An article by Ken Figueredo @ MoreWithMobile.
After cycles of hype and enchantment, the topic of smart cities reappears. It promises to address environmental, transport and sustainability goals while improving the quality of city life. However, that is not all that is common. There is a lot to learn from previous trials that focused on pilot or one-off projects. In many of these cases, only a small effort was spent on long-term planning. How would a use case extend to many? What types of continuous funding frameworks could support ongoing operations?
In general, the pressure to deliver quickly results in a ‘quick-fix’ mindset. This does not work because smart city infrastructure has been a business for decades. It sits alongside urban transport networks, energy distribution systems and sewers.
In recent years, many smart city projects have stalled. They often started with smart street lights or shared Wi-Fi networks. An example of this is the attention-grabbing news story about New Orleans’ smart city plans. A single-supplier, single-use-case approach came to a standstill. This was partly due to dubious procurement processes and solution choices from one supplier. Was this avoided?
Context for proper planning
It can be tempting to start a smart city project around hard infrastructure. This can be a municipal fiber ring or a mesh network of Wi-Fi hotpots. It could also involve a network of smart lights or CCTV screens. This does not go far enough because smart city services will be data dependent. This leads to better decision-making in the management of the city’s resources and an ever-growing set of civic services. There will of course be greater use of sensors. Miniaturization and energy harvesting will lead to sensors embedded in roads and bridges. There will be requirements for data collection on an industrial scale as well as software platforms for remote monitoring and control. Think of these new demands as a progression from ‘hard’ to ‘soft’ infrastructure.
The progression extends even further to data infrastructure. This is another kind of “soft” infrastructure. It will support data sharing between public and private bodies within an agreed policy framework. Data protection and security policies are, of course, fundamental. Over time, additional policies will include data provision and licensing guarantees. These would allow resource managers to control downstream usage and revenue generation rights. Tracking data origins promises to be another requirement in the future. This is due to explanation and accountability in smart city decision making.
It is not crucial to detail or fund these requirements from the beginning of a smart city initiative. If ignored, the initiative is likely to take root within a few years and fail the infrastructure test by several decades.
See Beyond Technology for Change-Management Infrastructure
A good planning framework and a directional roadmap are essential elements of a smart city initiative. It is important to balance the historical preference for vertical solutions, which solve an urgent problem, with a horizontal approach. That means building a handful of general-purpose and reusable features. These make it easier to support many applications. This strategy adds leverage to developer teams. It also reduces the risk of spreading technical experts too thinly across multiple vertical systems and integration activities. In reality, that is what a standard achieves.
Mandating open standards during the procurement process adds another layer of benefits. It promotes competitive bidding and lowers the risk of technology and supplier lockdown. It’s a lesson for New Orleans.
Open standards also mean that a smart city system can grow over time. Take a waste collection example that involves different kinds of collection bins. These can vary in size depending on location and usage patterns. A city planner must place trash cans near take-out restaurants, in public spaces and streets with low traffic. The use of an open standard would allow a city to pick up bins from different providers. It would also allow the city to shift its rollout over time, and respond to changing waste collection patterns and funding availability.
While technological innovation deals with the supply side of the smart city challenge, demand-side issues deserve equal attention. Previously, operating staff waited for weekly or monthly data summaries of the city’s assets. With IoT features, they can monitor and control city assets in real time. This changes the nature of their work. It makes change management and retraining necessary complements to all smart city initiatives.
It is also important to involve directors and CFOs in this process. Their involvement is crucial to embracing the “hard-to-soften” infrastructure roadmap. After all, they are responsible for financing future implementations and operating costs. This is an important reason to frame the way for new use cases in the language of city administrators. It is also a reason to focus on long-term rule and adaptable infrastructure rather than quick-fix projects.
About the author: Ken Figueredo advises companies on business strategy and new market offerings related to digital strategy and related innovation. For more information or to subscribe to our knowledge network, please contact Ken Figueredo (email@example.com) or sign up at www.more-with-mobile.com