Palo Alto CIO flags four multi-billion dollar challenges for smart cities
“We are getting into a more practical phase. We are going from aspirational need to absolute imperative – because we have to do this, or we are screwed. The planet is screwed.” That was the view of Jonathan Reichental, chief information officer for Palo Alto in the US, in late 2017, speaking as part of a state-of-the-market report on smart cities. Are smart cities any closer to doing ‘this’, or is the challenge getting away from them?
Momentum is building, slowly, he reckons. “We’re seeing the beginning of really powerful point solutions,” he says. There is progress, it seems, but it is scattered. “It’s this idea the future is already here, but it’s not evenly distributed. Some cities doing remarkable things, particularly around reducing carbon emissions.”
The drive for greener energy is one of four major challenges for smart cities and opportunities for technology providers, he says. The others, in no particlar order, are transportation, sustainability at large, and the digital transformation of local government systems.
There is crossover between each, of course; they might banded together as measures for sustainable civic transformation.
Reichental explains: “These are the four major challenges for cities; these are the markets that will be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to providers over the next few years.” Here, in a short excerpt from a longer interview to be published next week, he summaries each.
1 | TRANSPORTATION
“Transportation, covering autonomous vehicles and intelligent infrastructure, is a massive challenge for every city. What does that infrastructure look like, beyond charging points for electric vehicles? These are decisive technologies in the evolution of cities? It’s not a question of whether cities want them, or whether they will allow them. Autonomous vehicles are coming. It’s not just cars, either – autonomous drones, both terrain based and aerial based, will be a major part of city operations. It will require massive investment in infrastructure, and a ton of privacy and safety considerations.”
2 | ENERGY
“Our cities are getting bigger and hungrier. Clearly, if we continue to use coal plants and oil as we build bigger cities, we will eventually kill ourselves. We have to transition very quickly to non-carbon based energy sources. That’s not trivial. It’s not just about the remarkable costs in infrastructure required to support vast areas of solar and wind, and other renewable energy sources. We need modifications to the distribution network, to the way energy is created. We need communities to come together around energy production. Crucially, we also need major changes in behaviour.”
3 | SUSTAINABILITY
“This covers all of the above, and more. It is about a healthier planet and healthier citizens – how do we save the planet, and how do we create public and privates spaces for happier residents. It is about mental health, as well. Are there parks and entertainment? Is a city noisy? Is it polluted? What can cities do to help with these things? The World Health Organisation says seven million premature deaths can be attributed to air pollution each year. What are cities doing about that? It is a big topic, huge topic.”
4 | E-GOVERNMENT
“The last is digital transformation – of government operations. People too often come up against paper work, and inefficiencies, when all they want is to engage with their local government. There are just too many errors. People want to deal with their cities in the way they deal with everything else. They want to take out their smartphone and get a parking ticket or a theatre ticket. They don’t want to have to make long trips to visit city buildings, and work with inefficient systems. Whatever it is, they want to be able to do it with their smartphones. That is pressing, because cities are not meeting the expectations of their communities, and it is an expensive and difficult problem for them.”