Smart policy has to lead smart technology to make a smart city

11 September 2016 by Steve Blum
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Nobody knows what a smart city is. Or rather, everybody defines smart city differently, depending on individual goals: it’s a means to an end.

For equipment makers and service providers, a city is smart if it buys their stuff. To a network operator, a smart city is one that hangs that stuff, whatever it might be, on its network. On the private sector side, the smart city vision is marketing driven and has a distinctly vertical focus – there was little or no interest in horizontal integration on display at the smart city panel sessions I sat in on at the CTIA show in Las Vegas last week.

One critical missing item was thoughtful discussion of interoperability between like-to-like services or interconnection of competing networks. Another was an independent, open source operating platform that ties vertical applications together, and serves as a portal to open data that anyone can put to use. Vendors will try to make their own products work together, and network operators will do what is practicable to accomodate as many applications and devices as possible, but that’s as far as it goes. Or at least as far as the couple dozen companies that took part in the CTIA sessions I saw, or presented at the Telit conference the day before, will go.

It’ll take more to than just deploying remote sensors and controls by the truckload to make a city smart. The first question that needs to be answered is what do you hope to accomplish? With the exception of the panel that included two prominent big city mayors and a state CIO, that question was ignored at the CTIA show.

But even they spoke in terms of specific policy objectives – focused goals like traffic signal optimisation or broad issues like violence reduction.

A truly smart city will be one where data, devices and services are melded together to deliver services and improve living standards in a cost effective manner. It can’t be done ad hoc, though. When cities are the customers, policy has to come before technology.