Smart cities: Why data strategy is essential | Cisco Q&A

Smart cities: Why data strategy is essential | Cisco Q&A

Smart city programmes are undergoing rapid growth worldwide, but without a strategic approach to data control, they can’t deliver on their promise, according to Cisco. Internet of Business explores the issue of data control for smart cities with Theresa Bui, of Cisco’s IoT Cisco Kinetic and IoT Cloud programmes.

Internet of Business: Smart cities systems can be complex and involve data sets from a range of sources and providers. What issues can this present to city authorities?

Theresa Bui, head of Cisco Kinetic and IoT Cloud product marketing.

Theresa Bui: “There are many challenges in translating smart city IoT deployments into beneficial results. Digital innovation requires a disciplined understanding of the urban landscape to bring in the right technologies and strategies that securely connect everything — people, data, devices and processes — for maximum benefit.

“As more and more things are connected, the challenges for cities continue to manifest themselves and evolve. Some of these include breaking down ‘siloed’ management of networks and data, and the integration of new and legacy IT systems. Others include addressing increased data vulnerability and security, while adhering to privacy policies and automating the extraction of insights and then taking action to reduce data overload.

“Not all data needs to go to the same applications all the time, but the right data needs to get to the correct applications at the right time. In order to extract maximum value from the data, city authorities must be able to manage data across all environments including edge, data centre, private, public, and hybrid clouds – as well as all the billions of connected devices being added to the network.

“Cost and financing also present challenges for city authorities. NB-IoT, a 3GPP-standard for low-power wide-area networks (LPWANs), dramatically reduces the power and cost of connectivity, so even the simplest things are capable of delivering valuable IoT services.

“While it’s going to fuel exponential IoT growth, one size will not fit all, so city operators should look for a management platform with LPWAN connectivity billing based on transactions, rather than data usage. That means smart cities get cost-efficient power aligned with the business value and use case of a specific IoT device.

“When it comes to financing, many city authorities face challenges when jumpstarting their smart city transformation, as they do not have enough funding to upgrade and make their cities smart.

“There are financing programmes available that aim to make it easier, faster, and more affordable for cities to fund and adopt technologies that will transform their communities. Some even tie financing to desired outcomes, and extend future operating budgets through revenue streams from the new services that a digitised infrastructure makes possible.”

How can a city authority overcome these problems?

“City authorities need a city-wide digital platform that can gather, aggregate, and analyse data from a variety of sources to unlock the value of the data generated by connected machines, things, and spaces in cities.

“The best platforms have a holistic and specialised approach, with the abilities to collect and integrate data from multiple sensors and sensor types, make sense of the aggregated data by constructing a common model to enable meaningful analysis, and expose APIs through which local and global software vendors and application developers can meet the needs of an urban service marketplace.

“A purpose-built, cloud-based platform provides a unified, single-pane-of-glass view that can scale quickly, and enables the use of computing at the edge to process data at the source for faster and more accurate impacts.”

How does a city authority ensure that it gets the best value from the data it collects in IoT applications?

“For city operators, the value of connecting things hinges on data – but only if they can make full use of it by getting data from devices to end-points. City operators must be able to extract data from all the connected things on the network, and also compute, move, and integrate data from multiple sensors or sensor types, and get it to the IoT applications that deliver results.

“First and foremost, a smart city technology platform must enable diverse and highly distributed devices to be connected securely and reliably. The sheer scale of city IoT demands a reliable, automated way to on-board, authenticate, monitor, and manage IoT devices. What is required is a tried and tested way to turn connected things into trusted IoT devices, and make the network a welcoming, secure place for those devices to connect.

“Next, the platform must be able to extract data and make it usable in a highly distributed computing environment to deliver fast decisions. One critical effect of connecting many devices across a city is that computing is highly distributed – from the public cloud down to the furthest reaches of edge devices, and everything in between.

When devices are generating terabytes of data, it’s not practical to send everything offsite. Efficiency must be increased from managing how and where data is processed, automatically determining what needs to stay local, be shared on site, or delivered to the cloud.

“With fog computing, it is possible to process data at the edge and execute fast decisions close to the action, when and where that information is needed most. Then the right data must be programmatically moved to the right app at the right time. And at the same time, the platform should be able to execute polices to enforce data ownership, privacy and security.”

How can a city authority ensure that commissioned systems are future-proofed, for example so that they can accommodate new data sets or make new uses of the data that have already been gathered?

“To be future-proofed, city authorities should choose a platform that has been designed to scale quickly with open architecture that supports the integration of multiple solutions, applications, and devices. There are billions of devices yet to be connected, and as the urban landscape evolves, it is critical that each connection works as flawlessly on day 3,000 as it did on day one.

“A single platform capable of consolidating connection management, fog computing, and data control and delivery is best and will provide a solid foundation on which to build additional services. In addition, a platform that can execute policies around data ownership will ensure that the city is in a strong position to deal with data regulation that is likely to evolve over time.”

With GDPR now imminent, what can a city authority do to ensure that its role as a data controller stays within the law?

“City authorities will have to take GDPR into account when planning new smart city projects. Choosing a data management platform that is capable of executing policies around data ownership, privacy, security, and sovereignty will go a long way in navigating the GDPR landscape.”

Internet of Business says

While vendors such as Dell and Microsoft have focused multibillion-dollar programmes on the IoT in general, Cisco has zeroed in on smart cities, where the networking of devices, sensors, transport systems, smart street lights, and other connected technologies presents the biggest challenges, particularly with the need to focus on low-cost, high-speed, intelligent solutions at the edge.