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Get smart about data integration for a truly smart city

By 2040, 60% of the world’s population is projected to live in cities. Urban centers use a majority of the world’s energy consumption, and dense metropolises are projected to continue to grow. Many forward-thinking cities are taking the initiative to become “smarter” and more connected. By the end of last year, cities were already using 1.6 billion connected devices. Does that make them “smart” cities? Not necessarily.

A fully functional smart city is a lot like a healthy human body, with data acting as the lifeblood that connects different functions so they can work together. For everything to work in sync, each system needs to work individually, but also combine and work together to create and add value.

Translating that concept to a city means more than simply installing a few smart meters and internet of things devices to use for data analysis. A functional, optimal smart city is a system of systems — producing data that, when integrated at a detailed level and analyzed, allows the optimization of basic city functions and resources like energy, transportation, healthcare, infrastructure and security.

If done well, integration of data from smart traffic lights can optimize traffic patterns by taking into account things like the weather, vehicle volume and speed, bus schedules, accident data and more. Without using a wide-lens view of the data available, cities might miss obvious improvements that are virtually invisible unless the systems and data are combined at a detailed level.

Data integration is the key to ensuring a city’s attempts to become an intelligent system of systems doesn’t result in a system of silos. To avoid this, city leaders should plan ahead by creating a blueprint of how they want their data to integrate and flow — similar to how they would make a blueprint before building a new town hall or school. This framework provides a high-level view of the overall system, ensuring that as each smart city system does its individual job, the wealth of data pulled from all these feeds together can deliver impactful value for municipalities as well as its citizens.

The first step is often taking an inventory of available smart city systems and the corresponding data, as well as other even external or third-party data sources. From this, city leaders can determine the best architecture for storing, combining and using each type of data based on possible use cases and expected outcomes.

By taking stock of its resources, a city might find it has a large volume of highly structured, operational data from core systems that manage the energy, services and transportation infrastructure. Such data is already tightly coupled in the existing systems used to manage and respond to citizen needs. Other sources — such as highway sensors, social media and third-party data like Waze — generate enormous quantities of applicable and complementary data, but aren’t as tightly coupled — or connected — to existing city systems. The key to managing such a range of data is a blueprint that allows for both scaling in the future and the preservation of detailed data with unexplored value, since both are vital to future growth potential.

As with all data, it needs to be kept secure. Smart city data can stay protected by building a layered approach into the data’s structure. Think of it as a highly guarded castle, where the innermost layer of the city is only accessible after you have scaled multiple walls and crossed moats. In the center lies the most sensitive data — only available to users that have the highest level of clearance.

Of course, before selecting IoT devices for a city, it is imperative that city leaders ensure set policies for security and encryption, and supplier companies and their technology are capable of meeting those standards to ensure the smart city’s valuable data and assets are protected. Security for new, connected city assets must also allow for retrofitting of traditional, legacy devices, since most cities can’t start from scratch with all new IoT devices. This hybrid of new and old infrastructure is one reason why the blueprint will need an ecosystem approach — to cost effectively protect existing assets while remaining flexible to add new assets with new and more sophisticated security capabilities.

The holy grail of smart cities is public accessibility of data and insights, often in real time. With smart mobility, the city enables citizens to choose from the combination of transportation modes most suitable for their destination, for example, minimizing energy and cost. With smart accessibility, citizens can choose what hospital to go to based on time of day, specific ailment or other criteria like safety. Smart cities become both a physical and services hub, connecting citizens with the choices and the resources they need. On the flip side, smart city hubs can also offer the city leaders means to monetize and extend services through private companies interested in creating and selling citizen services.

The reality is that most cities are at the infancy stages in their efforts to become a truly smart city. Some will fall short because they cannot take full advantage of harmonizing their various smart systems. Cities can avoid this fate by starting with a comprehensive data blueprint that gives city leaders a clear idea of potential outcomes and then use that framework to drive decisions while also staying flexible enough to draw new, unexpected conclusions. If city leaders build for a system of systems approach, they can reap the benefits of being a truly smart city.

kivetsu_peeterThis article was co-written by Peeter Kivestu.

As an avid proponent of Teradata’s industry approach to analytics, Peeter Kivestu supports government clients by finding new ways to put data to work — not only to solve current problems, but also to head off future challenges in transportation and logistics.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.