Smart cities: Innovation, inclusion, and IoT

This week, at Smart City Expo—in Barcelona—we’re excited to showcase new innovations that will transform Smart City programs worldwide. Smart cities are no longer science fiction. They’re here and now and growing quickly as the Internet of Things (IoT) expands and spreads throughout municipalities around the globe. Some predict the smart city industry will be a billion dollar market over the next few years and there will be hundreds of smart cities globally. These cities are expected to generate over half of the world’s GDP over the next few years.

A smart city is digitally-enabled, leveraging cutting-edge information and communication technologies to enhance the lives of its citizens. A smart city uses these internet connected devices to collect and analyze data to enhance the management of a municipality. Data captured by IoT devices is used to monitor and perform preemptive maintenance to ensure city services are always at optimal levels. The most common smart city projects are lighting, transportation systems, and utility metering for water and electricity. But that’s just part of it. Smart cities can focus on internal local government processes such as digitizing records or an online process for permit applications or licenses.

Smart city programs enhance quality, performance, and interactivity of urban services by reducing costs and resource consumption. Smart city applications help manage urban flows and allow for real-time responses. Thus, a smart city may respond more quickly to an unexpected event than a traditional transactional city. For example, a smart program may automate water ways to open during a storm to ease potential flooding.

The opportunities for smart city programs are limitless, including:

  • Smart energy. Data is collected to analyze energy use and create greater efficiencies in residential and commercial buildings. Software apps can automatically turn on and off computers according to worker schedules. Buildings that monitor energy usage and report this data to utilities can often reduce costs.
  • Smart grids. These are often a part of the early development of a smart city. Smart streetlights are an easy entry point as LED lights save money and pay for themselves in a short time period. With a smart grid, you can improve outage detection, speed of data capture, disaster recovery, field service operations, and overall grid modernization techniques.
  • Smart traffic management. Traffic congestion is a common problem in urban areas. Systems can be developed that monitor traffic and estimate arrival times for the next group of vehicles to ensure the traffic light is green at that moment. Adjusting traffic lights to real road conditions is one of the most vital city issues today.
  • Smart public transportation. Smart city traffic management systems can extend to public transportation as traffic lights can be prioritized based on bus schedules so traffic flows more freely during rush hours. Connecting all types of public vehicles into one database can enable communication between vehicles, and alert users to arrival times and delays due to accidents or congestion so alternate transportation or routes can be sought.
  • Smart parking. Finding a parking space is one of the most common issues living in a densely populated area. Smart city technologies enable drivers to automatically locate available parking spaces, reducing time and stress.
  • Smart law enforcement. In smart cities like Singapore, surveillance cameras report suspicious activity so police can react immediately to help maintain low crime rates. In Sao Paulo, surveillance cameras monitor millions of vehicles for speeding and issue fines to the car owners.
  • Smart service. In smart cities, data is collected and analyzed from IoT devices to ensure peak performance. Anomalies are noted and field service technicians are alerted, who can review the data and isolate the issue. With IoT, devices are repaired before there is a failure. Streetlights can be repaired before they go dark and traffic lights can be serviced before they seize. By identifying the issue before the device fails, a smart city reduces costs and increases efficiencies, while ensuring its citizens are not adversely affected by the issue.

Despite the numerous health, safety, and environmental benefits of smart city programs, challenges can exist and stand in the way of urban digital transformation. Being smart about tackling these issues is key to success:

Smart infrastructure

Despite the giant strides in technology changing our day to day lives, most urban infrastructures have lagged behind, remaining virtually unchanged. And understandably, smart city projects need a solid foundation to build upon. To fully deliver value, IoT sensors that capture data from air pollution to traffic congestion need a modern infrastructure supported by innovative software and hardware. Most cities are already struggling with infrastructure issues such as broadband, electricity, and so on. Therefore, full government support and funding are pivotal to modernize the infrastructure to support the technological enhancements.

Smart security

Digital security is another challenge to municipalities when implementing smart city programs. Citizens benefit from smart city projects and enjoy higher levels of safety and in general, a better quality of life. But the price is often perceived as invasive and prying. For example, the surveillance cameras clocking speeders may be seen as intrusive or another act by big brother. Another aspect is that a significant amount of personal data can be collected by the IoT sensors. Personal information is uploaded into the cloud and often shared with other digital devices and in turn, shared with multiple users. It’s important that there be educational initiatives informing citizens on how the data is used and safeguarded. Fortunately, there are security solutions based on big data analytics, blockchain, and encryption technologies that protect private and proprietary information of both the citizen and government within the digital infrastructure.

Smart citizens

As mentioned above, educating citizens about the technology, the programs, and their intrinsic benefits can ease public apprehension. Change is difficult, especially when it’s for a public program where taxpayer dollars are used. If the public shares a solid understanding of the benefits and potential of the smart city program, this support can be harnessed to move the program forward with funding and public acceptance. To educate and engage citizens, email campaigns, town halls, print and online information, and broadcast media can help motivate and educate citizens to embrace the change. But keep in mind, different age groups use different communication vehicles so use the right channel for the right audience. Fostering social inclusion and speaking to all categories of citizens the way they need to be communicated with is key. Once the public is engaged and supports the program, remember to keep the lines of communication open to ensure support of the smart city program.

The benefits of a smart city far outweigh these and any other challenges you may encounter. These potential barriers are among the most common, but when set against the opportunities within a smart city, they pale in significance. Just be smart about how you approach and ultimately resolve the issues.

Want to learn more?

  • Watch this short video, Creating Smart Buildings and Cities of the Future, to learn how Dynamics 365 Field Service uses IoT, artificial intelligence (AI), and mixed reality to help transform buildings and cities into smart, predictive environments.
  • Join me at the Smart City Expo World Congress on November 19-21 in Barcelona to learn more about smart cities, what opportunities exist, and how to empower your smart city by promoting social innovation. Meet others within the smart city ecosystem who value social inclusion, sustainability, and empower corporate leaders, public representatives, entrepreneurs, experts, and academics.