting this data science methodology to fight entrenched social problems as varied as crime, homelessness, and illiteracy.
Stadium technology turns the game around: Sports fields are becoming the most advanced smartphone environments on earth. Their goal: updating arenas to overlay sports and other events with app-driven services that keep fans engaged, boost convenience, and put fans in control of the cameras. Pulling out a win means advanced connectivity skills in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi because 50,000 cheering fans expect always-on Internet service.
Smart cities NYC: Stuff you could do (and didn’t know you could): There are 8 million stories in the Naked City and freely available data about almost every one of them. And if New York isn’t your town, compare it to what Boston is doing (Go Red Sox!).
IoT low-power WAN to improve quality of life in India’s cities: Experts discuss the potential impact and improvement of low-power edge computing benefits on rapidly modernizing cities.
Designing smart cities
Before urban planners begin the design for their future cities, it’s important to get citizens involved. Find out what they need and want to ensure participation and prioritize properly. Use cases are essential.
Smart cities: Focus on networks and governance first, devices and apps second: In the race to become smart, many cities are reaching for bright, shiny (IoT) objects. Instead, plan the infrastructure required for implementing truly innovative services and systems.
Government data can’t be wrong, right? One problem with the government collecting data is that sometimes that data is wrong. Trying to fix it can be a real hassle, especially when it’s about YOU. That has lots of implications about how a smart city architecture should design government data processes.
Security and privacy
The next issue to address is security, most obviously because of the history of breaches in data and IT infrastructure—and with reported incidents about IoT-enabled devices not keeping up with password tech and malware taking down a power grid. The security focus also applies to physical infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands of cameras feed data into mission control centers; someone has to evaluate, filter, and protect those video feeds. For a city’s security, the right data has to be augmented by human intelligence.
And then there’s the issue of data privacy…
Fixing cities’ data privacy potholes: Several issues appear in the crossroads of data privacy and smart cities’ push toward open data frameworks. Municipal organizations must create policies—right now—to keep from spilling personally identifiable information and ensure privacy.
Smart cities: Who owns the data? Cities use technology to assist residents, and data is a byproduct of that effort. But who owns the data and how it’s used is up for debate, and it often depends on where you live.
Public video surveillance: Smile! You’re on municipal camera! Whenever you travel through a city, hundreds of cameras and other sensors may be recording your every move. Despite the important real-world uses of public cameras, the surveillance can feel slightly creepy. How do we keep the value and reduce the creepiness factor?
How smart IoT will disrupt how regulations are enforced: Smart city IT systems aim to be flexible and agile, with data both informing policy and helping to enforce compliance. But disruption is not a term regulators comfortably use, and a world of fast-changing policies is not a future most companies want to embrace. Here’s the good, bad, and ugly in the debate over data-driven policy disruptions.
Three starting points when building a smart city
There’s no one-size-fits-all way of building a smart city, but these three approaches can help any city become smarter faster.
Every city can be made smarter by technology. But knowing how to start on the right path to becoming a smart city can be hard because no two cities are alike and there’s no one-size-fits-all way of getting there. Some cities have already taken stabs at digital transformations, while others have yet to begin. Private enterprise has taken the lead in some municipalities, while in others, the government has taken center stage. And in some instances, a city is a blank slate, waiting to be transformed.
Although there’s no single way for all municipalities to become smart cities, there are three starting points and journey options for getting there, based on the city’s digital status, private enterprise engagement, government funding, know-how, and will.
In this article, we’ll outline the three different paths and explain how cities can determine where they are on the journey, which path they should take, and how best to put a plan into action.
Before starting, cities and their IT staff must realize that cities are ecosystems, and you cannot predict how an ecosystem will react to changes you introduce. You need to be flexible and willing to change as the journey evolves. You must be willing to readjust your infrastructure and plans because the trail to building a smart city is a never-ending journey of adaptation.
With that in mind, let’s get started.
The market-driven approach
In a market-driven approach, a city starts its digital transformation based on what private enterprises are already doing. The city partners with businesses and uses enterprise-led improvements as a starting point for bringing intelligent infrastructure and solutions to the city. The way this works is best illustrated by an example from a city in Europe, where soccer is extremely popular.
We were working with a well-known soccer team that has an elite school for children who may become major soccer players. The team was looking to transform the school by leveraging analytics, data, and other technologies to improve how it teaches, to make its talents more successful.
But a school doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It operates in a context, specifically a soccer stadium and the neighborhood surrounding the stadium. The team turned its stadium into a state-of-the-art facility to deliver a pure soccer experience, gather more information about players’ performances, and help players improve. The team also wanted the stadium to be a more welcoming place for fans. It worked on bringing stores, malls, and theaters to the neighborhood around the stadium.
The new stadium and stores required new infrastructure with intelligence built into it. Using them, the city government partnered with private industry to bring new services to the neighborhood and its citizens. In this kind of partnership, everyone wins—the enterprise and city both get value out of it.
Once citizens in other areas of the city see the benefits delivered to the neighborhood, they, in turn, will demand the same kind of services as well. And the entire city becomes transformed in this way.
The point solution approach
In the point solution approach, the city department pinpoints specific issues that need solving—for example, easing traffic—and focuses on them first. The key is to not work on such a solution in isolation but instead look for synergies with other IT departments in the city. While cities are often fragmented, with different departments having different budgets, different horizons, and different targets, by working together on related point solutions, they can start aligning their smart city goals.
IT should also look beyond individual departments, and engage with the mayor and other levels of government. Often, the mayor has a vision of the city’s intelligent future, and IT can piggyback onto that. Furthermore, if the city is in a country where there is a big push around smarter cities, it can get financing or expertise from the federal or state government.
Here’s an example of how this might work. Let’s say a city wants to build a smart parking solution that includes an app that shows people the parking spots nearest them. Doing that helps people find parking easily and also makes sure the city’s parking lots are evenly filled, making the most effective use of them.
Meanwhile, another city department is working on reducing pollution by banning cars from some parts of the city when pollution rises above a certain level. Wouldn’t it make sense for the smart parking solution to be tied to the pollution solution so that when people are looking for places to park, they’re not sent to a forbidden zone because of the pollution that day? Or if they are driving an electric car and they’re looking for a place to park, they are allowed to go to the banned zone because they are driving a clean car?
By tying together multiple-point solutions like this, and working with outside agencies, a smart city can be built up step-by-step in a natural, organic way.
The holistic approach
The third path to building a smart city is to take a holistic, top-down approach. You can do this when you have all the funds you need, and you can plan everything from the beginning. Start by building the city’s physical infrastructure and then overlay your digital infrastructure on top of that. You deploy the right data framework and the right API and center everything around data, the virtual fuel of smart cities. You can then publish the data and launch an applications marketplace. Anyone can access data from the marketplace, which unleashes the imagination of both private enterprises and city departments to build new applications and solutions to make the city a better place.
Ultimately, using this approach, decision-makers and city planners have enough data at the right time to make the best decisions that benefit the city and its citizens. This has been done in Dubai, for example, and India, with its giant megacities, is doing it as well.
How to choose the right path
What can a city do to start on the right path toward becoming a smart city? Above all, don’t overthink what needs to be done. Don’t wait. Just get started. You’ll find that once you identify your first use cases and start deploying your first set of solutions, what you need to tackle next will become obvious.
Avoid solutions that will re-create boundaries. The whole point of smart cities is to make connections, not build barriers. The value is in the connections you create. And as you’re working on a specific solution, always keep the big picture and your end goals in mind, so you can pivot toward them.
For example, let’s say a city decides to embark on a smart waste solution. The solution may begin as a way to reduce the amount of a city’s waste, but it can end up doing much more than that. It can help with improving inefficient trash-collection routes, for example. It can help reduce pollution and noise. It can help make the city cleaner. So you should always think about the next step you’re going to take because that’s going to influence the choices you make today. That means your work will never be done—and that’s a good thing because you’ll keep improving the city.
Finally, recognize that in building a smart city, you only start from scratch when you take a holistic approach. Otherwise, you always have legacy systems to deal with. Even more important, you have to deal with the “legacy” city, including its infrastructure, services, and processes. And you always have existing choices that have been made for you by your predecessors. So you need to align your existing environment with the right IT technology to meet not just your immediate business needs but get you closer to your ultimate vision of a smart city.
Three paths to a smarter city: Lessons for leaders
Market-driven approach: Start with what private enterprise initiatives have already done, partner with them, and build out from there.
Point solution approach: Pinpoint a problem that needs solving. Work with other city departments to connect it to smart solutions they’re working on.
Holistic approach: Plan everything from scratch. Overlay the right digital infrastructure over the city’s physical one, and gather the right data that can be used to make the city smarter.