Implementing a 21st century municipal ecosystem

Strategies for designing and implementing a smart city are evolving rapidly as new technologies, regulations, and business models emerge. Current thinking, which conceptualizes a digitally integrated, intelligent IoT municipal ecosystem encompassing smart utilities, buildings, factories, and urban mobility overlaid by high-speed 5G, AI and Blockchain networks.

Funded and orchestrated by public-private partnerships (PPPs), this data-driven, sensory rich and aware landscape will greatly expand engagement and transactions between governments, citizens, businesses and public services. To emphasize the scale of these projects, a major multinational telecom vendor operator has offered the following three numbers to demonstrate the magnitude of current smart city architecture.

Massive Smart Cities IoT Rollout in Progress

The first number is 360,000 percent. That is the amount of traffic growth this vendor has seen on their wireless network in the last 10 years. The second number is 50 million. That’s the number of IoT devices currently deployed on the vendor’s network. The last number is 5. Five dollars is what it costs to build a silicon LTE modem chip into a device.

The processing and functioning status of most anything and everything in the physical world (and not just existing powered electronics but many otherwise inert ‘thing’, like the concrete beams in a bridge or the foundation of a building) can be made aware with tiny sensors and connected in orders of magnitude scale volumes via high speed communication networks to cloud storage and analytics engines for nearly instantaneous assessment and response where necessary. That is the essence of the Smart City.

With 50 billion IoT devices projected to be deployed in the coming years in the US alone, we’re witnessing an explosive growth curve that will continue for years to come. Therefore, keep in mind when you are building your smart city that you are not building it for today’s needs. You are building it for tomorrow’s needs. (Almost) everything is going to be interconnected. Standards, communication platforms, data management schemes and protocols all need to be designed to handle the traffic flow for tomorrow.

Data governance

As Google, Facebook and others have so clearly demonstrated, massive amounts of data, when actionable, hold a lot of monetary value. Data brings with it not only analytical challenges but also privacy and security demand as well. It starts with cybersecurity and data governance. Cities need to seize the initiative with their data. They need to own the data and create governance models around it. Cybersecurity is all over the map. Everybody is trying to get control of the data. It’s an understatement to say that it is a balancing act to completely open up data while at the same time maintain a sufficient level of control over it.
Along with data ownership and protection comes the challenge — or opportunity — of how data gets stored and utilized by different analytic tools. In the computer world it’s data in the cloud. From one cloud to another you have 20 apps. The data underlying those applications is in 20 other places.

But who is responsible for coordinating this data ‘ballet’? Data ownership and protection can easily get out of hand very quickly. Data governance therefore is a critical issue that must be addressed in any smart city plan. As cities begin this journey, they have to catalog what data they have collected and what the privacy level is of that data. Once they create the privacy level, they have to create owners for the data sets. And once they assign that responsibility, the process then goes to the next level of keeping the data for certain attributes and semantics and protection layer based on how it is classified.

Data governance is not new. The models exist and the same principles need to be applied to the smart cities space. But it’s in a different domain. The technology side is somewhat manageable and straightforward. You can lock it as much as you want or you can make it as much open as you want. It is the legal side of it that needs to get addressed before we go on the technology journey. Do we have the right General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) policy in place?

Measuring by the value added to communities

Building the business case and developing financial analysis around any plan is vital. But building smart should not be for the sake of smart. Research is showing that smart cities provide the best resource for growth and the smart city is now a process rather than just a place. The process is on centers of production and consumptions of services which are interrelated to other cities. Thus, what use to be stand-alone places, smart cities become integrated in networks of productive cities; tied together for future economic success. As for one example of this interdependence, take Alex Pentland, a scholar at MIT, who utilized mobile phone GPS data to examine patterns among residents’ activities (e.g. shopping, daily chores, recreational travel, etc.) among restaurants, service shops, entertainment venues and other enterprises, to show how business models could be developed to predict behaviors, traffic, commerce as they emerge from the smart city and they enhance commerce and how merchants can create better business strategies.

by CMG Consulting