Learn What Smart Cities Mean to You

When we grade technology initiatives on the basis of real benefits to people there is a natural tendency to concentrate on what the tech delivers today and what level of convenience is offers to us as individuals.

We can claim that we value the smart phone because it provides us with a means for communication and delivery of information in the event of an emergency. That sounds good, but let's admit that the benefits we most care about are the multiple ways it allows us to connect with friends, family, and business associates. Then there are factors such as games and entertainment, and easy access to news and trivia. We simply love our phones.

However, when it comes to the raw potential for delivering real benefits to a massive number of people, you have to think about smart city initiatives.

Consider how even a single project in a smart city strategy can deliver a life-altering benefit to a few million people, even those who aren't using the technology themselves. Think in terms of healthcare, urban transportion, delivery of electrical service, improved housing, and food.

We will be discussing the potential for smart cities on All Analytics Radio this Thursday at 2 pm ET, when my guest will be Tim Herbert, senior vice president of research and market intelligence for the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA).

CompTIA recently completed a report on smart cities, looking at where progress has been made, but also evaluating the interest the municipal officials around the globe have expressed in implementing technologies such as analytics and Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities.

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

While only a fraction of cities surveyed by CompTIA (11%) have formal IoT initiatives underway at this point, 25% have pilot projects in place, and three out of four have more favorable impressions of the IoT today versus two years ago.

There's plenty of interest in smart cities, and plenty of potential. While some cities, like Dubai, are far along the road in their smart city initiatives, most are still at the stage of virtual groundbreaking; early implementation of a handful of applications.

They might have launched a digital crime fighting initiative, or a smart energy management system, perhaps a traffic optimization application. Not many communities have a broad portfolio of advanced applications.

But we're getting there. Progress isn't just about working through government bureaucracy and tight budgets. It's also about bringing multiple technology concepts together, technologies that are still maturing. The sensors in an IoT network are only part of the job. Smart cities are also being driven by advances in predictive analytics, cloud computing, and mobile devices.

Cities are gradually making the transition from paper-based transactional systems to an environment where they can apply data science to big data and improve delivery of services.

Then there is the massive organizational and operational change that has to take place. As any corporate project manager knows, collecting and analyzing data is only part of the process. Putting that data to work through action by workers or devices in the field is the critical next step. The traffic management system that was designed for yesterday's traffic flows has to adapt and reroute traffic when the unexpected happens today, say, when an accident or weather condition shuts down a key thoroughfare.

Why should you listen to Tim Herbert's interview, and learn more about smart cities? Because you probably live or work in a city, or in the immediate vicinity. More than half of the global population lives in cities today, and that percentage is growing. If you don't live in the city, there's a good chance that you are among the workers who live on the outskirts but help to double the population of a city on any given work day. Or, perhaps you live in a state whose budget and political climate are dramatically impacted by what happens in the big cities. Our cities are important to all of us.

So, join us on All Analytics Radio, Thursday at 2 pm, and learn more about smart cities.

James M. Connolly, Editor of All Analytics

Jim Connolly is a versatile and experienced technology journalist who has reported on IT trends for more than two decades. As editor of All Analytics he writes about the move to big data analytics and data-driven decision making. Over the years he has covered enterprise computing, the PC revolution, client/server, the evolution of the Internet, the rise of web-based business, and IT management. He has covered breaking industry news and has led teams focused on product reviews and technology trends. Throughout his tech journalism career, he has concentrated on serving the information needs of IT decision-makers in large organizations and has worked with those managers to help them learn from their peers and share their experiences in implementing leading-edge technologies through publications including Computerworld. Jim also has helped to launch a technology-focused startup, as one of the founding editors at TechTarget, and has served as editor of an established news organization focused on technology startups and the Boston-area venture capital sector at MassHighTech. A former crime reporter for the Boston Herald, he majored in journalism at Northeastern University.

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Re: Integrate and improve quality of life
  • 11/8/2016 9:10:03 AM

Terrorists can blow up anything.

I would think the US could use Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems. I looked it up and it seems that there are supposed BRTs in New York and in Boston, but they've been classified as "Non-BRT" by the international body advocating BRTs. It seems that these cities have removed enough of the features that make BRTs rapid.

Re: Integrate and improve quality of life
  • 11/1/2016 8:08:34 PM


Magnetic asks

... pardon my ignorance, but why is the US government more inclined towards promoting individual vehicles rather than mass transit? Any reason apart from reducing government expenditure?


Excellent question, but definitely no simple answer. I'll try to cover just two or three factors briefly, but there are more.

1. Cost — The vehicle capital cost and ongoing operating & maintenance (O&M) costs of private vehicles are covered by vehicle owners, whereas public transport vehicle costs are subsidized by public agencies and O&M costs by the transit agencies plus passenger fares (and other revenue sources such as ads, leases, etc.). I know you wanted to consider factors other than cost, but I think it's important to realize that overall the cost of public transport per person-mile is much lower, but the lawmakers etc. who authorize tax revenue don't care about that bigger picture.

2. Split-up government interests — First of all, the various states have different interests and attitudes, plus there are a lot of rural or small-town interests within states that want a strong car-oriented state transportation focus. On the federal level, the various states are represented by senators and Congressional representatives, and they demand some share for their states of the highway program money (a kind of pork-barrelism that remains). This means no White House in its right mind would dare to suggest a major cutback of the highway-obsessed program that's in place.

3. Inertia — Streets and roads, plus bridges and tunnels and parking lots and so on constitute this huge infrastructure already in place. The public in general are sort of locked into it, it needs to be constantly fed, and there's also this eternal futile effort to try to eliminate congestion by just building more and more of it, which then locks everybody even more tightly into it. It's actually a sort of hell, but we're all in it, and the way out will take a revolution. I think most people would rather go shopping ...

There's a lot more to this story, but hope this helps ...


Re: Integrate and improve quality of life
  • 10/31/2016 9:28:52 PM

@ Magneticnorth, this is an aurgument we've been having here in the U.S. for at least the past 50 years.

Eons ago the streets belong to everyone not just cars but the automobile and oil industies have fought very hard against public transportation.  One aurgument is that terrorist could blow up a high speed rail. 

Another difference here in the U.S. is that our major cities are much more spread out than they are in Europe.  For example car sharing in Germany (and I don't mean Uber.) is succesful in Germany because everything is a much shorter distance.  Finding a random stranger to share a ride from Las Angelos to Miami is an entirely different story. 


Re: Integrate and improve quality of life
  • 10/31/2016 10:55:25 AM

@Jamescon I see. I asked partly because I've recently become aware of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Basically connected buses instead of train coaches and dedicated roads instead of railroad tracks. Given the reasons you stated, BRTs will probably not work either.

Re: Integrate and improve quality of life
  • 10/31/2016 9:06:32 AM

@MagneticNorth. From what I've seen there are three basic forces in play against public transportation in the US. One is that people cling to the old frontier image of being able to go where they want, when they want, and not when a train or bus schedule tells them they can. The second plays off that: People feel that if they are paying for a car their tax dollars shouldn't be used to support people who don't pay for cars. Finally, there are the petroleum and automotive sectors that have profits at stake and have paid a lot of money to politicians to maintain their influence in Washington.

Re: Integrate and improve quality of life
  • 10/31/2016 6:47:49 AM

@Lyndon_Henry pardon my ignorance, but why is the US government more inclined towards promoting individual vehicles rather than mass transit? Any reason apart from reducing government expenditure?

Non-functional requirements
  • 10/22/2016 5:30:31 PM

The DDoS attack on DNS provider Dyn shows that the Internet of Things can easily become the Internet of Insecure Things.  Imagine every streetlight in several cities hitting your website, rather than phoning home to their normal server.  I realise that this is an analytics discussion, but I wouldn't want my analytics project torpedoed because the local residents got justifiably upset about poor security and so the smart city project generating all my lovely data was cancelled.

Also, whose data is it?  The UK government smart meter project explicitly said: the data belongs to the user.  Anyone else would get only as much data as they needed to fulfill a statutory obligation (keep the lights on, etc.) or as the customer had given them informed consent to access.

Smart city projects should make life better for citizens, and if private companies, academics and so on get some benefit then that's great but it's not the main aim.  It's easy to be beguiled by a new shiny data set to play with, but as a taxpayer I'd want my tax to be benefiting my neighbours and me above all else.


Re: Integrate and improve quality of life
  • 10/22/2016 10:54:25 AM

Those would be good ideas among the many that would benefit the area residents in safety and governmental budget saving. It may be interesting to see if funding becomes more from federal agencies or more local entities and how that might affect just what type of smart city infrastructure develops from area to area.

Re: Integrate and improve quality of life
  • 10/20/2016 11:03:04 PM


Austin was one of a handful of cities that made the short list of finalists for a U.S. Dept. of Transportation Smart Cities Challenge grant, but in the end it was Columbus, Ohio that won the $140 million prize. Reportedly, the main reason was the city's emphasis on high-tech motor-vehicle-focused systems, particularly driverless cars and electric vehicle (EV) technology.

Several cities with highly successful rail transit systems, including San Francisco, Denver, and Portland, also lost out. As summarized by the Autoblog website (described as an "internet-based automotive news and car shopping website"),

 ... the city will have $140 million with which to work as it becomes a living laboratory for self-driving technology, connected vehicles, battery research, and more.


In my own asessment, this would seem to reflect a continued emphasis at the federal (as well as local) level on promoting more individual motor (including electric) vehicle transportation rather than rail mass transit systems.


Re: Integrate and improve quality of life
  • 10/19/2016 10:27:27 AM

@PC even the regular lights can be used to increase safety if they can be adjusted to be brighter when needed or to illuminate a patch of ice, etc.

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