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Collaboration is the key to smart(er) cities

Combining citizen data with data from IoT systems and smart city sensors can help create truly actionable and life-saving intelligence. TEOCO’s Daniel Itzigsohn looks at how we can achieve this.

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The busiest train station in Europe is the Gare du Nord in Paris with over 214.2 million people entering and exiting the station every year. In London Waterloo, the UK’s busiest station, nearly 100 million people pass through annually. In fact, during the peak morning arrival time, more than 600 new people set foot in the station every single minute. Each one of these people represents an almost untapped source of data and smart city information.

Across the world, all types of sensors are now woven into the fabric of big city life – generating billions of data points from things such as parking meters, street lights, traffic control points, weather monitors, air pollution stations, and security systems. What’s more, it is estimated that the sensor market will grow from $424.4 billion in 2017 to $1,201 billion in the next five years, according to ASD Reports.


Citizens can get in on the information act as well, if they are given the right tools. For example, they can provide real-time on-the-ground information on traffic problems, safety concerns, vandalism and emergency health situations by connecting through specially created smart city apps, social media and other channels.


The trick is to pull all of the information together in a way that separates the nuggets from the noise. Combining citizen data with data from IoT systems and smart city sensors can help create truly actionable and life-saving intelligence. In fact, combining and integrating data from these multiple and varied sources could underpin a city-wide action plan that marries improved efficiency with increased safety and faster reaction times for first responders.


Collaboration matters


However, in order for this to work, collaboration needs to be front of mind for the entire ecosystem. This means the end of working in data silos, and increased communication and collaboration across municipal departments, emergency services, businesses and NGOs, and – most importantly – citizens themselves. As an integral part of progressing smart cities, citizens can help public authorities to work more efficiently together by integrating citizen-sourced data from smart city apps, as well as individually reporting incidents or flagging concerns via the app, a city’s Facebook page or its Twitter handle.


Before cities enlist the assistance of their citizens, they need to create new-style ‘command and control centres’ to be able to deliver unprecedented visibility into a city’s landscape. Creating a visual map of machine and human data for a smart city will allow planners and first responders to do their jobs more effectively, and will also help support law enforcement, public utilities, disaster management and environmental controls.

 

Before cities enlist the assistance of their citizens, they need to create new style ‘command and control centres’ to be able to deliver unprecedented visibility into a city’s landscape.

 

For example, recently, areas of India and Pakistan suffered levels of air pollution so severe that they actually caused fatal traffic accidents. If cities have the ability to detect and prevent these dangerous pollution levels from occurring in the first place by correlating real-time and historical data across traffic, meteorology and air quality systems, it will literally save lives.

Emulating telcos


Smart cities would eventually give authorities the ablity to detect possible incidents and also provide coordinated responses to emergencies, natural disasters and terrorist attacks much more quickly and effectively.

 

The command and control centers should emulate the way today’s communications service providers leverage, correlate and analyse the massive amounts of data crossing their digital networks. This involves the combination of smart city performance management, event management, and automation and orchestration functionalities with advanced visualisation.


In many of the places recently struck by natural disasters – such as the fires in Greece and earthquakes in Indonesia – there was a clear need for city officials to have real-time information on what was happening across their cities. They needed to be able to analyse and co-ordinate a response to this information in a way that made the most of available resources and posed the least risk to life and property.

 

However, all too often, valuable information is held within data silos instead of being shared and leveraged across teams, systems and functionalities.

 

For example, social media is often perceived as the first source of news. Authorities can analyse social media for crowdsourced updates on where flood levels are rising and data from flood gauge sensors, which would allow city transportation officials to implement road closures and deploy life-saving services to those in need.

 

Working collaboratively would enable this information to then be fed to emergency responders for alternative route information, allowing them to plan their approach to a call-out before they arrive at the closed road.

Power of the platform


This kind of collaboration is only possible through a proven, carrier-grade service assurance platform that can scale to ingest billions of data records per day and uses open APIs to collect data from a range of sources. Data correlation, analytics and automation is then required to provide the advanced incident management needed.


From a management perspective, the right information needs to be accessible and given to the workers and first responders at the right time. This means being able to set and enforce policies across a range of different systems to streamline workflows – enabling faster and more reliable decisions. The vast amount of data being generated needs to be promptly analysed and to do this quickly enough requires advanced data visualisation and dashboard-style reporting to help simplify the amount of information being presented.


The network-slicing ability of next-generation 5G networks will also play an important role, as it will enable smart city services to run across dedicated slices without impacting consumer capacity. That consumer capacity is critical for a number of reasons. First of all, it will enable citizens to access smart city apps in order to report incidents and provide on-the-ground information. It will also ensure that they receive information from the smart city centre itself – perhaps data from traffic cameras to help drivers find alternative routes to avoid congestion.


The ‘first smart city’, Seoul, was declared in 2014. Only four years on, most of today’s smart cities are already generating billions of data points, but it’s how they correlate, analyse and share this data from multiple sources and across teams and organisations that will turn them into the smarter cities of tomorrow.

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