The city of Chicago received 182,000 claims, totaling $735 million, over just five years in regard to flooding alone. The key, it realized, was the ability of its soil to absorb water from rainfall. So the city enacted several initiatives from bioswales and planters containing highly absorbent plants, to permeable pavers to aid rainwater filtration. However, it lacked information on filtration and absorption rates that would allow for accurate flood prediction and early warning systems.
Chicago turned to the internet of things (IoT) which, enabled by sensors and cloud based analytics, could bring visibility and foresight to these natural underground water systems. Having already implemented several smart city systems, the city knew that they could not take on this task alone.
"I don't think for anything at this scale Chicago would have been able to do it by itself, or even possibly with one company," said Brenna Berman, CIO of the city’s Department of Innovation & Technology. So, with the help of smart city accelerator City Digital, Chicago brought together academic institutions, city partners and corporations such as Microsoft, Senformatics and AECOM, to design an IoT project for the benefit of all stakeholders.
Last week we discussed how diverse the players involved in the smart city are, the next level is how well they play together. Bringing together corporations, government agencies, academics, social enterprises, urbanists and community leaders, is essential for a smart city but worthless if they cannot work cohesively. Take vendors for example, without standardization their solutions are isolated from the wider smart city, limiting their potential.
“We’re not looking for a single vendor we’ll all buy from,” Berman said about Chicago. “We are looking for the vendors who are saying ‘we’ll sign up for the standards’ so that we know if we buy three things from three different vendors we’re not going to spend the next 20 years trying to integrate that and maintain it.”
In the rapidly evolving IoT and smart city sectors standards have generally developed along different paths to the same destination, each hoping to become the dominant protocol. Smart cities are characterized by a heterogeneous technology environment and in many regions of the world, like Europe for example, the focus has shifted to interoperability as the key to smart city development.
"Every vendor has a platform. Where can we meet in the middle?" asked Sokwoo Rhee, associate director of cyber-physical systems program at NIST. "Agree on the picture. And that vision can be different. We have to be inclusive not just from a city's perspective, but from a vendor's perspective. We want to bring in all the great innovation and technologies that vendor has and create a blueprint or starting point."
In the smart city sector there is no one vendor that can provide everything, each provides a piece or two of the puzzle. In order for the final picture to take shape these, often competing, vendors need to work together for the common good rather than battle each other for supremacy.
"There's also not a single vendor for everything. I think the way for cities to truly win is to be able to have a consortium of partners that provide the right solution for the right pain point, and ensuring that you've got partners that are able to work together in a cohesive way to make that happen," said Lani Ingram, VP of smart communities at Verizon, at the recent Smart Cities Summit in Boston.
In differing ways, this is also true of government agencies, academics, social enterprises, community leaders and, essentially, the users themselves. The advantages and disadvantages of a smart city may make sense to the sector and interested technology geeks, but the average user is often left in the dark.
“It is critical to have conversations with the public to ensure they understand what the projects are for and how building a smart city can help them,” said Kristin Seaver, CIO and executive vice president at the U.S. Postal Service. "If you're going to engage citizens, do some homework and be sure your inputs and variables help make informed decision-making," said Lauren Riga, acting administrator, redevelopment at the city of Indianapolis and associate faculty member at IUPUI School for Public and Environmental Affairs.
Users took a prime position during discussions at the event in Boston. Nader Nanjiani, marketing director of IoT at Harman International, summed it up well saying it was critical to "make the citizen the center of the equation and provide an experience that will make living within that city memorable and useful."
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