Steven Kenny, Axis Communications, reflects on the challenges that influence the development of the smart city.
There are significant benefits to be gained from investing in smart cities, including reducing waste, driving efficiencies, optimising resources and increasing access to services.
They offer both business and public sector the opportunity to embed improvements that can not only transform how citizens engage with their surroundings but can have a positive impact on bottom-line spending too.
However, for the vision of the smart city to be fully realised, there are challenges that need to be overcome. One of the most pressing is around security.
Perhaps the question isn’t whether or not security is a concern, but rather whether or not security is being effectively addressed within the cohesive ecosystem of the smart city, and how this is defined.
While there is little doubt that the smart city delivers numerous benefits, these will vary depending on the technology applied, the level of integration, the data collected, and how this data is leveraged to deliver the intelligence required to make the right decisions.
Smart cities and smart buildings are sold on the strength of their benefits and yet this premise is both ambiguous and elusive.
A Sheffield University research paper, What is a smart building?, determined that the single attribute that defines the smart city, smart building or intelligent construct is Control Flow – the order in which instructions and statements are executed or evaluated by a programme. If this Control Flow is reactive, the building is intelligent; if it is adaptive, the building is smart; and if it is predictive, then it is a thinking building.
The truth is that there is no generally agreed definition of the smart city or building but any solutions or systems sold within this premise should address the complexities of security, interoperability of devices, and the regulatory controls that could influence its potential.
Amidst the stakeholders and the loose definitions of the smart building and city lies the technology. This is as varied in its capability as it is in its ability to deliver on the smart city premise. From building materials, device components, automation, software and emergent technologies, there are numerous factors involved in the creation of the smart solution.
The main technologies used to make systems smarter are artificial intelligence, big data analytics and edge computing, and of course the right kind of data.
However, the main technologies used to make systems smarter are artificial intelligence, big data analytics and edge computing, and of course, the right kind of data. Each of these presents its own challenges and pain points and it is in selecting the right solutions that it becomes critical to have a clearly defined roadmap of the smart building or smart city. Without it, there is the risk that security vulnerabilities could be embedded into the system from the outset.
These technologies allow for the evolution of intelligent systems and smart cities and yet few implementations pay attention to the critical component of security.
There is a lack of information on how to start a smart city project and even less information on how to secure each point along the way. Plenty of information exists about the technologies and their capabilities, yet very little in the way of a clear-cut start, middle and end.
Every part of the journey should be clearly mapped and aligned, so that those who sell the systems, those who will buy and use them, and every single step along the supply and value chains is cognisant of how security will be effectively addressed.
Determining exactly which security standards, certifications and legislations have to be considered prior to implementation and integration, and exactly how each touchpoint has to be secured along the chain, is critical in establishing the foundations of a safe and secure environment.
The next step is to determine which technologies should be considered for inclusion. New technologies are constantly appearing on the market and this is both advantageous and complex.
In a market where we’re spoiled for choice by the sheer range of products available, it can be hard to make an informed decision. The full benefits of certain technologies are often not clearly understood and there are knock-on effects with regards to device and system integrations. Finding the consistent winners in the clamour isn’t easy.
This also introduces one of the biggest issues affecting smart city development today – skills. The right people are crucial to ensuring that an implementation is relevant, consistently maintained, and secure. Any installation has to be constantly monitored for threats, and businesses need an effective risk management strategy in place.
Smart cities are not only at risk of vulnerabilities being introduced in the implementation phase – if there is limited understanding of the constantly evolving threat landscape then systems will become vulnerable in the future.
In a market where we’re spoiled for choice by the sheer range of products available, it can be hard to make an informed decision.
The impact of any vulnerability on a smart city or building, no matter how small, could have a catastrophic effect across devices, network systems, technologies and organisations. The challenge is to invest in the skills – either on-site or as a service – that can reduce key vulnerabilities in a timely and professional manner.
Of course, data should be part of any smart implementation. Data collection, analysis, sharing and storage have become increasingly difficult to navigate, particularly in the wake of regulations such as GDPR.
The data that flows within the smart environment has to be secured as it is not just user data or personally identifiable information, it concerns every aspect of the smart city from the thermostat to the central control.
Every smart installation has to consider the implications of data. To address this, it’s imperative that the smart city is constructed according to a ’secure by design’ philosophy; that data is protected by default and that every smart project is approached strategically within specified security standards and frameworks.
While there is no perfect pathway to the undefined smart city ideal, there are essential elements that have to be considered and implemented to ensure security, support, ongoing adaptability, compliance, and skills development.
Training is important when integrating technologies across different platforms and systems.
Security should be a conversation that never stops.
Security should be a conversation that never stops. Regulations need to be assessed and policies should be put in place to ensure every one of these boxes is ticked in the future.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is to ensure that security remains front of mind as integrations and solutions consistently build on the potential and benefits that the smart city has to offer.
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