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Delivering on the promise of the smart city with a platform approach

Arnaud Legrand, Nokia, outlines the city as a platform vision and its benefits for cities, citizens and private sector partners.

Arnaud Legrand, Nokia
Arnaud Legrand, Nokia

Technology trends take a familiar and well-known trajectory. The first wave of enthusiasm builds to great heights.


Organisations, businesses and entrepreneurs scramble like eager surfers to catch it. Some manage to have a quick and dramatic ride to success, while many miss it or simply tumble. Then the wave crashes and is lost on the wide beach of indifference, with all eyes focused on the next big wave.


So it has been with many trends of recent decades, and “smart cities” is one of them.


In the last decade, many smart city applications have been deployed: from monitoring the city environment and tracking city vehicle fleets, to managing parking and making public buildings more energy-efficient.


To-date, the smart city focus has been on applications that address isolated problems. Cities are realising, however, that increasing the number of service delivery points alone – even smart ones – won’t take them where they need to go.


Cities as a Platform


Take for example a city that is facing increasing natural disasters due to climate change.


Improving city resilience to these situations will require tight collaboration between systems for road infrastructure, natural resource management, healthcare and public safety. Capturing innovation in each of these domains, as well as enabling smart collaboration within tight city budget constraints, requires a new approach to the city’s digital transformation.


Capturing innovation between different systems requires a new approach to the city’s digital transformation.


By leveraging this “city as a platform” approach, city managers will be able to radically change the way they innovate, mitigate business and innovation management risks, while also benefiting from citizen, community and private-sector involvement.


Networks play a key role in helping to connect cities’ assets to applications, city service providers and, ultimately, citizens. Networks connect systems, machines, devices, sensors and facilities. As a result, they provide a medium for real-time communication, information-gathering, processing and sharing. Converging all of these networks on a single connectivity platform has many advantages.


Beyond the network


However, for cities to really benefit from this type of approach, the broader ecosystem must also be considered.


For example, the more ‘end points’ that are connected, the greater the velocity and volume of data that can be exchanged. This increases the opportunities to glean insight and understand patterns from the data generated by multiple exchanges.


As a result, cities looking to move toward a comprehensive smart city plan, need to consider big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning as much as the networks themselves.


Due to the layers involved, these smart cities will also need an integrated operating centre to function much like a nerve centre. This nerve centre would manage the status of the various elements of the communications network, the applications running on them and the availability, faults, incidents and triggers.


Cities looking to move toward a comprehensive smart city plan, need to consider big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning as much as the networks themselves.


Although many municipal governments might quail at the thought of investing in and maintaining such a platform, there are many public-private models for providing network and cloud services, and increasingly big data analytics are also moving this way.


Approach matters


Cities already have numerous projects aimed at improving operational efficiency. As a result, platforms can help accelerate this aspect of their digital transformation by sharing infrastructure costs and allowing for common data stores across operational systems and common back-office functions.


The goal at this level is to gain efficiencies by further improving delivery of the same services. These savings can be used, in turn, to fund new service development, where the returns are higher.


Having an open data platform also enables collaboration with third-party partners; making new approaches to public service creation and delivery possible. The resulting multi-party services can be used directly by government-owned entities or by private third-party partners to deliver new, enhanced public services such as transportation apps with access to transit, traffic and roadworks data.


Other areas could include education, healthcare or waste management. Improved service outcomes bring value to both city agencies/departments as well as citizens. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) can also be used to finance service development, which mitigates a municipality’s financial risk.


City-wide innovation and incubation


The greatest social and economic value is enabled by continuous innovation that is not dependent on city services. This approach can be entirely generated by the private sector; think a growing micro-enterprise sector. These benefits drive exponentially greater benefits by jump-starting a cycle of new employment, economic growth and demand for new services.


As an example, over a decade ago, the City of Chattanooga’s energy utility needed to create a communications network to support a new smart electrical grid. They decided to put in an advanced broadband (1 Gigabit) network and made it available to the city as a connectivity platform. This eventually shifted the way schools taught and spurred micro-businesses that could use the higher bandwidth. It has been key to Chattanooga’s renaissance as a smart city.


An advanced connectivity platform has been key to Chattanooga’s renaissance as a smart city.


After a decade or more exploring smart city point solutions, the groundwork has been laid for the next level of smart city development.


Cities that adopt this type of platform approach will be able to stretch their scarce resources by collaborating with citizens and businesses, open their cities to greater innovation by sharing ideas and collaborating, and accelerate the time to service creation by leveraging not only the smart city platform, but the common practices and shared development resources of their communities.


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