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Smart Cities United Kingdom

IoT and Smart Cities

There’s a lot of talk about the Internet of Things (IoT). And smart cities. But, increasingly, there’s a view that citizens are going to be denied anything that resembles a smart city until the city, itself, becomes a lot, well, smarter.

I took the opportunity to meet with Andy Mulholland, former Global CTO of Cap Gemini (and now a VP at Constellation Research focusing on IoT) and Bill Clee, CEO of Asset Mapping, in London last week. Asset Mapping, by the way, focuses on collecting IoT data from building management systems and other feeds. The firm was recently selected to provide its solution to the Manchester Verve smart cities project.

In the video Andy outlines how big data often doesn’t provide the answer in terms of improving citizen experience of so-called smart cities. In the same way a phone is smart (because it’s aware of what its user needs, and of its environment) cities need to react to citizen needs. Cities need to respond appropriately to information to provide better services.

Bill tries to provide examples of how this can happen. He also talks at length about Manchester Verve and what it’s trying to achieve.

One does sense that there’s the whiff of the future about all this. Cities will, inevitably, take cloud and IoT technology to new ‘service’ levels where things just appear to work better.

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Citizen Engagement Digital Government Smart Cities

Smart Cities: From Point to Platform

In the beginning, there was the single app… single-purpose applications developed one at a time by individual city departments. They enabled citizens do things like get real-time bus arrival information, monitor air quality or stay current on news about elected officials and legislation relevant to the neighborhood where they live or work.

The problem with the single app is that, well, it is single. It typically doesn’t talk to other apps to share data and only has a single function. Increasingly, cities are coming to the conclusion that building separate tools for separate applications or investing limited funds and resources to integrate single apps is not practical or cost-effective.

The thinking now is to develop comprehensive set of capabilities that can be used to build a variety of integrated apps for a wide variety of applications that span multiple departments and functions – a platform, in other words.

AT&T, in alliance with Cisco, Deloitte, Ericsson, GE, IBM, Intel and Qualcomm, has just announced one such initiative. Known as the Smart Cities Framework, this initiative combines AT&T’s Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities with those of its technology partners to offer a range of solutions for cities. The initial offering of the Framework consists of four categories of IoT solutions:

  • Infrastructure – Capabilities that will enable cities to remotely monitor the conditions of roads, bridges, buildings, parks and other sites
  • Transportation – Electric bike rental stations to reduce traffic congestion; digital signage that indicates near real-time the arrival of buses and trains
  • Public safety – Management of pedestrian traffic patterns at busy intersections, stadiums, parks and other venues; gunfire detection technology that pinpoints the location of shootings and the number of people involved
  • Citizen engagement – Remote viewing of parking meters and ability to reserve parking spaces ahead of time; mobile apps that provide helpful information real-time, e.g., malfunctioning traffic light on commuter’s route

AT&T is also developing a Smart City Network Operation Center (SC-NOC) that provides a dashboard view of how well a city’s infrastructure is performing in near-real time. The SNOC enables city officials to monitor things such as power outages, water leaks and traffic congestion from a single location.

The first cities to get connected will be Atlanta, Dallas and Chicago. Each will implement capabilities tailored to their needs.

The success of this initiative will largely depend on whether cities see an attractive payback for this type of investment. If the ROI is not there, it is unlikely cash-strapped cities will invest in this technology. However, if IoT technology can save cities money while helping them provide better service, this ambitious initiative has a bright future.