Smart Cities – AKA Connected Communities

Last update on March 16, 2020.

Smart Cities – AKA Connected Communities

What exactly makes a smart city? Andrew Palmer, Consulting Director at CGI UK, argues that 5G is not the measure of one. Instead, he believes it is the interconnectivity between citizens, devices and buildings, allied to infrastructure and ecosystems which support a coherent vision.

When applied to complex environments such as cities, enterprises or utilities, the term ‘smart’ does not begin to describe the level of interoperability, connectedness, control and two-way interaction envisaged. I would suggest that the word ‘connected’ as opposed to ‘smart’ should be used. For example, we have ‘connected communities’ instead of ‘smart cities.’ One of the UK Catapults, which was created to stimulate the adoption of new technological innovations, has been rebranded as the ‘connect places catapult’ for this very reason. In a similar vein, local authorities and councils, such as Greenwich and Salford are adopting the term ‘digital’ to describe themselves. They have realised that going ‘smart’ for them is as much of a digital transformation, as addressing the need for intelligent network infrastructure, would be for an electricity company. The utilities sector is looking to deliver net-zero carbon emissions. As such, the need for connectivity in providing appropriate access to fit-for-purpose, accurate, complete and real-time data, as well as effective collation, processing and insight-driven operational benefits is paramount.

If we view going ‘smart’ or ‘connected’ as digital transformation, then the steps we take should mirror those of the digital transformation within an enterprise. Transformation must have a clear focus, with citizens always at its heart; whatever strategy or steps are taken, their driving themes are to deliver better social, environmental and economic outcomes. A good example of this is between CGI and Bell Canada. CGI integrated Bell Canada’s media, retail and regional businesses to enable evolving core business processes to be digital across all of the channels. This helped improve time-to-market, sped up project execution and reduced operational costs by 70%.

Therefore, as part of any digital transformation, the strategy or mission statement and relevant outcomes must be clearly defined. These outcomes have to be measurable to determine the progress made over time through a series of delivery phases. These outcomes will inform the use cases required to support them, which must be financially sustainable to provide long-term benefits as well as attracting potential external investment and collaboration.

This set of use cases will then be used to develop the overall data architecture/data model (such as that referenced by the recent Energy Data Taskforce report) for the Connected Community which will aggregate data from all of the required sources into one central or federated entity. Only then will the necessary connectivity and end-devices be determined, with as much reuse of existing and legacy components as possible, to reduce initial expenditure and accelerate deployment.

By determining the outcomes and benefits as early as possible in the transformation, the likely revenues, cost reductions and operational efficiencies can be assessed and calculated. Combining these benefits with the connectivity and device costs to deliver the data required to support the use cases will create the business case that underwrites the various elements of the strategy, which can then be used to attract outside investment or engagement.

We should consider that this connected community will operate as a series of horizontal layers: Devices, Connectivity, Data Aggregation and Processing, Data Analytics and UIs/APIs. These are then controlled by end-to-end Security and Data Management frameworks. To support these layers, the creation of a Connected Communities Operations Centre and Operations Platform is essential. These will ensure that everything runs as smoothly as possible but also provide the necessary control point for integrating with other systems to share and collate data to support other use cases and insights. This will offer as wide a series of outcomes and benefits as possible.

On top of this, there needs to be a governance model in place to support different organisational models, reflecting how the UK’s councils and local authorities are run. It will need to bring together a myriad number of organisational departments, systems, functions or facilities outsourced, part-outsourced or completely insourced. The template will need to provide as open and effective a way as possible for the public and private sectors to interoperate seamlessly, while also providing the flexibility essential to support the different organisational models.

These newly connected communities will thrive on the interoperability between citizens, devices, buildings and other systems; it has to be a fully interoperable ecosystem based on the use cases, data and outcomes that have been defined. The use of documented and widely supported standards-based APIs will not just be a boon for external interoperability. It will also help with internal interoperability. It makes no sense to apply standards to the external interfaces and leave the internal ecosystem as a set of unconnected silos, where data transfer is totally proprietary. To prevent vendor lock-in, the interaction between internal and external systems should be as open and standardised as possible, which should also enable the leveraging of more competitive supply chains. The use of the same APIs internally and externally will reduce the development and testing efforts, as well as in-life operations and support costs; it should also enable enterprises to innovate and lower barriers to competition and incentivise innovation and collaboration.

Extending this interoperability, citizens ideally should be able to move seamlessly between connected communities, which is where true interoperability is required. This will need the various standards bodies to collaborate on defining how to support such interoperability, based on three tiers: Guidance and Leadership, Processing and Managing Data and Building and Developing Ecosystems.

The result of developing in this way is that new adopters will not have to build everything from scratch. They should be faced with less design and development work, leading to faster and more economical deployment rates, as well as being able to interoperate with existing connected communities. There will also be the opportunity to refine the model as successive deployments are completed. This will ensure that the lessons learned are used to improve existing deployments. First and foremost, though, the creation of truly integrated Connected Cities will immeasurably improve the lives of citizens, bringing our communities together and preparing them for the future, whatever it may bring.

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