Cities of tomorrow, today: collecting, storing and analyzing data to make smarter urban living

Smart cities are urban destinations that leverage digital technology to be more efficient, sustainable and attractive places for residents, workers and visitors. They work best when citizens are engaged in the city’s processes and development, and municipalities can drive that engagement through open data.

Smart city services have the potential to revolutionize urban living and working, but they can only realistically be of value if they are used. There is more than just rolling out digital technologies to making a city smart.

Data, data everywhere

Smart cities are replete with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors that gather data from all kinds of sources: lamp posts, traffic lights, the sides of buildings, cars and other vehicles, even light bulbs. The result of all this connectivity and smarter devices is that we are now generating five quintillion bytes of data every day via IoT devices alone.

Getting people involved

Gartner has spoken about the need to engage citizens from the start of smart city projects, with one report highlighting the benefits of a community-driven, bottom-up approach, with residents and citizens involved in the design and development of their smart city from the outset, rather than the city’s executive officers coming up with programs and policies that focus too much on the technologies and are then simply “dumped” on residents without any analysis of actual need.

With all this data to utilize, the success of a smart city project then depends largely on the level of involvement the city gets from its citizens. One way to start off doing this is by talking to residents and citizens about what services they find most useful. Progressive urban planning to get the most out of a smart city project should kick off by focusing on the causes of problems rather than symptoms so that you can design a city environment that inspires and motivates people.

Getting people involved centers around making the city attractive to them, and that means improving quality of life for everyone. That might mean looking at issues like traffic congestion, CO2 emissions, energy and data integration, public transport efficiency and so on. According to research by Juniper, smart cities have the potential to “give back” 125 hours a year to residents in the form of hours saved on commuting and general travel as well as overall health benefits. Gathering up data about the city’s services, analyzing it with the latest data analytics tools, and creating insights from it can help you connect your communities, enhance services and have a profound overall impact on quality of life for citizens.

But how do you manage it all?

A master systems integrator (MSI) can help you pull all your data and systems together and advise on how best to deploy and integrate them. MSIs have the expertise to help you analyze data and turn it into valuable operational insights and then to make sure your smart city systems communicate properly with each other and with your various stakeholders, so you get the most from your data and insights. MSIs are also skilled at making sure you work in harmony with other technology vendors and manufacturers plus all relevant energy providers, civil engineering companies and real estate firms within your smart city ecosystem.

Furthermore, and with all that data in play, it makes sense for smart cities to appoint a chief data officer (CDO) to oversee data and its exploitation. The role of the CDO has evolved rapidly in recent times, and according to Gartner, by 2021 CDOs will perform an integral role in the organization, on the same level as IT, business operations, HR and finance, in 75% of large enterprises.

Further research by KPMG has underlined the importance of the CDO in a large organization, as companies with dedicated CDOs are twice as likely to have clear digital strategies, something that is crucial to the success of a smart city. CDOs are now central to digital transformation initiatives, and the role has become tasked with delivering ROI and finding new business opportunities: in the case of a smart city, the CDO job should have a big focus on citizen engagement, ensuring that all stakeholders play active roles and targeting a mutually beneficial relationship between the city and its citizens that benefits everyone.

The role is gaining traction: over 20 smart cities in the U.S. have now appointed CDOs, including major metropolises like New Orleans, Philadelphia and San Francisco, while 100 smart cities in India have also hired CDOs to help them make the most of their data.

What approach should you use?

Smart cities employ all kinds of digital techniques and applications to transform them, but for data gathering and analysis, certain solutions win out over others. IoT-enabled sensors throughout the city will collect your data, while analytics tools are used to help drive insights from it.

But all that data needs expertise to make the most of it, which is where smart cities need data scientists and other similar specialists. Digital tools enable you, but deriving value from all that data requires skills and know-how: Orange has the capabilities to extrapolate value from data and drive successful relationships between your smart city management, CDO, services managers and residents, workers and citizens.

The privacy and trust factor

There is of course a privacy factor to consider in smart cities, since any project that involves the collection of data on this scale will carry concerns: cyber threats are continually on the increase and are becoming more sophisticated all the time. It is safe to assume that these challenges will only increase over time as the amount of data collected using IoT tools continues to grow.

It is likely that smart city residents will want to know what data of theirs is being collected, by whom, and for what purpose. So this is another area where the CDO role comes to the fore, as does citizen engagement. There will be a lot of questions to be answered by the CDO to allay privacy fears in smart cities, but again, data that is shared with citizens and that allows them to contribute to the city’s development in an open, controlled and sustainable way can be the way ahead. According to Gartner, citizen engagement and the enhancement of services and experience will be “critical” to smart cities’ success.

For more information, read about innovation and startups in the Middle East, the need for open data, how Gulf cities are embracing digital transformation and similarly in Australia.

Steve Harris

I’ve been writing about technology for around 15 years and today focus mainly on all things telecoms - next generation networks, mobile, cloud computing and plenty more. For Futurity Media I am based in the Asia-Pacific region and keep a close eye on all things tech happening in that exciting part of the world.