Smart City : A Strategist’s Coolio !!


According to Wiki a SMART CITY is an urban development vision to integrate multiple information and communication technology (ICT) and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions in a secure fashion to manage a city’s assets – the city’s assets include, but are not limited to, local departments’ information systems, schools, libraries, transportation systems, hospitals, power plants, water supply networks, waste management, law enforcement, and other community services.

The goal of building a smart city is to improve quality of life by using urban informatics and technology to improve the efficiency of services and meet residents’ needs. ICT allows city officials to interact directly with the community and the city infrastructure and to monitor what is happening in the city, how the city is evolving, and how to enable a better quality of life. Through the use of sensors integrated with real-time monitoring systems, data are collected from citizens and devices – then processed and analyzed. The information and knowledge gathered are keys to tackling inefficiency.

Turning a regular city into a smart city is not simple. There are a lot of challenges and issues to be tackled: Identifying the funding sources; defining the strategic plan; knowing the right benefits to the citizen and so on. But with well-defined standards and best practices, a complex path can be simplified into one that is easy to follow. Smart cities can be constructed over a set of digital services connected using smart solutions. But the common scenario in the public sector is that city planners know their problem but have no idea about how the smart solution could solve it.

A smart city will never be delivered well by a single company…rather a strategic plan based on the ‘start small, think big’ philosophy that will guide the city along the transformation path . The establishment of a smart ecosystem is necessary to provide all the solutions needed and to deliver services to end customers. With this in mind, the roles of each company should be well defined, as well as the expected results. This will create the real value fabric needed for a win-win relationship and to ensure the quality of the service at the end.

Barcelona , the capital of Mobile World Congress , has established a number of projects that can be considered ‘smart city’ applications within its “CityOS” strategy.For example, sensor technology has been implemented in the irrigation system in Parc del Centre de Poblenou, where real time data is transmitted to gardening crews about the level of water required for the plants. Barcelona has also designed a new bus network based on data analysis of the most common traffic flows in Barcelona, utilising primarily vertical, horizontal and diagonal routes with a number of interchanges.

Integration of multiple smart city technologies can be seen through the implementation of smart traffic lights as buses run on routes designed to optimise the number of green lights. In addition, where an emergency is reported in Barcelona, the approximate route of the emergency vehicle is entered into the traffic light system, setting all the lights to green as the vehicle approaches through a mix of GPS and traffic management software, allowing emergency services to reach the incident without delay. Much of this data is being developed into practical solutions in the 22@Barcelona District, and has been enhanced by an opensource data pooling middleware.

The biggest challenge for most smart cities is the efficiency of managing and distributing resources to citizens and businesses. This has been attributed to the lack of a consolidated means of communication and data sharing – an issue that was acknowledged by Smart Dubai and pioneered its mandate for Open Communication among strategic partners from the private and public sector. Effective smart city leadership is not simply a matter of strong, top-down governance. It is much more about ensuring that the smart city is built around the citizen and their needs and aspirations. One of the core requirements of a smart city is the ability to engage citizens in tackling challenges – that includes residents, businesses and other community stakeholders. Achieving this can require cultural and organizational transformation, and there are technical challenges too.

Stockholm’s smart city technology is underpinned by the Stokab dark fibre system which was developed in 1994 to provide a universal fibre optic network across Stockholm Private companies are able to lease fibre as service providers on equal terms. The company is owned by the City of Stockholm itself.Within this framework, Stockholm has created a Green IT strategy.The Green IT program seeks to reduce the environmental impact of Stockholm through IT functions such as energy efficient buildings (minimising heating costs), traffic monitoring (minimising the time spent on the road) and development of e-services (minimising paper usage). The e-Stockholm platform is centred on the provision of e-services, including political announcements, parking space booking and snow clearance. This is further being developed through GPS analytics, allowing residents to plan their route through the city.

Many pundits believe that there is a very clear historical analogy between electrification and the technologies related to IoT/Smart Cities. They suspect that we are still in the early stages of the ‘Smart City/IoT’ and that it’s very hard to place winning bets on IoT technologies and applications at this time. However, we can foresee certain infrastructural solutions that will be needed in order for all of this to work, and whose shape and characteristics we can determine now. Like electrification there will be an entire secondary industry that will spring up to meet the infrastructure and logistical needs of the new technology. While we can’t predict the successful ‘Smart City’/IoT ideas in advance we can see a clear need to provide an entire suite of services to manage the very large amounts of time sensitive data that it will involve.

The infrastructure of the Smart City may not be standardized for at least 10 years. While cities and large corporations are starting to deploy networks with client download speeds of up to 1000mb/s, little thought has been given to how we give access within a smart city to the multitude of devices that will need to have reliable bi-directional connectivity in such an environment.Who will pay for bandwidth used by sensors that may perform  important functions but aren’t owned by anyone in particular and don’t have user interfaces that lend themselves to configuration? How will the bandwidth be regulated, and by whom? While various cities have created their own individual public WAN, the lack of standardized mechanisms for access and usage management is clearly comparable to the disconnected and piecemeal spread of electric power generation.

As the devices get closer and closer to people the data will become inherently sensitive. A simple example: If you install a smart power meter or smart light bulbs, anyone with access to the data feed will know when you are not at home, even if it was never a design goal of the system. Vendors will need to store some level of personal data to build a subscription base, and a failure to secure this data can represent an existential threat to their business. Frost & Sullivan have predicted security to be the single biggest issue in the technology industry in 2016. A lot of data collected by IoT devices can be repurposed with evil intent, with one example being utility meter data, which can be used to determine when a building is unoccupied. Direct ownership and stewardship of data comes with costs which may challenge many start-ups

Telfonica provide digital solutions that enable a whole new generation of services and businesses all managed from an integrated and open FIWARE compliant platform. The FIWARE platform provides a rather simple yet powerful set of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that ease the development of Smart Applications in multiple vertical sectors. The specifications of these APIs are public and royalty-free. Besides, an open source reference implementation of each of the FIWARE components is publicly available so that multiple FIWARE providers can emerge faster in the market with a low-cost proposition.

TM Forum, the global industry association for digital business, recently announced a joint collaboration program (JCP) with the FIWARE Foundation to co-develop a Smart City API Reference Architecture enabling portability and interoperability of smart city solutions as well as a repeatable data economy model. This initiative presents significant opportunities for cities, communications service providers, technology suppliers and other parties to realize their part in the API economy, which according to IBM, will be a $2.2 Trillion market by 2018.

Recognizing its growing adoption by cities, TM Forum will incorporate the FIWARE NGSI API into its Smart City API Reference Architecture, thereby exposing FIWARE to TM Forum’s diverse global ecosystem of city governments, communications service providers, technology suppliers and global enterprises. The FIWARE NGSI API provides access to contextual information about what is going on in cities in near real-time, and can be adopted by cities, service providers and technology suppliers who wish to benefit from and monetize real-time open data.

There is no doubt that cities providing a digital platform business model will unlock innovation and economic growth for their whole population as well as the broader ecosystem of service providers and suppliers. Smart Cities will no longer be only about performing a more efficient management of municipal services but transforming cities into enablers of an Economy of Data !!

Sadiq Malik ( Telco Strategist )


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