Microsoft Ignite, Beyoncé and What a Smart City Should Do

 In Accelerite Blog

Dean Hamilton recently joined the Accelerate family as Senior Vice President and General Manager of Accelerite’s IoT Service Enablement Business Unit.  Here, Dean shares a few thoughts about IoT apps, Smart City ecosystems and how an IoT service creation and enrichment platform could make a city smarter when a major technology conference and a Beyoncé concert hit town at the same time.

First, what’s your definition of a “smart city”?

I define a smart city a bit differently than most people would. Today, the term “smart city” tends to refer to a city that promotes the use of internet of things (IoT) ecosystems, applications, and services to enhance the lives of residents of a city. These applications exist within their own vertical silos (such as transportation systems, law enforcement, emergency services, energy, commerce, hospitality, schools, hospitals, water supply, waste management, etc.), and each creates its own value. I often call this “Smart City 1.0.” But does that approach create a truly smart city?

In my view, a truly smart city can be thought of as a city with a brain. A city that can collect data across all silos, analyze that data, discover insights that often lie at the intersection points of data held within multiple silos, and then convert those insights into action to drive continuous improvement across the city. A truly smart city is one where application developers in one silo can easily leverage the data and insight available within another silo to innovate. A truly smart city is one where the city provides the platform for developers to build data-driven applications that benefit its citizens and that platform also allows the city to monetize the data it makes available, financially enriching the city as the city grows and an ecosystem of smart city applications develop.

I refer to this vision as “Smart City 2.0” and municipalities are just starting to realize the technology exists today to create this next generation of smart cities.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing IoT deployments in cities and enterprises today? 

The challenges within enterprises and smart cities are very similar. Very often, the siloed approach to application development limits the value that can be derived from the collected data. Cities and enterprises tend to operate in a highly siloed manner. The transportation department doesn’t spend much time talking to the police department or the education department or the department of health and human services. To generate the maximum insight within a smart city, the data has to be available to the city itself.

The city needs to use data to make decisions as an integrated whole. This requires a major shift in the currently dominant ways of working. A “smart city development platform” is necessary to make this integrated approach possible. Because smart city applications themselves are built on what is essentially the brain of the smart city (the smart city development platform), the data used from these applications can immediately be analyzed and made available via dashboards to all departments. Machine learning algorithms can help identify patterns that would never otherwise be available to city decision makers. This approach promotes horizontal integration of city departments, and drives creation of new applications that improve the lives of residents of the city.

Could a smart city cope when, say, Beyoncé and a conference like Microsoft Ignite converge?

Good question! I was recently in Atlanta attending the Microsoft Ignite conference for IT professionals and while I don’t have an official count, there were easily more than 20,000 attendees that filled the Georgia World Congress Center. At the same time, Beyoncé took her Formation tour back to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta for another sold-out show. To say there was traffic is an understatement. It was extremely difficult to get an Uber! The city was so congested that the drivers had great difficulty getting to my location. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for emergency responders to traverse that area.

A truly smart city can do much better. It could employ an IoT service creation and enrichment platform (SCEP) designed to integrate data across city silos.

Imagine if the city chose to create an analytics application that processed data from its downtown traffic cameras to identify areas of high traffic congestion and less congested areas, where curb space is available for taxis and Uber drivers to stop. Such an application can be created rapidly on an SCEP. Now imagine if this data was then exposed, via APIs, to the ride-sharing or the taxi companies. They could enhance their applications to provide real-time walking directions to nearby marshalling points for passenger pickup.

This scenario illustrates the type of classic win-win that truly smart cities can enable when they use an SCEP as the brain of the smart city. The city reduces congestion caused by ride-sharing drivers stopping to pickup passengers. The reduced congestion allows better access for emergency services (police, fire, ambulance). The ride-sharing drivers get quicker access to their passengers and can complete more trips. The passengers don’t stand around frustrated that the vehicle they hailed cannot get to them.

City planners have lots of opportunities to improve a situation like this. Imagine the local metro or bus company providing real-time discounts for using public transportation to get to an event in a congested area. The metro department can offer a smartphone application that can tap into traffic congestion data and information that you make available from your calendar to offer real-time incentives before you leave home. The app could even use route analytics to offer a side-by-side comparison of the travel time and cost for various transportation options available to incentivize desired behavior.

Today, even if the data exists, this type of smart city congestion management is very difficult to enable. Urban traffic cameras are typically used for law enforcement, not congestion management. The ride-sharing applications have no access to this data, although they may be viewed as a “smart city application” and encouraged to operate.

In my opinion, the “smart city” can definitely operate a lot more intelligently. Finally, the truly smart city can make money, while providing all of these benefits. The ride-sharing companies would be happy to pay for access to the congestion management data because it increases the effectiveness of their service. In a truly smart city, everyone wins!

Feel free to contact me if you’d like to know more about IoT ecosystems and smart cities, or any other questions you might have.

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