Smart Cities are Mission Critical

As our cities continue to become increasingly connected, independent networks are going to be critical to long-term success.

Read Time: 4 minutes

I have spent the last three years traveling the country and learning about smart city initiatives from cities and utilities alike, and I’ve found that there are many common threads. No matter where they’re located, cities seem to be seeking answers to similar questions:

How can we improve citizen outcomes?
How do we uplift those who need it?
How do we monetize our data or city assets to pay for this?
How do we find new lines of revenue?
How do we improve public safety and lower crime?

These initiatives serve important needs and goals and shouldn’t be considered just another solution on a public network. The reality is these are mission critical needs for cities, ground zero for a functioning city with growth and economic goals. Leaving network discussion for these solutions to whatever network happens to be available is risking failure, not to mention limiting the ecosystem to whatever network is chosen to solve the problem. In this instance, network could be plural, providing even more challenges, making them harder to wrangle when it comes to a city or utility trying to deploy cohesive solutions. Smart cities are purpose driven. As such, they should turn to purpose driven networks and solutions.

Cities have enough challenges trying to solve many problems at once with limited budgets and resources without having to try and deploy and manage across multiple networks. Having a common starting point for solutions will enable any city or utility to deploy more resources faster. Every time a new solution is deployed the first question will be, “can we use our existing network”? Well, sensors come in all shapes and sizes and from many different network ecosystems, making management a challenge.  Similarly, traffic solution A comes from vendor B and is deployed on vendor network C and parking solution X from vendor Y sits on vendor network Z and so on. This is not an easy puzzle for cities and utilities to solve, which may be the reason why we are not currently seeing a high level of deployments. Most cities want to avoid the sensor equation because of the problematic network equation which only hurts us all.

So, what do cities do? They look at the data they have access to today and focus on data collection within their own systems, which is a good first step. Then what? Most of the data cities need to improve is still sitting in the right of way, buried under ground, or on a sidewalk. Normalization and structuring will do wonders in unlocking challenges for cities, but their biggest opportunity for success is still floating out in the city ionosphere, waiting to be collected and harnessed. Imagine if a city could normalize data collection from any sensor and not silo it because of proprietary means of vendors?

Cities need reliable and consistent performance and cost for help managing budgets, quality of service and citizen expectations. Smart cities do not throw out solutions and hope the cost doesn’t increase with time. Smart cities cannot deal with cost variances as they are on fixed budgets. They must have consistency over all other things or else they fail in the public view. Reliable smart cities focus on 5 9’s or better and do not settle for anything less.

Increased openness and transparency are wonderful outcomes of smart city initiatives in terms of data, so why should we expect anything less from our network and sensors? Closed ecosystems drive up costs. Limited sensor options drive up costs. If we want to lower the total cost of ownership (TCO) in our smart cities, then the focus should be on open ecosystems throughout the entire universe of a smart city. To achieve this, the right network needs to be in place from the beginning. A closed ecosystem is not for smart cities, it is for opportunists.

Government and utilities are very good at owning and managing networks as a part of running an operation, and smart city initiatives will be no different. Control and reliability are going to be hallmarks of effective and culture changing solutions and relying on public networks will be a risk that cities cannot afford to take. Smart cities have the ability to solve problems by taking ownership of the solution path and enabling all points to contribute. The smart city network must be mission critical and purpose built as the needs of citizens will be purpose driven and the mission will be critical that it succeeds.