The technologies that help make cities smart, livable and sustainable range from stationary and mobile sensors, video cameras and -- as we'll likely be seeing in a few short years -- connected cars.
All of those Internet of Things-connected devices collect data, real-time information cities need to efficiently and accurately monitor and manage the variety of improved or new services they want to provide for residents, whether it's traffic congestion control, air pollution monitoring, more cost-effective and efficient street lighting, public safety and others.
Why does connectivity matter so much?
It's stating the obvious but those devices, regardless of what they're used for, can't deliver the valuable data they collect if they aren't connected to the Internet as part of a network. And for cities to reap the maximum benefits connected networks can provide, they should be deployed city wide. Connectivity is a way to provide more and better services for a city's citizens as well as enable cities to significantly improve their operations and become more cost-efficient. It's an important thing to think about considering many cities deal with chronically tight budgets -- while city populations are expected to grow at an ever-increasing rate for the next 10 years or so.
It's also about competitiveness
Council Lead Partner IBM is one of many Council partners actively involved in the smart city technology market. Last year, the company partnered with British telecom Vodafone on a connected city initiative for Spanish cities which addressed universal city issues like mobility, building design, emergency management, energy, water, education, healthcare and more. The push was intended to not only improve the lives of citizens and provide additional employment, but also to make the cities more competitive.
Antonio Pires, Smarter Cities Leader for IBM, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Israel, explained it this way: "IBM is working with cities around the world, helping them use Big Data and analytics to more effectively manage all aspects of city services and improve quality of life for citizens. The agreement with Vodafone will allow us to jointly create new innovations for cities that allow them to break through the complexity of managing city services and enhances their economic competitiveness."
Just as parks, green spaces, well-managed traffic and other features add to a city's competitiveness, so do connected buildings, generally referred to as smart buildings. The automated energy management systems in smart buildings are designed to make them more comfortable for occupants, more energy-efficient (cheaper to operate) and more capable of accommodating the level of connectivity so many businesses need. Because they contribute to the "livability" of a city environment, smart buildings also add to a city's competitiveness.
What do you stand to lose if you don't get connected?
Keep in mind the network that provides connectivity so your city services can operate better, faster and more efficiently can also help businesses operate more efficiently. If you don't offer what companies want, your city could lose in a big way. Do you really want to miss out on the potential for new opportunities? New jobs? New businesses?
While most cities don't have the skilled professionals a citywide network would require, there are plenty of companies actively looking for cities to work with, and they offer a variety of solutions. For example, Council Lead Partner AT&T has been working with cities on connectivity solutions for some time and recently launched a framework to intensify that effort. Lead Partner GE provides a suite of solutions and so do Lead Partners Cisco, Microsoft and others.
It's understandable that many cities are leery of the complexity and cost of planning and creating a connected network. While he wasn't the first to say it, Roland Busch, a member of the management board for Council Associate Partner Siemens specializing in energy management and sustainability, summarized the consequences of not making the investment. "It is not too expensive to make the city smarter because if you do not move to increase the smartness or intelligence of a city or technology use of a city, it will fall behind other rivals."
Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.