Smart cities will “choke” if they don’t deal with issues of integration and intelligence
The challenge to integrate strategies, systems and data across departments and regions remains the most significant challenge for smart cities, and the ultimate stumbling block if they are to retain charge and influence as the main interface with citizens for city services. Otherwise, the likes of Amazon and Google will step in.
This was the view of Paul Copping, chief innovation officer at Digital Greenwich in London, as presented to Internet of Things World in London this week. “The challenge we face as a smart city team, even within the scope of a London borough, is one of the biggest integrations of architecture, procurement and delivery in the citizen experience,” he said.
Copping admitted the challenge is one he enjoys. “That’s the guilty pleasure of working in the smart city environment – that you get to play with the whole sandpit,” he said. “That’s what stokes me up.”
But failure to integrate these silos, running both vertically among city departments and horizontally along technological lines, will be costly, he warned. “The combination of blockchain, massive IoT and AI means we are going to know a lot. But if we get the integration wrong, then we are going to go very wrong,” he said.
“That raises challenges about how we integrate citizen health data with citizen social data and with benefits and status generally, and adding in all the other expectations citizens have of seamless joins between tourism apps and entertainment, education and leisure.”
It starts with procurement; city departments and city authorities must unite to define consistent smart city architecture, and combine to procure standardised architectural solutions at scale.
“One of the biggest challenges will be to establish a practical procurement method that enables individual authorities to ride on the back of a consistent architecture and to procure in an unthreatened way, protected by standards – in order to have the negotiating scale of the public sector, without going on a one-by-one basis into negotiations.”
Smart cities are dominated by clever point solutions, like smart lighting, distributed heating systems, and charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.As yet, it lacks a coherent method to bring these solutions together.
“The deep dive that brings these things together is in the city digital platform itself, and the ability to externalise and virtualise that power and share it across different communities,” said Copping.
Digital Greenwich has been involved with other European cities in the Sharing Cities project, funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 innovation fund, which has considered the challenge to develop inter-city and city-wide platforms to pull data from civic assets and services.
“Different cities have different interpretations of what ‘platform’ means. It’s essential to decide whether a city platform is actually a distributed data structure or a central hosting capability with some sort of management interface.”
Smart cities must choose a distributed data infrastructure that pushes intelligence to the edge of the network, said Copping. “That allows you to create more of an organic roll-out that isn’t susceptible to the clustering problem cities have.”
The alternative is data gridlock, he said. “If you go for a centralised hosting model, you’re going to choke, and you’re going to reduce the expansion potential of the city. You’re going to choke with data flows the same way you choke on the roads with traffic.”
Copping went on: “The biggest underlying challenge is to replicate city infrastructure platforms – in terms of data management and data architecture – with supervision and maintenance, but not necessarily with centralised data intelligence… That’s where we need to focus attention. Because that solution is equally valid for a district council, for an island economy and for the mega-cities of this world.”
Copping also discussed the struggle for control of citizen data between the public and private sector, suggesting tighter privacy laws, in the shape of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), might afford cities a chink of light in their battle with the big internet players to be the primary digital interface for public services.
“We want to deal with people digitally, and we also want them to be engaged… There is a scenario where a citizen’s primary integrator is a commercial provider, whether they look to Google or Amazon, or the affinity groups they belong to, and they increasingly see that as their universal service provider. But there’s a twist,” he explained.
“When you look at GDPR, which provides choice about where you allow your information to go, it is feasible we can persuade citizens it is in their interests their data is returned into the community, and that a local authority network should be the primary data owner, able to issue a forget-me notice to commercial providers selling their data.
“There is a question arising about whether, through data privacy, we should be able to get better performance for data integration, so if people want differential services they can avoid a situation where they have to take Amazon Prime 3 to get their bins emptied twice a week.”
Smart cities should respond in kind, he said, and bundle private entertainment and leisure services with their public service proposition. They face certain challenges, however, and coordination and integration is, as always, the biggest of them, Copping explained.
“We have all these things going on, and if we move confidently, and use the breadth of technology available to us, then we can actually implement a public sector citizen interface that is second-to-none in terms of its ability to interface. It’s a huge challenge, though, for the collaborative structure because we are not really organised that way across local authorities, and it’s down to big integrators like the Greater London Authority to carry that work through.
The value of the smart cities market will pass $2 trillion by 2025 as artificial intelligence (AI) technologies become standardised in city functions and the final hurdle of inter-departmental integration is finally overcome, according to new research by Frost & Sullivan.
Different regions are putting different focus on their smart city projects, it says, with Asia Pacific prioritising smart energy, North America prioritising smart buildings, and Europe prioritising smart mobility. Europe will have the largest number of smart city project investments globally, given the European Commission’s commitment to smart city and smart industry initiatives.
Enterprise IoT Insights ran a state-of-things report, entitled The Building Blocks of a Smart City, on the smart city market at the back end of last year, which considered four distinct approaches to smart-city development through analysis of developing projects in Guadalajara in Mexico, Barcelona in Spain, San Diego in the US, and Manchester in the UK.