It’s time to refresh the conversation around the need for smart cities.
The smart city wave has generated real momentum — the question is where it will take us. While it has served as a lighthouse to guide us to the latest trends in our future-focused tech landscape, all too often it becomes only a reaction, not a meaningful commitment.
We should be careful about riding the magic carpet of trends because the majority of the proposed solutions are not truly smart. Yes, that is right: a smart city is not the real goal, because, while we have come to know smart equals connected (which is a key), we need more than connectivity. It is something much bigger, and not understanding the real goal is part of the reason we have not achieved true digital intelligence.
The race in 2015 and 2016 was to get connected via the Internet of Things (IoT), and it was an arduous task for any municipality that tried to get up to speed. The Smart City Challenge motivated by the Department of Transportation (DOT) confirms how cities are aggressively moving in this direction, and fast. Congrats, Columbus — we applaud you and the other cities that participated. Now, in 2017, these cities and many others will continue the implementation of plans to transform traditional or legacy technology and services to develop an intelligent ecosystem with true efficiencies and sustainability.
Knowing the sheer number of devices and the staggering amount of data per person, municipalities need to move at a lightning pace to become a digitally intelligent city. Business Intelligence predicts we will have 24 billion IoT devices installed by 2020 and $6 trillion invested on IoT solutions over the next four and a half years. Municipalities will increase their IoT spending worldwide by a 30 percent compounded annual growth rate from $36 billion in 2014 to $133 billion in 2019.
A digitally intelligent city supports the full life cycle of the needs of all residents, from affordable housing, access to great education and economic opportunity all the way to free Wi-Fi and advanced transit.
With all of this in mind, I see three critical qualities of digital intelligence:
Connectivity doesn’t mean Wi-Fi in every corner of City Hall. It goes beyond a singular function — it’s being connected to the entire city infrastructure enabling communication, aggregation of data and predictive analytics that automate and deliver efficiencies across the municipality. This provides an environment where agencies can access and assess events related to real issues across the city to actually supply purpose (intelligence) across areas like transit and safety.
The heartbeat of every city is its people, so technology should think and respond to its people.
We should also explore stabilizing and consolidating connected devices and services to maintain these efficiencies. This should be a requirement so cities can also retire legacy technology and operations to advance the new ecosystem.
When we refer to being open, we should look at city asset management and dashboards, software-level services, network-level services and how they connect to city assets at street level. We should refer to a platform that allows rapid integration across all devices. Once we start sharing across city services and verticals, agencies and departments, data can be shared in real time on the edge to resolve issues and produce real efficiencies.
Jascha Franklin-Hodge, chief information officer for the Department of Innovation and Technology at the City of Boston helps us all broaden our assumptions when he said, “[Being open] isn’t just about sharing data across the organizational silos and functional areas of government. It is also about a vendor ecosystem designed around interoperability and data standards, rather than lock-in and ‘full stack solutions’.”
Scalability is critical to leveraging the investment within a digitally intelligent city. Devices and services should not only be deployed quickly, but also evolve and allow cities and citizens to participate in developing the future. Solutions will change, and the technology should react. I have always said that cities react to human occurrences and technology should react to the people that live in these cities. Scalability will be a driving factor to maintaining a digitally intelligent city.
The challenge is to resolve issues and increase intelligence by connecting the right assets across cities using an open platform that actually scales across devices, services and humans. In addition, while generating revenue to support sustainability, cities have acknowledged they need to evolve and adaptand now they are looking for answers.
Today, we are arriving at the real goal: a digitally intelligent city. While government has some of the critical RFP’s already in place — smart lighting and smart parking are common ones — the next level of focus needs to center around whether the municipality is positioned to move with agility. Traditional business models of running a municipality can’t support and sustain this type of growth. Our municipalities will need to be daring enough to reassess processes and build a stronger culture aimed at public-private relationships that bring the best of both worlds together and strive for the unique goals each geography needs.
This is an exciting time for cities across the world. Pay attention as municipalities transition into digitally intelligent cities that resolve issues and respond to citizens, playing an important role in the heartbeat of every city.