Sascha Giese, Head Geek™, SolarWinds explores how smart cities are becoming the future of urban areas, and the challenges that the public sector needs to overcome to utilise these initiatives
Urban life is developing at an unprecedented rate, and the infrastructure it relies on is quickly becoming inadequate. Many towns and cities are beginning to introduce technology to improve the daily lives of inhabitants in a move to become smart cities. IDC predicts that global spending on smart cities will hit $95.8 billion this year, while London alone is expected to invest over $1 billion in smart city programmes in 2019. From New York in the U.S. to Palava in India, smart cities are providing a new way of living and working—but not without their own unique set of challenges.
Putting smart cities on the map
A smart city is an urban area using the Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices and services to collect data to manage processes and resources to increase efficiency. Facilities often involved in these schemes include traffic and transportation systems, water supply networks, waste management, crime detection, and hospitals. Innovative technology is either built into existing infrastructure or added from scratch to create a picture of the services being used by the general public and to identify where improvements could be made.
A huge number of areas can benefit from smart city programmes, both on a national scale and in smaller, more local initiatives. Engagement between the government and the general public can be increased through better digital services that improve communication, thereby leading to a greater sense of trust in authorities.
Similarly, part of what makes people feel safe is tighter security—CCTV is being enhanced by facial recognition technology, as well as the addition of panic buttons and alarms throughout urban areas to help emergency services get to people in need. Meanwhile, at a local level, traffic data can be used to better manage congestion and traffic flow in towns and cities, and identify areas that are more incident-prone and where road layouts or management can be improved to reduce accidents.
Bumps in the road
As many found out when they installed smart electricity meters, which was the first foray into smart cities, one of the biggest challenges that teams will face is the increased amount of data generated that will flow between the government and any third-party providers it uses. The difficulty is that the public may not trust the systems in use and the third-party companies behind them. For much of the data being collected, if not all, there’s no option to opt out, and therefore residents are unable to consent to their data being used in any way.
There’s also the question of who owns the data that is being collected and analysed? Regulators may be required to keep control over this to ensure any partner companies using the data do so in line with government regulations and policies. However, these challenges are no different from any business adopting IoT, for example, to connect two offices to the same network and systems, and therefore the government should be able to follow the same steps as private sector organisations.
A more internal challenge is how the infrastructure that supports the new technology should be managed. Employees that will be working with the data need to be trained in the new processes that are required—though much of the analysis may be conducted externally, government officials will need to assess where to implement improvements. Internal systems and networks will also potentially need updating to allow for the additional data influx and storage capacity, while government IT security solutions will need to be prioritised to ensure the data is kept out of harm’s way.
With an increase in the number of endpoints that are connected to the central government’s network, along with the increased data flow that these will create, IT teams need to ensure the network is capable of handling this and the data can be transported across all of the relevant departments without disruption. Monitoring all of this efficiently will require solutions such as network performance monitors, network configuration managers and device trackers—and more specific solutions like traffic analysers—which can all be implemented to monitor the network, reduce outages, save time, and optimise IT resources.
Paving the way to a smarter future
Becoming a smart city takes time—after all, Rome wasn’t built in a day—and so neither will the smart cities of the future. But there are small steps that the government can take to begin this journey, and the first stage before any tangible changes can take place is planning. Local and central government departments need to consider the budgets that are available in different locations, and whether the technologies being proposed will be cost-effective. Teams working on these projects should take into account what is most beneficial to citizens when prioritising initiatives, instead of starting with the cheapest or easiest solution.
Once initial planning begins, the government will need to determine which third-party organisations will be chosen to assist with the programmes. Evaluations will need to assess each potential organisation to ensure that only trustworthy and cost-effective solutions are used to implement and manage IoT systems. This will include confirming agreements on data use and ownership, and ensuring all data collected complies with GDPR and other regulations. Following this, pilot projects should be run as small, manageable initiatives teams can learn from to design better strategies as the projects increase in size and difficulty.
As smart cities slowly become the norm, governments across the globe will need to invest in the necessary technology and training now to allow these rapidly developing innovations to benefit the wider public. Though this may seem like a difficult journey to embark on, it’s key to keep in mind the perceived challenges of creating a smart city are, in reality, not so different from the challenges any organisation faces when integrating IoT devices and systems, and therefore the solutions are far more manageable than they may first appear.
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