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Smart city implementation: Get it right the first time

More efficient energy use, less traffic, self-reporting infrastructure issues — there are many attractive factors luring mayors and city CIOs who want to make their cities smart. While smart cities are still in their infancy, continued grant money from the Department of Transportation and the National Science Foundation, for example, is fueling this revolution on a city planning level. From a technology-enablement perspective, Gartner recently projected that by the end of this year there will be around 20 million connected devices. These two factors are colliding to create a new landscape where smart cities can become a reality. In fact, there are currently around 175 smart cities in the world, according to Navigant Research.

But to effectively become one of these smart cities, municipalities need to plan ahead rather than jumping blindly onto the bandwagon. City CTOs and chief information officers need to create and follow a roadmap to ensure they have a collection of not just connected things, but the right things and the right accompanying data infrastructure. To get it right the first time, city leaders should keep the following simple steps top of mind.

Start small

The end goal for any municipality hoping to become a fully-integrated smart city is to have a slew of technologies that work much like the human body — a series of subsystems working in conjunction with one another, ultimately connecting disparate functions into a holistic environment. To get there, however, city leaders need to start small.

Beginning with a small-scale project, like Wi-Fi deployment in public spaces, or deploying intelligent, multifunctional streetlighting, allows city leaders to gather insights that can then be leveraged for smarter implementation of future projects. They should plan in advance for an ever-expanding data ecosystem, and not duplicate data acquisition and analytics systems as they expand the number of projects. After working through a few initial smart city technologies, cities can then focus on adding more smart features and centralizing their operations, all within the same analytics blueprint, so that all aspects of the smart city implementation can be fielded through a single data and analytics architecture. This allows municipalities to deliver better city services with more intelligence, but with less cost.

An added benefit of an integrated system of systems is having an overarching view of the future architecture, allowing city leaders to scale up new services that could possibly lead to new revenue streams, building incrementally along the way with a view to that future enablement. This ensures that smart city implementation aspirations maintain financial momentum.

Pay attention to the data

A fully functioning smart city isn’t just about installing a plethora of IoT devices — it’s about the data produced by those devices and the analysis that follows.

Cities must ensure that the data coming from disparate components of their smart city doesn’t live in a silo. Each system must be able to communicate and contribute data to an integrated whole so city leaders can, for instance, optimize traffic in real time by blending data from traffic sensors with data coming from weather monitoring devices — optimizing the traffic subsystem, but then further optimize citizen movement data and public sector transit route and ridership to further optimize across the traffic and transit systems. This cross-system optimization is where smart cities really start to see the benefits of planning ahead.

Additionally, citizens need access to this data to make their lives better. Cities must turn to big data management and simple data analytics reporting tools to ensure these results are available in real time at the public’s fingertips.

Focus on safety

Citizen accessibility needs to be balanced with security. As with any connected device, smart city sensors and infrastructure are susceptible to malfunctions and malicious attacks. Even that harmless first attempt at public Wi-Fi could be exploited by a hacker that could then gain personal information through the network. Cities must make safety planning a part of their smart city implementation from day one to make certain they are prepared in case anything happens.

To ensure data gathered by a smart city stays secure, CTOs and CIOs should create a layered approach to the city’s data structure — guarding the most vital data at the center behind incrementally secure layers of authentication. Governance of an “open system” ensures some are granted open access to what they are entitled to, yet prevented from access that which they are not.

Companies must also continuously update the systems running on the devices themselves so they don’t fall susceptible to viruses or other damage. City leaders can leverage their data blueprint to understand the security needs of their blend of legacy and new systems.

Plan for success

Smart cities don’t happen overnight. A comprehensive data blueprint is essential for planning a smart city landscape. This blueprint provides insights into what information the city is collecting and how its devices can integrate together to create an overall smart city landscape. Additionally, this blueprint should serve as a planning document, selecting appropriate departure points for legacy technologies and highlighting times when new sensors can be implemented.

City leaders who take the time to plan which systems they want to implement, how they intend to integrate their data and when they plan on replacing or upgrading parts of their system of systems will ensure they have a dynamic, scalable data environment that they know how to leverage and secure.

Following these steps will make it more likely that a smart city implementation will go smoothly, so city leaders — and the public — can benefit from these modern-day investments.

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