Tech Trends: Smart Cities - You May be an Expert

Aug. 9, 2023
Integrators are in a unique role of both qualified technologist and installer as the smart city trend takes hold

This article originally appeared in the August 2023 issue of Security Business magazine. When sharing, don’t forget to mention Security Business magazine on LinkedIn and @SecBusinessMag on Twitter.

Smart cities have been a focus of mine for a while. Why? Because they can be so complex, and yet can better our society while keeping people safe.

Smart cities check all of the boxes – from being technologically savvy to empowering city stakeholders to do better, to addressing climate issues. But what is a “smart city?” The original definition could be summed up as “broadband for everyone,” and it could be argued that is still the basic requirement. Edge sensor technologies require connectivity to relay data back to the platforms needed to ingest the data. Still, most smart cities have outgrown this basic requirement.  

Smart cities have been a growing tech trend for a while – quietly mentioned yet challenging the status quo. Smart cities are not for the faint at heart. They also have the attention of almost every segment of the security industry.

The Goals of Smart Cities

The central focus of most smart cities is to create an ecosystem of interconnected technologies across city stakeholders and public-private partnerships to increase the livability of the city (definition by yours truly). It should be noted that smart cities have different goals depending on where they are on the globe, but most smart cities incorporate public safety as a foundational layer. Cities with reduced criminal activity tend to attract more people, which, in turn, attracts more businesses and more tax revenue, and the cycle repeats.

“[Global] smart cities are focused on inclusiveness, sustainability, resilience, citizen engagement and quality of life,” explains Brian St. Onge of Dell Technologies. “Local environmental, demographic, and economic conditions lead to different priorities for the decision makers within these cities looking to deploy smart technologies.”

Projects where Security Integrators can Gain a Foothold

Smart cities are investing in projects in transportation, parking management, citywide surveillance, and smart lighting, and while there are others, these tend to be predominant in most smart city initiatives.

Traffic sucks, and cities in general may be working on any number of transportation initiatives; though there are three that seem to get the lion’s share of attention. Self-driving cars and cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) are forcing cities to adopt new technologies to keep people safe. Vision Zero, a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities, as well as the upgrade of physical infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.) are helping to meet these goals.

Parking management solutions are helping people navigate parking and are revenue-generating for cities. Parking solutions are some of the least expensive solutions with considerable Return on Investment (ROI) potential.

Citywide surveillance is helping public safety departments “see” where their officers cannot be. As departments are struggling with manpower shortages and rising crime rates, citywide surveillance applications – while not replacing the officer – enable departments to do more with less.

Smart Lighting reduces a city’s power consumption, creating a more climate-friendly place to live. Depending on each city, this may be a primary or secondary benefit. Since most cities do not own their lighting, this requires a stakeholder partnership with a local energy provider. This is also where some cities have been able to create additional partnerships where the smart lighting pole becomes a connectivity center for edge sensors and shared space for revenue-generating technologies. It should be noted that connectivity infrastructure is still a major piece that is lacking in most cities.

Wild vs. Caged Scenarios

Cities, let alone smart cities, generate sensor data that has compliance requirements as well as functional requirements. As such, the data complexities force cities to handle the data differently.

Cities create a unique application of sensor data in the wild. What was once an “access control” or “video surveillance” device is now classified as an Internet of Things (IoT) sensor.

Smart cities cause problems for some sensor manufacturers because the environment does not resemble a lab setting. Analytics on cameras, for example, will stop working appropriately when the pole that the sensor is attached to is hit by a truck. Thus, the sensor must be able to work in a constantly changing environment.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)-enabled edge sensors require datasets to be trained using data found in the wild, and not just in a lab scenario. Smart city data is the difference between a wild lion on the savanna and a caged one in a zoo.

The Data Problem & Orchestration

Smart city stakeholders include internal department stakeholders, policy experts, elected officials, and external stakeholders such as citizens, community organizations, and academic institutions, among others. Stakeholders may have existing disparate systems that aggregate data today, and with each new project, new disparate data is collected and must be aggregated.

The problem is that when each stakeholder implements a new technology – and a new disparate data aggregation point – that data has to go somewhere and be analyzed. Typically, the data travels to an operations center or a data analyst who is armed with tens if not hundreds of software platforms with the expectation of parsing the data to achieve a desired outcome. Rarely is this successful in the long term.

What smart cities are looking for is orchestration: Just like conducting an orchestra made up of instrument families, the city is the orchestra, the stakeholders are the instrument families, and the ticket holders are the residents. Even technology vendors and other manufacturer partners are part of the support staff, making sure the orchestra performs without concern.

Orchestration is not accomplished easily. It requires sensor fusion and interoperability – two buzzwords as of today, but still very relevant. Many times, it requires software development. Several platforms already exist that allow for orchestration and need only software customization vs. full creation from the ground up.

The Journey Continues

Why isn’t every city a smart city? Budget is the primary reason, although that is debatable.

A smart city is a journey, not an endpoint. There is no “poof” smart city; there will always be improvements to be made. It takes time and investment to attract additional stakeholders and make changes for a common goal.

Interestingly, most Fortune-level companies, leading healthcare organizations, universities, and more, are also implementing many of the same applications and technologies as smart cities, and often for the same reasons. This puts integrators in the unique position as technological and implementation experts. So, take a closer look at the smart city vertical – you may have more expertise than you think.  

Jon Polly is the Chief Solutions Officer for ProTecht Solutions Partners, a security consulting company focused on smart city surveillance. Connect with him on linkedin:

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