A growing number of cities around the world are pursuing “Smart City” initiatives to better connect the physical and the digital worlds in ways that will benefit citizens, the administration of the city, its services and its resources. Technologies for transportation, utilities, communications, and many other aspects of urban life are evolving faster than overall management strategies. Volumes of data are created every day, but cities still lag on fully gaining advantage and citizen benefit from this information.
For the many kinds of data that are generated by smart cities, including machine-generated (M2M) and social media, solutions and platforms are evolving to better collect, integrate, process, and analyze this highly disparate information to both improve the systems of the smart city and to apply results to other needs and opportunities. Important applications for analytics should include the future trends and innovations for how the smart city will function.
Smart cities, of course, embody the Internet of Things (IoT) where many systems and networks run without human intervention and interact with many other systems. The Internet of Things for the smart city can include not only large municipal systems, but also the M2M data created by citizen-owned items such as appliances and vehicles.
How broadly should the infrastructure and management of the smart city function? Should a municipal government be the only entity to set the goals that drive the “Smart City”? What about the role of other governing bodies such as regional boards for utilities? An over-arching strategy and master plan are likely good ideas, but how far-reaching should such plans be? Since the Internet of Things is the epitome of abolishing system silos, how integrated should smart cities be with other smart technologies and initiatives? Ultimately, the answer is very integrated. A mix of public and private projects and initiatives have to be integrated and interoperable to run the smart city, including the open sharing of the data being generated by these initiatives.
Smart cities are really a ‘system of systems’ or a ‘network of networks’. Integration gets kicked to the meta-level; relationships have to be defined not only for a multitude of disparate datasets, but also disparate systems and processes. Planning and design have to take these aspects into account to build infrastructures, both physical and digital, that will move forward with time as the smart city evolves and grows. Lessons for the smart city ‘system of systems’ can be learned from the interactions of different power utility smart grids, as electricity is traded and routed across regions, and across data management platforms.
Why do we want smart cities? Many want to ensure the sustainability of resources and services provided by cities, by using technologies and digital systems to improve operations and efficiencies. We’re also into the digital age where everyone and every Thing (IoT) will eventually be connected and “always on”. Probably the biggest challenge for smart city initiatives is articulating the vision and strategy for what the physical and digital city can become, and then how to accomplish the vision.
Another piece of the story is the involvement of citizens – management with the citizens, not just for them. A smart city vision and strategy has to align with the diversity of its citizens – complex networks of people, if you will. The human networks also need integration and interoperability with each other, and with the ‘über system of systems’ that comprises the smart city infrastructure. Obviously there are many benefits to be had from smart city initiatives including unexpected outcomes that hopefully will enhance the quality of life for everyone in the city.