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Building the Future Now with Smart City ICT

An IDC Government Insights White Paper

The implementation of Smart City technology is as much about finding a business model that offers a return on the initial investment and support for system maintenance as it is about potential Smart City applications.

In this article, we explore how Smart City systems work and then provide an overview of ways the systems can be used. We conclude with nine best practices that have proven to help cities successfully roll out cost-effective Smart City technology. By following these best practices, cities can improve public safety and city services while limiting initial costs and boosting economic prospects for years to come.

Relying on the IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) offers an abundance of capabilities for use by Smart City installations. The value of the IoT begins with new information. For example, strategically placed acoustic sensors that detect gunshots have shown that previous assumptions about the levels of gun activity in some U.S. neighborhoods were wrong. Police departments believed that individuals called ‘911’ 80 percent of the time after shots were fired. In fact, this percentage could be as low as 20 percent.

The IoT also accelerates information dissemination. For example, city inspectors collect data on the structural integrity of bridges and other infrastructures but are often understaffed, preventing these inspectors from checking all the infrastructures as thoroughly as needed. Sensors on bridges, however, can provide structural integrity information at regular intervals, alerting inspectors when potential problems may need attention.

In general, the IoT provides more topical information — often in real time — such as status signals sent from parking sensors to smartphone Apps that alert drivers of available spaces. Another example could be the ability of transportation managers to continuously monitor the location of all public buses and mobile Apps that keep travelers updated with accurate bus arrival and departures times.

Device Enablement Meets Application Enablement

While it is common to think of the IoT as a loose collection of sensors and gadgets spread across the city, the true value of the IoT emerges in the higher-level applications that transform sensor data into useful insights. The sensors, surveillance cameras, and other data-gathering devices are networked with computers running software that brings intelligence to the system.

Even though they function at a relatively low level, device enablement services can still manage devices and ensure the back-and-forth flow of data. Key components include:

  • Activation
  • Certification
  • Diagnostics
  • Provisioning

Thus, device enablement focuses on the vertical movement of data between ‘things’ and computers. In contrast, application enablement concentrates on the horizontal integration of software applications that use IoT data. This form of enablement includes Big Data analytics and the ability to make real-time decisions about collected data. Intelligent analytics are vital for extracting the value of Smart City IoT.

Intelligence at the Edge and in the Cloud

Big Data analytics and other applications ideally run on cloud computing platforms or High-Performance Computing (HPC) systems. The latter are cost-effective for tasks ranging from the simulation of complex physical systems to real-time detection of credit card fraud.

In addition to cloud computing and HPC, edge computing has emerged as a useful way to manage diverse types of connections with IoT devices, handle real-time services, optimize data, provide application intelligence, ensure security, and protect privacy.

Edge computing (and a subset of edge capabilities called fog computing) is defined as computing performed near the edge of a WAN or near endpoint devices at the edge of an IoT network (as opposed to the computational processing that that occurs at the cloud data centers). Edge computing allows organizations to satisfy the requirements for lower costs and faster responses that are impossible with data transmissions between endpoint devices and servers located in far-away data centers.

Edge computing — defined as processing at the perimeter of the network rather than at the data centers — offers value by analyzing raw, granular data close to the source, and 1) feeding only the results to higher-level applications, or 2) controlling local IoT devices in real time, at the lowest possible latency.

In addition to improving real-time response close to IoT endpoint devices, edge computing will likely develop into wide-area, decentralized cooperative platforms for IoT and data distribution business platforms by connecting with endpoint devices.

Smart City Goals

The uses for Smart City technology seem endless, but it is worthwhile to underscore a few of the most promising applications:

  • Municipal administration — Smart City technology aggregates and analyzes information within city ecosystems and makes useful information accessible across departments and agencies. This data serves as the foundation for new or improved internal processes and decision-making procedures.
  • Smart lighting — IoT-equipped LED lights can implement adaptable dimming, and the existing street fixture infrastructure is ideal for the installation of other sensors and devices. Streetlights thus become a platform for additional Smart City services.
  • Smart grid — Smart grids enable more efficient management of electrical power outages and other revenue-impacting business processes. The deployment of intelligent endpoints will enable utilities to improve the management of electric usage and optimize the use of distributed generation sources. Smart grid systems include instrumented gas pipe-lines, electric transmission and distribution networks, smart metering, smart home energy management, and demand response.
  • Smart transportation — Transportation systems can leverage the IoT to monitor the movement of people and freight on roads, intersections, bridges, and tunnels, as well as track public transportation vehicles, such as light rail, subways, and buses.
  • Smart education — Schools can use computing and communications capabilities to improve the management of facilities and student care along with implementing interactive classrooms.
  • Smart and connected healthcare — The healthcare industry benefits from the use of intelligent devices (including smartphones and wireless medical devices) and pervasive broadband networks that provide always-on connectivity, along with Big Data analytics and cloud computing.

Funneling Data to an Operations Center

Among the most powerful collections of Smart City technology are the Intelligent Operation Centers (IOCs). IOCs enable cities to integrate disparate data sources in order to provide an operational and actionable picture of the city’s assets. Near-real-time data visualization gives city managers the understanding and insights necessary to handle both day-to-day and emergency situations efficiently. IOC solutions can provide comprehensive support for Smart City businesses, acting as the central orchestration element for administrative systems (implementing business data exchange and coordination), industrial systems (integrating city needs with industrial planning), and environmental systems (monitoring and forecasting water, energy, air, and soil conditions).

It bears noting that command and control centers are completely different from IOCs. In times of crisis, however, IOCs are force multipliers for command and control situations — critical tools that enable public safety organizations to integrate a plethora of information sources. City agencies can, in this way, use advanced analytics, Geographic Information System (GIS) visualization software, and sensor data generated by the IoT and mobile applications. GIS technologies are vital. They pictorially make sense of the overwhelming flood of data with which organizations currently struggle.

Safe Cities

Both IOCs and associated command/control centers are important components to every successful Safe City effort. Safe Cities deliver social value, such as better overall quality of life, and economic value like industrial development, improved employment rates, and revenue generation from sources such as increased tourism.

Today’s Safe Cities utilize Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to predict, prevent, and reduce crime; address new and emerging threats; improve emergency/disaster planning and response; lower the cost of operations; and allocate resources more effectively. These cities work to create safer communities using advanced analytics, social media, mobile technologies, and collaboration and information sharing tools to support emergency response services, local law enforcement and policing, and the justice and corrections system including local courts and locally operated jails and prisons, as well as probation, community corrections, and parole departments.

Nine Best Practices for Smart Cities

Experiences with Smart City development have shown that the following best practices can help achieve useful results at a reasonable cost.

  • Create city-wide, inclusive Smart City strategies: This approach serves to gather stakeholder input in order to prioritize each city’s goals by focusing on specific challenges that stakeholders face, aligning departments around common visions with internal and external buy-ins, and different approaches to the chosen starting point for each city. By including external stakeholder participation early on, the strategy gains local buy-ins and legitimacy, and increases the likelihood for broad support of the initiatives.

Smart City best-practice planning and use of stakeholders

  • Realize regional variation in IOC implementation: Many cities are adopting open, city-wide platforms that use cloud-based technologies. Western cities are less likely to have large, multi-department operating centers, preferring to work with physically separate locations that share a data layer provided by cloud solutions. Integrated data visualization requires substantial buy-in from multiple stakeholders and departments. Once this is accomplished, however, the benefits of implementation will have far greater reach and impact for the city. Risk will also be shared across departments.
  • Look for quick wins: The development of Smart Cities is a long-term, complex endeavor, but the implementation of discrete Smart City projects that fit into a long-term vision can be expedited. A recommended path is to develop a strategic vision and then identify small, measurable public projects that will demonstrate success. Examples include limited video analytics projects and body-worn camera deployments.
  • Focus on governance: In IDC’s case study research, many public safety groups have stressed that organizations starting multi-agency, data-sharing arrangements should pay special attention to governance. Comparatively, technology is the easy part.
  • Take a multi-agency focus from the onset: IDC recommends that organizations tied closely to the economic challenges currently facing law enforcement fundamentally change their operational ecosystem. Various units within an organization and among multiple agencies can pool resources and create centralized cloud repositories.
  • Ensure data quality: Data quality and validation are critical to using insights across multiple agencies. Organizations typically underestimate the amount of effort required to harmonize and integrate information from multiple systems. Information models such as the U.S.-originated National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) will become invaluable in ensuring that data sharing can occur with optimal fluidity.
  • Seek out scalability and easy integration: Irrespective of the cloud deployment model implemented by a city, that city needs to build or purchase a scalable architecture that can accommodate and manage all digital assets.
  • Go mobile: Mobile devices and mobile-enabled core ‘business’ solutions are key for effective police service delivery. Police officers need the capability to enter and receive real-time data to enhance situational awareness.
  • Quantify business outcomes: Municipal organizations seldom make it a priority to quantify business outcomes. However, IDC recommends that organizations define Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) prior to implementing an IOC in order to make a strong case for further business investments and set the stage for communicating success to citizens, tourists, and businesses.

Thriving in Smart Cities

The core goal of a Smart City is sustainable economic development and growth. Smart Cities use Smart City initiatives to attract more businesses, startups, tourists, visitors, and residents. By optimizing urban transportation, Smart Cities make it easier for people to shop, attend events, and go to work. Safe Cities and clean cities that follow sustainable environmental practices attract companies and individuals who want a good place to live and work. Many Smart City features pay for themselves in a short time, and nearly all of them offer long-term payoffs in the form of thriving social and economic activity.

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