How to embark on becoming a smart digital city of tomorrow

© Busakorn Pongparnit

Harjott Atrii, Executive Vice President and Global Head, Digital Foundation Services, at Zensar, explains how cities can embark on a smart/digital journey

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) forecasts that by 2050 the world population will reach nine billion, of whom 70% will live in urban centres. In anticipation, many cities across the globe like Singapore, Dubai and San Francisco have digitally transformed themselves in response to some of the greatest global challenges: population growth, pollution, scarcity of resources, water management and energy efficiency.

These cities have taken this leap towards being future-ready by relying on Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) & technologies like AI, ML & cloud to effectively and sustainably manage everything from transport to Energy, Water & Gas management, public spaces and communication with their inhabitants.

For those cities considering the transition to becoming smarter, it’s important to note the process takes time. Many cities have failed to meet expectations because they didn’t lay the right digital foundation and plan the journey well.

Alongside our partners, we have had the pleasure of working with cities to engage their residents, empower city employees, optimise city operations and infrastructure, and transform to accelerate innovation and opportunity. You can call these cities as “smart”, “intelligent”, “digital”, “cyber”, “informational” or “wired” but the objective remains the same – improved efficiency, sustainability, and competitiveness — offering a better economy and higher quality of life to its residents.

Supporting one of the top ten biggest US cities in becoming “smart”

The city sought a connected, modernised infrastructure for better governance, economic development, stable connectivity and improved quality of life for its residents. The answer to addressing these problems was smart city solutions. Smart cities rely on a combination of core technologies such as computing, storage, databases, data warehouses and advanced technologies, including analytics on big data, real-time streaming data, AI, ML and IoT.

The most common barriers cities face when implementing smart city technologies is the in-house capacity and capability to design, implement and manage them and the investment needed to do the same.

How can cloud-based solutions support going “smart”

Cloud technology is designed to lower entry barriers by allowing cities to optimise the use of these technologies to improve existing or create new services that positively affect their residents’ quality of life.

Smart cities generate enormous amounts of streaming data from sensors, edge devices and the backhaul infrastructure. Ingesting, storing and analysing this real-time data usually requires significant computing capacity. Data intake must take millions or even billions of devices into account. This capacity also must scale based on the amount of input and the type of analysis performed. The solution should be able to scale easily based on demand.

For example, in the case of proactive energy management, it is important to understand electricity usage patterns through deep analytics. Electricity usage stored in the data lake is consumed by the analytics and visualisation layers to derive value from it. Analysing large data sets typically requires significant compute capacity that can scale.

Most of the cloud vendors offer a highly distributed computing framework, providing capabilities for analysing such data in near real-time as well as through batches. One of the key components of the analytics layer is the use of machine learning for performing predictive analytics, either batch or real-time. ML service and ML modules have been built in cloud platforms which remove the need to learn complex algorithms/technology from scratch.

It’s useful to note that the data volume of smart cities will almost certainly expand substantially. It may require inexpensive and secure archival, which is where cloud archival storage features come in handy and offer extremely low-cost, secure and reliable cold storage service.

Be “smart” by being secure

A smart, digital city also needs to ensure data security, privacy and reliability with minimal technology debt. Implementing security at scale for a smart city is always a top-of-the-mind predicament for any city leader.

Cloud platforms provide multiple security solutions like Identity and Access Management solutions, data encryption, key management, device authentication and platform API security which can be easily integrated with on-premise solutions as well.

Cities typically prefer open-source platforms, and most cloud services have been built on such platforms. Many vendors promote open source technologies and platforms like Linux, Apache Hadoop etc., which further reduce down the cost and increase reliability.

How can European cities become “smarter”?

European cities can explore new-age digital technologies like cloud, etc. that are now becoming mainstream to connect various citizen-centric public utility services. As residents are maturing towards living highly evolved digital lives through the proliferation of user-friendly digital interactions, they expect the same from their community services.

While there’s no clear blueprint to becoming a smart city, these are fundamental steps for all cities to embark on this journey. By using smart city solutions, understanding and evaluating the cloud solutions available, cities can become smarter. The result of doing so promotes a better economy and a better quality of life for their residents. Additionally, they can enhance the way they work with the citizens making them co-creators of a better standard of life.


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