Infrastructure Outlook: Smart Cities–Guided by People, Powered by Information
A key characteristic of a smart city is the ability to make effective connections among its citizens, assets and services. The smart city does this by using technology to support and improve the interaction among people and government. In doing so, a city enhances its citizens’ well-being as well as its overall performance and efficiency.
Most cities aren’t concerned about being labeled “smart.” Rather, their concerns focus on providing a safe, pleasant and sustainable environment for its citizens, visitors and businesses. In working to achieve this goal, many cities already are taking the first steps to leverage technology to benefit their communities.
Smart cities use information and technology to support a diverse array of physical and non-physical activities. Roads and buildings, infrastructure, and public safety operations utilize a variety of technologies to increase productivity and quality of services for citizens. Similarly, non-physical functions, such as permitting, planning and administration, also use technology to streamline processes and manage costs. When data and stakeholders are connected, city leaders can draw information from multiple sources in the physical and administrative worlds. Such information, combined with tools for analysis and feedback, enable leaders and managers to make better decisions and optimize the use of physical, human and monetary resources.
A smart city thrives when people make effective use of technology to power ideas, often beginning with authoritative or reliable information on the city’s assets and resources that enable the city to make smart decisions.
The Foundation of a Smart City
Much of a city’s service is related to the physical world: structures and facilities for housing and business, utilities, transportation, education, and recreation. The work to understand and manage its assets occupies a significant portion of a city’s time and budget. By making these processes more efficient and tying them to other services and activities, a city becomes smarter and more effective. For example, we know that about 50 percent of city and municipal budgets go to personnel, so by making employees more efficient via technology, the city can do more with the same number of people.
The effective city infrastructure management requires knowing the location and condition of its physical assets. Geospatial solutions enable cities to collect and manage authoritative data to assess and understand built and natural environments. The data then are transformed into actionable information that forms the basis for productive actions and workflows.
The information processes of smart cities can be broken into three main cyclical areas:
- Gathering and managing large datasets
- Transforming big data to smart data by processing and analyzing for insight
- Using authoritative data to put information to work in efficient, collaborative and measurable ways
Collecting Big Data
With large geographic areas containing buildings, utilities and infrastructure, cities face a significant challenge in capturing data with sufficient detail. The sheer volume of data needed for effective management can be daunting. Certain geospatial solutions can help collect and manage geospatial data, enabling cities to build and operate flexible, accurate databases for built and natural features. Information can be gathered using blended technologies for imaging, positioning and specialized information management to prioritize planning and response efforts.
For example, local governments in Italy’s Padua region began work to modernize the existing system of streetlights under a Sustainable Energy Action Plan designed to increase efficiency, battle climate change and reduce light pollution. To develop the plan, they needed to create an inventory of the area’s streetlights. Using vehicle-mounted sensors, handheld devices and analytical software, contractors cut in half the number of field technicians needed for the project and reduced the time required for data collection by 20 percent.
In a three-month period, the team captured data on more than 7,400 individual fixtures. In addition to faster and more-precise data collection, the solution provided increased safety for field technicians and reduced disruption to traffic and commerce. The streetlight inventory, which was delivered to GIS and engineering design systems, will provide planners with comprehensive information to develop new, energy-efficient lighting for streets and public areas.
Transforming “Big Data” to “Smart Data”
Massive datasets offer enticing opportunities for cities. But Big Data isn’t valuable until it’s put to use. Data can be analyzed and processed to develop information suitable for specific needs and municipal functions. And by using centralized tools to manage and utilize data, cities can reduce costs and increase efficiency. Instead of separate datasets and applications (commonly known as “data silos”), important data can be shared and reused across functional lines.
This approach is illustrated by a large city in Asia, where geospatial information formed the basis for coordinated work by multiple municipal functions. In the city’s large, densely populated environment, unapproved vertical building activity often can occur. The illegal buildings may be built higher than approved plans, or be extended after initial construction was completed. The structures can present serious safety issues as well as violation of an array of ordinances. In addition, illegal building deprives the city out of legitimate building fees and revenues from property taxes.
Needing to identify unpermitted building, the city used authoritative data produced from aerial and terrestrial sources. A team of professionals used satellite-imaging software to analyze the data and identify instances where buildings had been illegally constructed.
When the analysis software flagged an infraction, it could be quickly located, verified and then shared with other stakeholders, effectively transforming Big Data to Smart Data. The work brought together the city land department, tax office and housing agency. These agencies used the analysis for inspections and safety mitigation and to reclaim lost revenues. Because the geospatial database is updated annually, the city has a tool to conduct regular analyses to detect and address the issues of illegal vertical builds.
Authoritative Data: First Steps to a Smart City
Cities don’t become smart overnight. The overall goal—moving from reactive management to proactive strategies—may best be achieved by identifying the opportunities within various city functions and implementing carefully chosen technological solutions. The work to convert Big Data into Smart Data often begins with geospatial technologies.
Effective city governments rely on geospatial information to understand and manage assets. Local governments use these geospatial solutions to help make smarter decisions by simplifying the data flow from collection through decision making to measure work impacts and support asset and operational management, affect policy, and improve service.
Over the longer term, information from geospatial systems and process management can be combined and applied throughout the broader enterprise to enable automated processing, centralized data management, analysis, communication and collaboration. In addition to managing physical assets and resources, cities use geospatial technologies to streamline administrative processes that serve citizens. By providing easy interactive channels for communication and responses, these solutions enable cities to foster improved productivity and community satisfaction.