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The Hill: At Smart Cities Week, tackling opportunities and challenges

Submitted by scc staff on October 17, 2016

By Jesse Berst and David Logsdon

While cities are making progress toward improving living standards and social and environmental sustainability, the impact can be limited by narrow project scopes and obsolete systems. Cities can accelerate and enhance the results of their efforts by adopting a smart cities approach with supporting technologies.

This week, federal, state and local government representatives are working with technology innovators at Smart Cities Week to further explore how smart technologies can improve the livability, workability and sustainability of cities around the world. Over 30 countries and 130-plus American cities are participating in this conference, with the theme focused on climate, compassion and connectivity.

The opportunity and benefits of "smart cities"
A smart city uses information and communications technology (ICT) to enhance its livability, workability and sustainability. It collects information about itself using sensors, devices or other systems, and sends the data to an analytics system to understand what's happening now and what's likely to happen next.

Most cities greater than 750,000 in population have at least one — and usually multiple — smart city projects underway in one sector or another. But few cities have a comprehensive, long-term, integrated plan. In fact, there are only a handful of cities worldwide that are well on their way to a full adoption of smart cities technology in an integrated way across all sectors. And many of the real-world smart city examples are typically much larger or smaller than how we traditionally define cities. They're either occurring on a more regional basis or as small neighborhood-by-neighborhood projects.

There is vast potential to provide smart city benefits to a larger number of citizens and those benefits are immense.

First, is the potential to empower citizens, allowing access to unparalleled services provided by local government. These services — spanning several different sectors including transportation, energy, water management and public safety — have the potential to be transformational to the citizen while creating significant efficiencies for the city.

Another is the creation of new jobs. As cities grow their smart technology and services capabilities, there are several emerging employment opportunity sectors:

  • Infrastructure. Cities will need to have large teams to help deploy the vast array of sensors that will constitute the Internet of Things (IOT) smart city ecosystem.
  • Cybersecurity. With internet-connected sensors, best-in-class cybersecurity solutions and applications are an absolute necessity. A well-trained workforce will need to implement the cyber solutions across the infrastructure ecosystem.
  • Analytics. An immense amount of data coming off the IOT sensors will need to be analyzed. City governments will need to beef up their analytical capabilities in order to ensure that citizens gain the most benefits from the analyzed data.

According to the August 2016 CompTIA report "Building Smarter Cities," the primary growth verticals will be in waste management/power grid/utilities, public safety and transportation.

Federal support can be a strong springboard
There is a longstanding track record of prizes (whether funded by the federal government or the private sector) spurring innovation and the return on investment can be strong. Some studies find that prizes can generate $16 in investments for new technologies for every dollar spent.

One great example is the 2015 U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Smart City Challenge, the first of a kind smart city grant challenge. As stated by DOT, "The Smart City Challenge will allow the selected city to demonstrate how advanced data, technologies, and applications can be used to reduce congestion, keep travelers safe, protect the environment, respond to climate change, and support economic vitality."

The Smart City Challenge generated an overwhelming amount of support among cities: 78 applications in total — one from nearly every mid-sized city in America. The seven finalists — Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Denver; Kansas City; Pittsburgh; Portland, Oregon; and San Francisco — were able to leverage DOT's $40 million grant to raise approximately $500 million more in funding. The ultimate winner, Columbus, will receive up to $40 million from DOT and up to $10 million from Paul Allen's Vulcan Inc. to supplement the $90 million that the city has already raised from other private partners to carry out its plan.

More can be done. The broad federal prize authority granted to all federal agencies in the 2010 COMPETES reauthorization supports agencies' increased use of prizes to incentivize more high-risk, high-reward research and reach out to a new audience of researchers and innovators across all areas of science and technology.

So now that transportations initiatives are en route, what's next?

Tackling the water crisis
Our nation faces grave challenges when it comes to water. Many experts believe that water (or the lack thereof) will be this century's single biggest urban challenge. Already, many cities are struggling with drought. Many others are depleting aquifers faster than they are being replenished. And as the world population swells and more people move to cities, the already strained water supplies could drain to critical lows.

Compounding the problem, the city's water infrastructure itself is often a huge source of waste. According to Schneider Electric, water systems typically consume half of a city's energy. Further, they waste much of the water they are supposed to deliver.

The American Water Works Association notes, "The U.S. water infrastructure breaks once each minute and about 540,000 times each year. The entire network is comprised of about 1.8 million miles of water distribution lines. Because of the age of the infrastructure, however, it leaks about six billion gallons of fresh water per day." According to the Smart Cities Council (SCC), "a medium-sized city with 100 million gallons per day of produced water that loses 25 percent (not an unusual amount) is incurring over $13 million per year in non-recoverable labor, chemical and energy expenses."

Incorporating smart water technologies allows water providers to minimize non-revenue water by finding leaks quickly. Cities can gather data by using modern sensor technology solutions, supported by software for management and data analyses. Sensors enable accurate measurement and monitoring of the water supply system and help identify water loss locations.

Drawing on the unparalleled success of the DOT Smart Cities Grand Challenge, the next administration should consider "water management" as the next Smart City Grant Challenge. A city's smart water management plan would include not only urban elements, but suburban and rural as well. As the water management ecosystem does include elements of urban, suburban and rural, the challenge should be expanded — it should help define the next generation smart community.

Urging federal, state and local government to take action
America has the opportunity to capitalize on the use of smart technologies to help drive innovation, stimulate the economy, grow jobs and bolster the country's position as a global technology leader. Whether it is the utilization of high-performance computing, a cloud-first philosophy or the use of cutting-edge data analytics, we are poised to create technological marvels that will be the envy of the world. The "best and brightest" will come to work for our cities, unlocking innovation in the urban tech petri dishes that will be our smart cities.

The Smart Cities Council is releasing a policy brief at Smart Cities Week titled "Unlocking Equity and Prosperity for our Cities and Towns Using Smart Technologies," focused on how state and federal governments can help cities of all sizes create greater equity and prosperity with technology that provides jobs for American workers.

Focused on triple-bottom-line benefits, the brief outlines how smart infrastructure investments can deliver benefits for society, for the economy and for the environment. It urges federal, state and local government to consider the following:

  • Streamline procurement. Unlock antiquated approaches that hamper efficiency by using smarter, tech-enabled approaches (that are already available today) to streamline government procurement while keeping transparency and diligent stewardship of public funds on the forefront.
  • Embrace new financing models. Unlock municipal financing barriers. Local governments cannot count on traditional funding sources, so they need to adopt a mindset that is open to some of the newer and more creative financing strategies available today.
  • Benchmark results. Unlock the limitations of one-dimensional metrics. By benchmarking results in an integrated way, cities can effectively remove the limitations of one-dimensional metrics. They can then justify larger investments in the right kinds of smart cities projects — and communicate benefits to their citizens more effectively.

By first addressing how to make our physical infrastructure smarter, we can unlock the social and human potential within.

Interested in learning more? Join us at Smart Cities Week with a free pass to the expo floor where you can see live smart city technologies in action, hear case studies of these technologies currently being used in cities around the world, and network with those who are leading the way.

Berst came to the smart city sector from the smart grid, where he was one of the pioneering thought leaders and chief analyst of, the internet's oldest, largest and highest-ranked smart grid site. Prior to that, he was a well-known technology analyst and featured columnist at leading magazines, including Computerworld, InformationWeek and PC Week. Working with Ziff-Davis, he launched ZDNet AnchorDesk, which became the publishing company's most popular and profitable internet property. Convinced that smart energy is the foundation of a smart, information and communication Technology-enabled city, it was a natural transition for Burst to launch the Smart Cities Council and engage some of the world's most respected technology companies to work with him toward a more livable, workable and sustainable future.

Logsdon is the senior director of public advocacy for CompTIA. In this role, he runs the association's New and Emerging Technologies Committee (focused on the policy surrounding social, mobile, big data/data analytics, cloud, the Internet of Things and smart cities). He was also the staff lead for CompTIA's federally focused technology convergence commission, which examined the impact on the public sector when social, mobile, analytics and cloud converge. Follow him on Twitter @DJLSmartData.