Cleaning out the Smart City Desk Drawer
Sigma’s recent experience where we won the right to partner with Liverpool City Council has gotten me thinking a lot about Smart Cities. Allow me, if you will, to clear out the messy desk drawer of thoughts I have on the subject.
Intelligent versus Smart
When we talk about ‘smart cities,’ we mean urban environments that are ‘intelligent.’ Environments that can respond dynamically to changing context, using data taken from meters, sensors and other devices to, for example, automatically route traffic, manage public transport, optimise the use of parking space, policing, garbage collection and more – controlling the delivery of these and many other urban functions in a way that minimises waste, maximises value and optimises spend.
We also mean living environments that are responding to the changing demands of their population – supporting the social, medical and transportation needs of an aging population, for example, with better, more accessible ‘living services.’ The argument for smart cities is easy to make. Creating a smart city environment is harder to do, however, and very few cities have progressed beyond the start of this journey.
Smart Cities, Broadly Speaking
The smart city is likely to be a broad concept, its functionality ranging from short-term transactional activity (to allocate parking spaces or transport services, say) to very long-term predictive functions (to support city planning, for example). It will be highly dependent on data, often in very high volumes, which will need to be collected, subject to complex processing, and often – though not invariably – acted upon in real time.
Many players and stakeholders are likely to be involved – apart from city authorities, these might include utilities, network operators, vehicle manufacturers, car park operators, public and private transport operators, systems integrators and many more, making everything from ownership to strategy, priorities, quality and the investment/ revenue model hard to define. Significantly, many of these stakeholders will have little experience of delivering complex technical or infrastructure projects.
It’s easy to see how this scenario could descend into chaos, undermining the objectives of the smart city and slowing their realization – not least as the scope of activity of the ‘Smart City’ seems likely to grow exponentially with the expansion and increasing efficiency of networks and devices. This will drive the need for an increasingly sophisticated operational layer that will coordinate applications, data, users, and communications.
If the laudable objectives of the smart city are to be met, it is essential that this complexity not be allowed to descend into chaos.
Rationalize Those Services!
Service providers – most often city authorities or their partners – will need to rationalise and categorise the complex range of services that they will make available to customers, users and partners – recording what’s available to the market, how it can be accessed and by whom, how it can and should be exposed, delivered and so on. The efficiency with which these services are managed will be core to the success of the smart city.
For example, to support more efficient transport facilities within the city, the operations centre should maintain a dynamic view of the availability and status of the connected devices, vehicles, telecommunications and cloud services and other resources that the city either owns, uses or directs to manage traffic, parking, public transport, and other facilities.
Not only will this increase the viability, efficiency and revenue potential of the city’s transportation, but selected data could also be exposed for consumption by third parties – another potential revenue stream for the city and stimulating partner organisations to create additional smart services for citizens, such as parking reservation, rental bikes, bus and taxi tracking and car sharing, and enterprise offerings such as parking utilization and traffic flow data.
About the (Intelligent) Data
Tomorrow’s cities will exploit advanced networks, ‘big data’ processing, connected devices, and artificial intelligence to deliver environments that are more efficient and sustainable for city authorities – and more satisfying and rewarding for their citizens.
In common with other ICT-based services, however, they will also need a significant amount of intelligent off-network capability to deliver value – the behind-the-scenes processing that will provide services to citizens and other users of the city’s intelligent infrastructure, helping cities to manage what could otherwise easily descend into an unmanageable swamp of data and disconnected functionality which would deliver none of the hoped-for benefits of the smart city.
That’s it, and I’ll be back to fill you in on the Liverpool project when there are things to report.