Building smart cities with IoT: SAP talks IoT rebrands, live projects and...

Building smart cities with IoT: SAP talks IoT rebrands, live projects and future challenges

Enterprise software giant SAP is one of the most recognized brands in the technology space, but it’s perhaps less well-known for its work in IoT to develop smart city capabilities. At the SAP Innovation Forum 2017, Internet of Business caught up with Sean O’Brien, deputy GM & VP IVE, EMEA Public Services & Healthcare at SAP to talk IoT, smart cities, and who will drive these innovations.

Until last year, O’Brien spent almost five years running the global smart cities program for SAP. He now looks after public services in healthcare, looking at how technology can benefit public services – a significant part of any smart city program.

O’Brien began the conversation outlining why SAP has rebranded its Internet of Things (IoT) division from SAP IoT to Leonardo.

“I think one of the challenges with IoT is it’s a technology-led approach and often what I’ve found is that a business-led, business-outcome approach, enabled by technology, has the real resonance with organizations and customers,” he said.

“When we think about IoT, Leonardo is bringing that down to the benefits and the outcomes that it will have at an industry level.”

But rebrand or not, O’Brien said the company already has several live IoT projects on the go in cities globally.

Buenos Aires is a smart city

In particular, SAP is running two live projects in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with a third on its way.

The first concerns flooding issues in the city. In 2013, a disastrous flood and endless rain caused thousands of evacuations and over 50 casualties.

“It gets very bad flooding in Buenos Aires and when they looked at the analysis, of course it’s the amount of rain, but it’s the amount of rain that is taken away by the drains that is really the issue,” O’Brien said.

“So when they analyzed the situation, they realized they had to upgrade their infrastructure, which they did, but they also then said, ‘We need to understand when we have heavy rain, which drains are going to block?’”

The Environment and Public Spaces Ministry of the City Government of Buenos Aires (GCBA) put radar sensors into the drains that monitor for floods and 1500 kilometers of drainage pipeline infrastructure went online.

“Then,” according to O’Brien, “they [took] data analysis and overlaid that with historical tools and flood plain patterns, and what they were able to do is create real-time monitoring for their flood resilience system, which basically said, ‘These three drains are going to block, we have teams we’re tracking with sensors on the move, we’re going to send a team to there and they stop the drains from blocking, therefore they don’t have the cascade affect, therefore they don’t have flooding.’”

The new system, now live, leverages SAP CRM powered by the SAP HANA database. This replaced manual equipment maintenance tasks with remote and automated systems.

“We take the sensor data, we take the asset data, we take the predictive data, and we used SAP HANA to do the analysis,” said O’Brien.

A second project in the city involves LED lighting in partnership with Dutch electronics giant Philips.

O’Brien outlined how Philips has upgraded 91,000 public streetlights with LED lights that are connected to the Internet, so that as soon as they are powered up, they connect to the grid.

Said O’Brien: “Philips connected its LED lighting to the city’s system, which is SAP, and what the city can now do is look at any precursor indicators that show the lights are going to fail, and based on that predictive they go and repair the lights. And they also can analyze the levels of lighting usage, and the energy consumption across the city.”

According to a description on SAP’s website, each light in the LED replacement project contains an antenna that communicates with a central system. This remote management system runs on an SAP ERP system, underpinned by SAP HANA, to provide the city with real-time insight into power outages, broken lights, and vandalism.

Though not yet live, O’Brien suggested a third project is on its way.

“They have 2,000 commercial waste bins in the city, and they have a number of trucks that are provided by commercial providers that collect the waste bins,” he said.

“They’re putting sensors on the commercial waste bins to see where the bin is, the level [to which] it’s full, when it’s collected. They’re looking at that so they can optimize transport routes across the city, so that providers of the service get paid for the service they deliver and also to reduce the number of routes and trips that trucks take to optimize the bins.”

Driving innovation

SAP also has a project with Trenitalia, where it’s performing analysis of train assets, infrastructure, and maintenance.

“So in terms of IoT, we’re seeing lots more invention around IoT in cities around transport,” O’Brien said. “We have a project in Nanjing, China looking at GPS data of the trucks, the buses, the cars, and looking at the traffic flows, and trying to optimize the number of taxis that are in a location at certain times.”

“So I think transport and infrastructure are probably the major areas we see mainstream innovation in IoT.”

But who will drive IoT innovations in cities? O’Brien believes it will be consumers.

“A couple of decades ago in the ‘90s, early 2000s, we had government initiatives where government was driving the agenda, [but] I do believe that the mainstream adoption and the pace of adoption for you and I is changing because in the end we make choices.

“We choose Uber because it’s convenient or cheaper. We choose Airbnb because it’s convenient or cheaper. And I think that all pervasive impact of digitization upon mainstream consumers and businesses is bottom up, and I think governments have the challenge of ‘I want to have a Google experience, or ‘I want to have an Uber experience’. Do I have that same experience in government? No. And I think this is going to be the challenge for government, where often eighteenth-century structures in government are still existing today.”

“So I think government is going to have to think about how it’s structured, how services are delivered much more fundamentally than it has done in the past and that’s going to be a tough job because you have departments and silos and you have regional accountability. How are you going to reshape that? So I think they are catching up.”

A smarter future

And how does O’Brien see things playing out in the next five years?

“Already I see Manchester, England talking about multiple government agencies collaborating, so I think the agenda for government is about how they further devolve decentralized power and how they deliver better services for their citizens through joining together different parts of government in that one geography.”

“So I think when we talk about digital disruption, it can be a negative thing, but if we think about how government delivers its services to people locally, people want government to be smarter and more joined up in how it delivers those services – and I think technology will accelerate that.”

From an IoT/smart city perspective, O’Brien said SAP is focusing its attention to transport, infrastructure, the local economy and citizen engagement services as the main growth areas.