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Today, cities across the world face a range of problems. Each city has a unique “thumbprint”, and as such, have a set of challenges specific to that city – demographic makeup, topography, culture, weather patterns, susceptibility to various types of natural disasters, providing the right atmosphere for companies to operate and grow their job base, and more. These factors all make each cities’ problems important to understand at an individual level. However, many of the sizable set of problems surface in similar ways across the majority of cities —providing emergency services in a timely manner, reducing environmental impact, alleviating traffic and public transit issues, keeping residents healthy and protecting both people and property.

City government officials are increasingly turning to Internet of Things (IoT) technology to collect real-time data, collaborate with stakeholders and make data-based decisions to improve the quality of life for their citizens as well as provide new services that in themselves, increase the quality of life for their citizens. However, moving from a traditional city to a smart city is more than simply installing new technology. Instead of thinking in terms of services and utilities, officials must approach problems in terms of smart grids, meters and intelligent city storage, but also in terms of a cohesive set of services that leverage and benefit one another vs. standalone, siloed systems.

IoT initiatives are helping city officials and their partners build smart cities that change their citizens’ lives and improve the environment. Find out three common benefits of smart cities and gain insights into how officials can achieve positive results that are both manageable and scalable. To learn more, be sure to attend Microsoft’s upcoming IoT in Action webinar Transform Cities with Microsoft IoT Solutions.

Improve Resident Safety

Residents depend on city officials and services to keep their homes, businesses and families as safe as possible. Officials using IoT devices often have a greater awareness of situations and can provide a faster, more meaningful response to citizens’ needs. Public safety responders, for example, use IoT devices to track the location of all of their vehicles, or alert when one accelerates into high speeds, turns on its sirens or when a shotgun is removed from the gun rack. Officers also collect and send data from the site of an incident to a command center, sound sensors alert when gunfire is detected, city traffic cameras are streaming and storing footage on events for analysis in real-time. As such, city officials now have accurate and up-to-date information about events at the scene to make decisions and intervene if necessary. What is more, when these systems are combined, with 911 call data, DMV and incarceration records, AI can allow for all of the relevant information to be linked together in real-time to allow first responders to have a comprehensive picture of the situation never before possible.

Officials must start their smart city journey by understanding their own specific challenges. After the destruction of Hurricane Harvey, Houston is doing more than just rebuilding: it is working to become safer, more resilient and more connected.

Build a Better Place to Live and Work

Through the use of IoT devices, city officials can help improve quality of life for residents, such as shortening commute times and reducing parking issues. For example, devices can monitor traffic flow, public transportation passenger loads and specific parking spaces. This information helps city officials adjust resources, such as adding additional subway trains on specific routes during morning rush hour, or even if the home team is winning in a blow-out and the stadium starts to empty early. Additionally, city officials can proactively communicate real-time information to citizens about traffic congestion and full parking lots or the location of available spaces.

One of the first steps to moving toward a smart city is storing all data in a central location. As Toronto began its journey to become a smart city, the city planned to use millions of sensors to collect data through artificial intelligence and machine learning, then use the data across its infrastructure. Solutions under consideration included deploying traffic light sensors to decrease congestion, route optimization technologies for its fleet of city vehicles and sensors for monitoring air quality and water usage.

Reduce Impact on the Environment

Efficiently managing water, waste and energy is a top concern for both residents and officials. By using IoT devices to monitor water usage and quality, officials can proactively begin conservation efforts and resource planning. For instance, using IoT sensors to detect leaks means homeowners and officials are better equipped to proactively fix issues and reduce excessive water waste, and protect citizens by ensuring regulations around water quality and content are being met at all times. Additionally, cities can improve waste management with sensors that alert drivers when waste containers are full or empty, thus helping optimize collection routes.

Building a smart city involves many people outside local, state and federal governments—including local corporations, infrastructure owners, planners, developers, technology providers, financial institutions, government agencies, and telecom providers. The smart city IoT solutions from Avnet can help officials collaborate with all stakeholders in real time. Smart Environment, one feature of the smart city solutions, monitors different metrics that indicate environmental concerns, such as temperature, air pollutants, barometric pressures and vehicle traffic. Agency, city and other partners are then alerted when metrics indicate a problem and can take immediate action to prevent or reduce the environmental impact.

Make Your City Easier to Govern

Ultimately, you cannot run a smart city on servers in closets, so deploying cloud infrastructure, and modern workplace solutions is paramount as a base infrastructure for your IoT solutions to drive efficiency from the real stars of your city government, your employees. When the above benefits are realized in a city, operating costs–which are often a large portion of municipal budgets can be substantially reduced, and efficiencies substantially increased. By making a city less expensive and more effective to run, cities can more efficiently deliver services to citizens and dedicate more capital to be devoted to improvements that advance and simplify residents’ lives and drive economic development for the region.

Learn how IoT technology can help governmental officials improve security, quality of life and environmental impact by registering for the IoT in Action webinar Transform Cities with Microsoft IoT Solutions. Join us on May 23 to gain insights into how Microsoft and partner Avnet are helping city and non-city officials collaborate to build cities that are safer, greener and easier to govern. And be sure to check out our Powering smart cities with AI and IoT infographic.