Earlier this year, I published the blog post Seven Factors behind the Rise of the Smart City Era, which revealed how networks, telecommunications, and the Internet of Everything facilitate development of Smart City applications and platforms. These factors converge to form a smart integrated infrastructure that is more distributed, connected, intelligent and useful, which is accelerating Smart City progress.
The momentum behind the Smart City evolution is surging. At the Meeting of the Minds summit in Richmond, California, I’m participating in a panel discussion that will look at our smart urban future and ask, “Are we there yet?” Aligned with that panel discussion, this blog describes our headway in the smart evolution, as well as the approaches that cities are using to plot their progress.
Smart City Evolution
A lot has happened since I posted the previous blog. Cities and utilities are capitalizing on emerging analytics to become more aware, linked, efficient, resilient and economically viable—capstones of a Smart City. To ensure provision of adequate services and resources for current and future populations, cities are embracing the Smart City concept and implementing a variety of projects and programs that use smarter and more integrated infrastructure. Examples include projects that mitigate electric outage risks, which help maintain reliable critical human infrastructure. Water leak detection helps save critical resources and manage expenditures efficiently. Energy Storage projects build resilience into utility systems, reduce peak demand, and help increase the quality and diversity of power generation. Connected infrastructure provides a backbone for municipal communications as well as a mechanism for public awareness. Smart transportation projects and citizen engagement apps optimize time and increase safety, boosting socio-economic value. These projects are happening now, in cities of all sizes and geographies, while Smart City Roadmaps are being developed and implemented.
Smart City Path Approach
The Path approach involves development of a Smart City Roadmap. The Roadmap demystifies complex urban systems and illuminates each city’s unique path to smart status.
The traditional Roadmap process consists of the identification of goals and objectives, followed by needs discovery, use case development, and architecture development. Goals and objectives are mapped to the architecture to establish a phased approach for implementation. The Path approach is incredibly valuable because it allows study of complex interactions of variables and can lead to a highly integrated, cohesive solution.
In the best scenario, the Roadmap becomes a living document, updated alongside advancements in technology, which ensures an adaptive process that aligns with city needs. The Roadmap is an intellectual exercise that builds confidence in the solution framework. In less optimal circumstances, however, the Path approach can limit innovation by being too prescriptive, ignoring incremental improvement and rapid technological advancement in favor of a larger cohesive solution that may never truly manifest.
Smart City Journey Approach
The Journey approach also considers goals and objectives, but it is action-oriented to take advantage of current, incremental benefits. The evolutionary Journey approach reflects past, present and future, and matches available technology, funds and advocacy. It can favor Smart City applications that show immediate return-on-investment, such as smart connected streetlights, smart parking apps, and advertising enabled Wi-Fi kiosks and bus stops. Each smart step provokes excitement and demonstrable return, which fuels the greater initiative of a smarter, more connected city infrastructure.
The Journey approach still requires development of a larger framework of consideration, so that incremental steps allow a smart city to emerge. This framework can be conceptual to start. An open platform can unfold over time, allowing subsequent applications to benefit and leverage from the existing framework, at marginal incremental cost. Without this framework, the Journey approach can lead to orphaned applications that do not interact and provide suboptimal benefits.
Advocacy Ensures Progress
The sponsorship level of the program has a lot to do with the approach cities choose. I cannot emphasize this enough: securing advocates within the city, at the working level, is critically important, and equally so, those advocates must rally support up the line to the City CIO and Mayor. A Smart City can only evolve if a team is willing to engage, and leadership recognizes the value of a successful implementation. The momentum behind advocacy can cultivate a safer, healthier, more effective city—one that amplifies livability and brings greater economic value to the region. In its simplest terms, this value could generate better citizen engagement, translating to support and votes for key civic leaders.
Two Routes, One Smart Destination
Which route should cities take on the Smart City trek: Path or Journey? One thing is certain—progress is inevitable. Innovators are taking advantage of the Internet of Things to create applications, programs, and platforms that market to city services. They are pressing hard at the application or platform level, and successfully implementing those that demonstrate a positive return-on-investment. The most effective Smart City programs are those that take advantage of these early initiatives while developing the framework and planning for an integrated solution. Investment in Smart City implementation will advance through demonstration of value, by beginning the Journey. However, investment will have the greatest impact if a framework emerges along the Path, one that unites applications and platforms, so that the established Smart City becomes greater than the sum of its parts.