As cities face new challenges, including but not limited to infrastructure growth, security, and resource allocation, the use of technology seems like a natural way to address these problems. In a perfect world, smart sensors and real-time data analysis could help monitor and provide insight into everything – from gun violence to traffic congestions, from electricity consumption to public health.
The real-world implementation of the Internet of Things to create smart, connected cities is a viable solution. With cities like Singapore, Dubai, and Barcelona leading the global race to become smartly connected, somehow U.S. cities are glaringly missing from the leadership position. In fact, not one American city makes any “top” or “best of” lists when it comes to smart city technology.
A recent report released by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) only further proves this point, with data showing that only one out of every five state CIOs have initiated the formal discussion phase of the IoT’s role on a state level, with zero states having adopted policies or developed an IoT road map.
This is not too surprising, as the wheels of state government do not turn quickly, but what woud be surprising is if that number doesn’t flip in the coming year or two. The U.S. can catch up and become the leader in IoT innovation. It will take focused planning, and thoughtfulness, but it is within grasp. Here are four directives that will power U.S. cities into the smart cities leadership position.
1. Start with the end in mind
It is vital to bring together all of the potentially involved parties to discuss what a smart city initiative should look like in five, 10, or even 20 years. Doing so will ensure everyone feels vested in the outcome and everyone will be better informed when making decisions around architecture, networking, data, and related services and capabilities important to your city. Do you want emergency management system (EMS) awareness, situational street light controls, hot-spot enabling, or gunshot detection? Aligning not only on roles and responsibilities but on goals as well avoids missed opportunities to incorporate valuable capabilities. Looking around and gauging programs around the world will also help you identify what your city needs. In particular, there are many joint public-private initiatives (like in the Netherlands), and many efforts focused on sustainability and higher profile projects (such as Songdo, Korea) that offer insights and valuable background information about smart cities worth considering.
2. Know who is driving the ship
Identifying and including various stakeholders in your smart city program is crucial for a successful implementation, but knowing how these players will work together to steer the ship will play an even larger role in this collaborative effort. For example, the head of the department of transportation might insist on taking the lead for smart transportation efforts — including street lights — yet the chief of police can also make a case to control street lights as part of his IoT gunshot detection element for situation awareness for crime prevention. If something like this arises, who controls these assets? Whose budget will be tapped for the various initiatives?
3. Be very careful (and clear) about how you deal with data
One of the most valuable assets to come out of IoT implementations is data – just think about how much valuable data sensors in your city can generate. But data privacy and security have been ongoing topics of discussion around the IoT. Do citizens want their traffic patterns tracked, their photos taken, etc.? Cities must make it a priority to protect the data gathered and clearly identify who owns it. When tax funds and vendor involvement grow, discussions will inevitably start to swirl around the monetization of this data, which can create unrest among citizens and conflicts of interest between the state and vendors.
4. Just do it
In an ideal world, planning, citizen input, and multi-group vetting processes of all plans would the best way to move forward. And while that is a great aspiration, it is very difficult to put all of these pieces together. Technology changes quickly, and the IoT is moving too fast to just sit back. Cities must find a balance, considering multiple constituencies and a variety of viewpoints, while assessing what is and isn’t working to continuously evolve. An iterative process, rather than a “perfect” design, allows cities to move at a faster speed with a much higher likelihood of implementations coming to fruition and delivering tangible value to the municipality and its citizens.
All in all, no one smart city has all the answers. Even the more advanced cities in other parts of the world are learning as they go. Humility is key here, and rather necessary to get these smart city initiatives off the ground and running.
Don DeLoach is President and CEO of Infobright and co-chair of the ITA IoT Council.