Why a shared digital infrastructure is crucial for smart cities
Editor's Note: This piece was written by Hanan Markovich, director of product marketing at CIVIQ Smartscapes. The opinions represented in this piece are independent of Smart Cities Dive's views.
We take for granted most of our shared infrastructure — roads, lighting, running water, electricity and many other fundamental services. We share infrastructure based on common sense and for the common good. Imagine the alternative: If, for example, all of my neighbors had to build their own roads to work, the result would be chaos on wheels.
Less obvious but increasingly important is the need for every city is to have a shared digital infrastructure — a unified software, hardware & network solution that aggregates, secures, transfers and operates data from multiple IoT devices. Even with the volume of data growing by the day, the idea of an integrated digital city system has yet to be embraced. Instead, cities tolerate a crazy quilt of fragmented technologies, each rebuilding its own infrastructure.
In the absence of a unifying and robust digital infrastructure, each smart city project builds its own. We mushroom our cities with bits and pieces of unplanned, unsupervised technologies that are not managed together as an integrated whole.
This reality has been a recipe for digital confusion. Similar to the separated roads each household would have needed to build without common byways, so too are the silos being deployed today in cities. These silos cannot share information or correlate their activities with other solutions deployed. They are the equivalent of separated roads that do not intersect with each other. To extend the analogy, important questions arise: Can all of these "private" roads be well maintained? Are all the roads following the same safety regulations and guidelines? Where are the economies of scale that could be achieved by a shared digital infrastructure?
The drawbacks of isolated infrastructures that are confined to their own silos are obvious and include: inability to regulate; difficulty to manage; increased cyber-vulnerabilities; excess cost; and reduced reliability.
This unfortunate reality compromises a city’s ability to serve its residents and visitors. It also makes the city extremely vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Cities need to make a shared digital infrastructure as much of a priority as roads and bridges, running water and electricity.
Shared digital infrastructure will help cities correlate data from multiple sources to generate new value and efficiencies. As a simple example, consider smart lighting and motion sensors on the street. Today these are two separated silos. Imagine if we could correlate the data between these two silos. We could reduce energy costs by dynamically adapting a lights level of illumination to the level of movement detected on the street.
This could be particularly beneficial in many side streets during the night where there is little or no movement. The motion sensors would detect when no pedestrians or cars are passing by and that information would be used to dim the LED lights to 50%, for example. As soon as movement is detected, the LED lights would go back to 100% light output. The city benefits from this integration of two previously unrelated silos: a fresh source of optimized energy savings (and extra money for the city) where the right light level would be applied according to the actual movement detected on the street.
This is one of many value-creation examples that the abundance of new IoT-based technologies can provide. At the same time, they bring new challenges that our cities’ infrastructure was not designed to serve. As a result, the cost and complexities of attempting to scale today’s pilot projects may make them unsustainable.
As the world urbanizes and cities serve an increasing number of people, the importance of well-designed and robust infrastructure rises as well. Let us equip our cities with a shared digital infrastructure that can both support their growth and unlock the new benefits that our cities’ residents and visitors will enjoy.