“Smart Cities” are the new gold-standard of civic planning- a vision of a completely connected municipality that effectively utilizes technology to improve the services it delivers to the public. The idea is that by removing barriers to operational efficiency and gathering more data, a city government can enhance the overall welfare of residents.
It’s not a pipe dream either- significant innovations in the field of IoT (the internet of things) are creating new capabilities for cities to more effectively merge and utilize their human and computational resources, delivering services that are based on data inputs from both residents, as well as their physical environments.
Of course, approaching this vision can be a daunting prospect from a planning standpoint, especially if you’re viewing a smart city as an integrated whole. In that case, it looks like a mountain that a city CIO or CTO (if a city is lucky enough to have one) has to climb. But breaking the smart city machinery down to its components can create an achievable roadmap to realizing the vision.
From Physical to Digital, and Back Now to Physical
A good place to start is defining what really constitutes a “smart city” or “smart community”. A lot of smaller city or community officials assume they don’t have the budget to hire a CIO or fund smart city initiatives. But the truth is, a number of resources necessary to start down that path are available via a network of open-platform technologies that are really geared towards building a safer, more sustainable community environment that offer more efficiencies and a better quality of life to their residents.
This trend started over a decade ago with the digitization of cities i.e. moving city services and infrastructure to the internet in order to streamline departments and offer more flexible options to the public. Moving away from paper-based services, opening up more data to (and from) the public, and offering more smart phone capabilities has gone a long way towards a more open government and easier access to government services.
Smart cities are really the next step in this evolution- at first we moved from purely physical or analog media to digital internet-based solutions. This next step involves bridging the gap between the digital and the physical world via IoT initiatives that allows a greater multitude of inputs to be accessible from the environment we live in. This in turn allows for more effective resource planning, and enables government and public officials to be proactive rather than reactive to emerging situations, whether they are environmental, health, public safety or public policy related.
One of the greatest developments pushing this field forward is the increased accessibility of IoT technology. The relative price points of the technology required to deploy IoT solutions is significantly lower than ground-up rebuilding of infrastructure. For instance, in the case of public safety, (using Fusus as an example of an IoT vendor), the cost to install a FususCORE appliance on a pre-existing camera network (that brings the entire system to the bleeding edge of surveillance technology) is a tiny fraction of the cost of actually replacing the entire system of cameras with upgraded hardware. Similar sensors can of course be deployed to discover and solve problems across an array of public utilities covering such disparate areas as water-treatment, vehicle parking, traffic congestion, air quality, energy consumption or public health.
The key here, is that it doesn’t have to be about tackling massive problems head-on and finding an instant solution. Instead, it’s about addressing those problems one part at a time by deploying open-platform technologies that have the capacity to integrate together in the future to create a holistic solution that ultimately creates a better quality of life.
Really, at the heart of the definition of a “smart city” is the core idea of a future in which the entire city infrastructure, including all the physical, digital, and human resources, work smoothly together. It’s about not just collecting, but also utilizing all available data to make more informed civic decisions that positively impact the lives of residents.
Fragmentation is the Enemy of Smart Cities
The first step down this road, is to recognize the fragmentation of resources and address it. Closed and proprietary technology platforms for instance, are in complete opposition to the ethos of “smart cities” because by their nature, they don’t integrate and share data easily with other resources. So rooting out those systems is a necessary step towards creating a much more streamlined city.
An easy use case for defragmented IoT in the realm of public safety is the common operating picture Fusus creates for first-responders. By enabling the easy integration of public and private security cameras into a single secure feed, and then layering in metadata and geolocations of first-responders like Police, EMS, Fire and Public Works, Fusus can deliver a common operating picture to a central command center that was not possible before. This creates situational awareness for first-responders on the scene of an incident via mobile feeds, which in turn reduces response times and enhances resident safety in case of an emergency.
The key to this common operating picture is platform openness. Previous generations of security software and hardware operated in closed systems, so the picture they could deliver was never as complete. Unlike the Fusus example, they weren’t capable of easily pulling in and integrating data feeds from other sources like gunshot detection, sensors on police weapons, GIS map data, and a host of other critical layers.
This example enables public safety, but also yields valuable and actionable data for a city CIO, Manager, and other public officials to base future decisions on as well. It also enables the CIO to better equip first responders with a workable solution that keeps them safer, ties them in more closely with the community they are protecting, and saves the city resources in the long run.
Creating Quick Wins
The next step, especially if you have limited resources, is to figure out where the priorities of the community lie. Figuring out the first few areas that can really benefit from connected technologies is an easy way to gain some quick wins and solve some of the more pressing issues that are begging to be addressed. This also entails civic participation- bringing together public and private resources onto a common platform where they can mutually benefit from each other.
To get the critical “smart” infrastructure in place, you need civic leaders and the public to be bought into the vision for their city. A lot of the more advanced smart cities appoint a CIO or CTO to set that vision, but the truth is, if a city or community doesn’t have the resources to fill that position, it can really be fulfilled by an existing City Manager, IT Director, or really anyone with the passion and ability to bring the necessary stakeholder to the table and execute on the vision.
And it’s not an all-or-nothing vision. The truth is, we’re in the midst of a rapid technological transformation where the rate of innovation and change is measured in months, not years. The goal right now for even the smallest locality, should be to put in place the foundations upon which they can build a more connected city utilizing emergent technologies.
At the end of the day though, it’s important to recognize that installing new technology is not the end goal of a smart city. The end goal is creating stronger connections between people to improve their lives. The technology is simply a means to that end. IoT in cities is not supposed to be a triumph of innovation as much as it is a revolution in civic engagement.
Fusus breaks down silos, merging public and private video resources into a single, efficient and unified stream of information. Its lightweight SaaS platform is easy and fast to set up, leveraging virtual networking technology that has never been deployed before. The Fusus system requires little to no hardware investment, and can speak to existing video assets, making a sophisticated video platform affordable to any city or organization.
Fusus lives at the intersection of public and private video and IoT, building bridges within communities, and making Smart Cities Smarter.
For more information about Fusus, or to schedule a demo, please contact us.