A city is more than a network of streets, boulevards and back alleys. Even so, the most pressing municipal challenges often start at street level — getting people where they want to go to work, play, shop and raise families.
Optimizing traffic flow helps pretty much everybody who travels through a city. That’s what makes smart-cities technologies so attractive to transportation planners. Data science and mobile technologies have the potential to transform transportation grids — connecting e-bikes, scooters, buses, private cars and commercial vehicles in a holistic travel ecosystem.
With autonomous vehicles already traveling the streets of a few American cities, local governments feel the pressure to evolve quickly while preserving services they’ve used for decades. As municipal leaders dive into the world of smart-cities technologies, we recommend keeping these points in mind.
1. You must have a sound strategy
At DMI, we can deliver the who, what, when, where and how of smart-cities technology. But city leaders have to master the why. That is, why do you even want to deploy these tools?
To help answer the crucial question of why, we suggest building a strategic framework on three pillars:
- Commodities. These are existing assets like streetlights, traffic controls, IT systems, public transportation and safety services.
- Leverage. New technology tools can help you strengthen commodities and improve services without having to do a rip-and-replace on current investments.
- Innovations. Building new and exciting services has a place in your strategy, but you can build it on top of the commodities you’re leveraging.
Before you send out your next batch of RFPs, make sure you’ve figured out how to fit commodities, leverage and innovation into your long-range transportation framework.
2. New tools must drive value
Smart-cities technologies have vast potential for improving people’s lives. A few examples:
- Getting people off the unemployment rolls by ensuring they have access to vehicles that can get them to jobs.
- Attracting employers that want access to innovative technology services and encouraging local people to create startups.
- Using sensors to detect high pollution levels and providing mobile apps to suggests that people stay off the streets during smog alerts.
- Combining mobile apps, location services and geofencing to keep people apprised of city events and help them find parking and other services.
These and many more smart-cities services promote economic growth and a sense of delight among users. That’s genuine value that strengthens civic life.
3. You can’t downplay security
Technology pundits love to extol the virtues of ubiquitous sensors producing data that allows everything to be optimized. But every sensor on a network creates a bullseye for cybercriminals. Civic leaders shouldn’t imagine it’ll be easy to secure all the sensors that enable smart-cities technologies. Indeed, it’s one of the toughest technology challenges you’ll face.
Hackers want easy, undefended targets that provide access to personal data they can exploit. One way to thwart them is anonymizing and encrypting data in every area where it makes sense. If the data is all anonymous or encrypted, it doesn’t have much value.
Moreover, people aren’t comfortable with the notion that the government is collecting data on them. All these challenges underscore why smart-cities initiatives must be built on a foundation of sound data governance.
4. It’s nothing without adoption
Finally, smart-cities tools must be fine-tuned to the needs and habits of local users. You have to find out what people want and provide feedback mechanisms to ensure you understand what isn’t working.
Fortunately, the data that drives smart-cities initiatives provides a wealth of clues on people’s habits and desires. Combining data with people’s real-world reactions will help ensure a human-centered design that adapts to their ever-changing behaviors.
Ultimately, you want to avoid pouring taxpayer dollars into services nobody uses. That’s not good for the people — or their leaders.
Michael Diettrick, SVP of Digital Stratey, Chief Digital Officer
Brian Drury, Sr Director, Digital Technology Office, Automotive & Transportation Industries