What's needed to create a smart city foundation

Russ Vanos from Itron says that, in order to create and progress as a smart city, a clear roadmap and plan of action is vital

By Guest on 01 September 2016
What's needed to create a smart city foundation

This article first appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of The Record.

For centuries, communities have been built around energy and water. Yet today, more than 61% of energy is wasted in the US economy each year, while globally, a third of water that is pumped is lost or unaccounted for. Energy and water are essential to a city’s prosperity, and yet we continue to waste these precious resources.

Addressing waste will be key to cities’ prosperity and sustainability going forward. Managing their future will require more creative thinking than ever before. The smart city of tomorrow will use information to transform a community’s livability, workability and sustainability. At the heart of any smart city are a set of fundamental principles and ideas that enable cities to thrive.

A smart city is a sustainable city and a good steward of the environment. From providing incentives to reduce energy, water and carbon footprints to integrating renewable energy, empowering citizens to be environmental stewards through programmes and technologies helps create a more resourceful city culture.

Energy and water resources are critical to a city’s prosperity and sustainability. As city populations grow, the demand for city services only increases, putting a particular strain on energy and water. A smart city ensures the safe and reliable delivery of energy and water resources through modernised infrastructure, allowing for advanced city services that use sensing technologies.

A single multi-purpose network that features open standards creates the foundation for a smart city. With this network, data can be shared, creating more efficient utility operations and present new business models and new revenue opportunities for cities. With sensors and intelligence embedded in every device, the network provides the backbone for all city connections.

This also enables open development processes that inspire new technologies and applications that haven’t been imagined yet, creating numerous possibilities to connect businesses, citizens and innovators. A smart city encourages open collaboration and innovation to create various smart city applications.

At the core, is the use of data. Data is instrumental to the success of a smart city – whether applying transportation management, balancing the energy and water nexus, lighting controls, building efficiencies, safety measures or other applications. Data sharing and analytics are the gateway to getting greater value out of smart technology and enhancing a city to be more sustainable, resilient and livable.

For example, data can be used to engage, inform and empower its citizens through mobile apps. Apps create greater awareness and action among citizens to reduce energy, save water, eliminate waste and improve air quality. Not only can citizens use an app to make decisions about their own impact on energy, water and waste, they can use it as a real-time reporting tool to communicate issues, such as a potholes or graffiti, to the city for quick action.

Cities need a competitive edge to secure new economic investments, retain skilled workers and attract entrepreneurs and companies. Smart city initiatives drive city-wide efficiencies and subsequently lower the cost for companies to do business, laying the groundwork for economic growth.

Central to any smart city is collaboration. A smart city learns from industry leaders, smart city experts and visionaries, and adopts best practices to accelerate smart city initiatives. While it is important for cities that are just beginning their smart city journey to develop a strong vision and roadmap, they can start small and build on their successes. They can learn from others who have pioneered the smart cities path to help them realise the benefits of this low hanging fruit.

A truly smart city breaks down silos and shares information not only within its own organisation, but also outside its walls with various external stakeholders. It’s important to create consistent communication regarding smart city plans across the organisation and get buy-in and support from senior management from start to finish. Outside of departmental walls, convening city leaders, utilities, universities, businesses, technology partners and citizens is essential to smart city success. Taking a holistic and integrated approach to engaging these disparate groups helps build a network of projects that all tie back to the foundational goal of enhancing livability, workability and sustainability.

The pathway to developing and implementing a smart city is far bigger and more complex than any one company or entity. Managed services and using a secure, reliable and cost-effective cloud computing and infrastructure platform, such as Microsoft Azure, can help a city more quickly realise smart city benefits. Relying on industry experts to help generate true business outcomes allows the city to do what it does best and focus on its core services for citizens.

Best practices, communication, an open network, real-time data and more are the essential ingredients to build a smart city. A smart city, through collaboration and innovation, provides reliable access to energy and water, engages citizens in new ways, creates economic opportunities and enables communities to thrive. A smart city is livable, workable and sustainable. And it is achievable with the right elements in place.

Russ Vanos is vice president of sales and marketing for global software, services and smart cities at Itron


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