A look into tomorrow's smart cities
The latest theme of the Smart City World Congress in Barcelona was “Cities to live in”. It excited me because the world is a big place and technology is ever expanding, so I was curious to see what the thought leaders in the Smart Cities industry had to share about “Cities to live in” as I have thoughts of my own.
We live in a world where technology is a cornerstone of the cities transformation, so it wasn’t surprising that Digital Transformation was an important track at this event. And topics included “How to power the IoT revolution and make sense of data,” “Connecting industries and societies,” “Making the most of data in a multi-cloud world,” “Blockchain and the day to day impact of A.I.” and “Addressing the new challenges and vulnerabilities of the connected city.” There was no shortage of conversations on thought provoking topics, but there was one key topic we all came back to.
While participating at the event with my employer, ALE which had a booth in the exhibition hall, many visitors validated the idea of the citizen as the center focus. My colleagues and I heard many city representatives share how their first expectation is to put the citizen at the core of all their services, so citizens can benefit from and contribute to the city services. Their ambition is to see a citizen who will collaborate with the administrative city services, with the public safety services, with the waste management services so that they are an active player, at the core of a smarter city. One of our government solutions objectives is to put the technology at the service of this ambition, to create connected, thriving communities. So we spoke the same language.
The conversations with city IT and project managers focused on concrete use cases around citizen-centric mobility; How to deploy IoT in smart cities, cloud and public safety in existing city infrastructures without affecting current operations; How to measure operations effectiveness; How to control deployment and maintenance costs; How to bring together the old, often manual and the new, automatic technologies without a rip and replace strategy; and last but not least, How to move from reactive events and incident tracking to preventive public safety?
Following is a bit more detail on the Digital Transformation topics overhead from and discussed at the Smart Cities World Congress 2018. Hope you find them as interesting as we did.
Getting the foundation ready for citizen-centric technology. As everyone agreed on people-centricity, “Where and how should a digital transformation project start?” was a question that came back very often at the event, especially from the technical teams. To add innovations on top of any existing technologies, optimizing the network foundation would be a wise and necessary first step. Optimization helps reduce costs related to outdated technologies and integration, improves performance and security, and opens the solution to integrate future use cases. As cities and communities strive to integrate the latest innovations in mobility, data analytics, cloud computing, IoT or A.I. into their processes and IT systems, it quickly becomes clear that their underlying network infrastructure will be fundamental to achieving a people-centric network.
Bringing added-value services where the people are, instead of the other way around. As city residents begin using their mobile phones everywhere, for everything, a big challenge for city network administrators is to deploy a citizen-centric mobility strategy by finding ways to engage with citizens on the platforms they already use. Citizen and residents already use social media channels or city apps to communicate, so avoiding pushing them to yet another app for every new use case can greatly help user participation. Instead, cities can start by defining the new need, the types of services to answer those needs, the various digital touch points (mobile apps, websites, phones, digital displays, social media channels) and consider a Communication platforms as a service (CPaaS) model that can integrate added-value services transparently with existing solutions or applications. Additionally, as it is hosted in the cloud, CPaaS simplifies evolutions and reduces maintenance efforts.
Onboarding citizen mobile devices onto the network easily and securely. The mobility explosion is already putting great pressure on the municipal Wi-Fi, in terms of access, bandwidth and data security. City managers face the issue of onboarding and securing the multiple different devices users bring to the network, and offering a safe access to the public network for everyone, even in crowded spaces or times. An IoT Containment strategy can help cities embrace user centricity, mobility and BYOD, control network access, manage bandwidth allocation dynamically and secure data traffic thanks to separate network containers for different user profiles.
Pushing user-centricity and public safety further with location-based services. Whether tracking individuals, guiding tourists, or helping to identify crime, location-based services are becoming increasingly correlated with data analytics to provide powerfully targeted information and help rethink crowd safety for instance. For instance, they can help send alert messages during emergencies and natural disasters to people located near the affected areas. Going even further, they can offer insightful analytics on crowd behaviors in public buildings or gatherings, helping safety departments to proactively model movements and reactions to any type of situation.
Moving to a predictive approach by bringing together data from older and newer technologies. Many cities have floods notifications services, but how does that work behind the scenes? An interesting use case is the traditional sewers systems, still based on cards to collect sensor data. Engineers go down, collect the cards and then input the data into their systems. This data, together with other information from traffic solutions, citizen generated alerts, and many more, are often manually input by the emergency teams into the central emergency system, because the different systems are not communicating. The integration of this kind of disparate systems to make them communicate, can help move to an automated data gathering and processing, and moreover, to a predictive approach, thanks to analytics and data modelling.
Making sense of city data to become people-centric and proactive. Cities of all sizes are taking IoT very seriously, recognizing the opportunity to collect valuable information and control infrastructure. Intelligent IoT-ready networks integrating user, system, equipment or vehicles data start to develop. They generate unprecedented volumes of data, presenting challenges for network management and security. Besides a resilient network, city managers look for the connected building blocks to bring together data from disparate sources and systems, such data from city sensors, residents’ data input via mobile apps or social media groups, and then use them to take reactive actions.
At ALE, we are looking beyond that, into proactive actions. One such example is the use of big data and automation systems integration via a connected objects hub: By combining weather data and the sun position, the city managers can save public energy and budget with an action as simple as closing/opening the blinds in a public building based on a combination of sun position/day/month/year/action, or automatically switching off the lights at the end of an activity. This example can be applied to anything, from traffic to public utilities.
A.I.: how cognitive communications can further personalize the cities experience. Artificial intelligence (AI) is starting to change the game in smart cities also, helping personalize information down the user level, for very specific needs. Smart bots, advanced natural language interactions, AI and other technologies are revolutionizing how people interface with communications and collaboration solutions, something we in ALE call cognitive communications. How can cognitive communications change the cities? From digital twins assisting real-life public servants with instant automatic meeting management; bots streamlining city information on virtually any topic by searching, finding and returning the information that residents or tourists request; AI learning from user behavior and preferences, and becoming better over time at using data to anticipate user needs or global city behaviors. With AI learning, cities could offer tourists personalized maps based on their preferences, suggest phrases to auto-complete eServices requests based on available services, or suggest alternative routes based on past traffic jams analysis and current events taking place.
Do you want to know more about the use cases above or share your use case with us? Write to us, and we will put you in contact with our brightest experts. They will find a solution to your most challenging use case! Or visit our Government Solutions page to see other use cases.
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