A Tale of Two Cities: Two Approaches to Making Cities Smarter, Part I

This is actually not a tale of two specific cities but of two types of cities, or “smart cities” as the new moniker goes. It will appear in three parts.

Defining Smart Cities 

“Smart” has become the adjective of choice among tech vendors to describe solutions that capture, synthesize and analyze the vast amounts of data being produced by computing and networking systems. Forrester defines Smart Computing as: 

a new generation of integrated hardware, software, and network technologies that provide IT systems with real-time awareness of the real world and advanced analytics to help people make more intelligent decisions about alternatives and actions that will optimize business processes and business balance sheet results. 

What does that mean in layman’s terms?  Every system can be smarter if it can learn from and act on the data it produces. 

A city is a “system of systems” making the potential for efficiency exponential as all of its systems interact.  Therefore, a smart city is:

A city that uses technology to transform its core systems – city administration, education, healthcare, transportation, public safety, real estate, utilities and business — enabling them to capture, analyze and act on the data they produce.

As a result, a smart city’s systems can optimize the use of and return from largely finite resources.  It can, in other words, “do more with less.” Using resources in this smarter way also boosts innovation, a key factor underpinning competitiveness and economic growth.

What are some examples of smart city systems? Transportation systems can reroute buses or open new lanes of traffic to accommodate in real-time the flows of traffic on city streets.  Energy grids can deliver only as much energy as needed to reduce waste, and can inform users how much they are consuming to influence demand.  In healthcare, electronic patient records facilitate the sharing of information and collaboration across clinics, pharmacies and hospitals.  City administrations can integrate systems to enable win-win budget decisions across competing city departments: imagine the transportation and sanitation departments leveraging data to resolve joint issues, rather than competing for budget to solve the issue in a silo. Even businesses benefit from more efficient interaction with the city in more streamlined registration and taxation processes.  And, the business systems themselves can be “smart”: smart supply chains can place orders or transfer inventory to accommodate spikes in demand or surplus in one location. 

IBM’s Smarter Planetcampaign labels these solutions as … well, “smarter” – smarter water, smarter public safety, smarter retail, smarter governments.  Since much of the infrastructure for these solutions requires a connection to a network, Cisco has dubbed their solutions “smart+connected” – smart+connected communities, for example.  Being connected, and knowing how to benefit from the connectedness, makes these solutions smarter. Together these connected systems – transportation, water, electricity, health, public safety, buildings, etc. – can create smarter cities.  

This post and the next two entries are parts of a paper I recently presented for Stanford Continuing Studies program.

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