The past 12 months have been an exciting time for the Smart City world. Many entities have focused their attentions to the problems of cities with cutting edge technologies and the major standards organisations have issued significant work. Even for those involved for a long time in technical solutions for cities, there have been some major evolutions recently, especially in the areas of sensing and data management.

2015 promises to be a year in which many more cities will see the delivery of these new technologies and the foundation of the next generation of services. Let us look at some of the interesting mega trends:


One of the biggest trends is the unification and sharing of control and data of a city, where previously disparate systems sat in isolated silos. With the commoditisation of cheap hardware powering massive storage possibilities and ubiquitous adoption of the Cloud, City systems can evolve to share data of centrally manage functions such as traffic with other data sources such as police accident notifications and emergency services locations. While these data sets were useful individually, their amalgamation, with the addition of other data sets such as that of power utilities or building management systems, give city managers a bigger picture and even lets them share that with the population. These combined data sets are allowing for more efficient operation of functions already in operation and ushers in new possibilities for services to improve city residents’ lives.


One of the major new possibilities of unifying city data and keeping it actively accessible is the ability to use this depth of information to predict trends and events. A key enabler to predicting trends and events is the ability to access a massive amount of data and the advent of big data has empowered this. A key concept as been the advent of the Data Lake, whereby data is stored in one or many connected stores of data and always kept there an accessible. Essentially archiving of data to offline disks is eliminated or reduced significantly. Ok so now we have the Data Lake well stocked, how do we fish useful services for people out of it? Meet the Data scientist. This group of statisticians cum techies have fallen into focus, as have predictive analytics tools. This year we will also see many more practical applications of the next level in prediction, systems that learn how to predict. Machine learning has had many high profile but low utility examples over the years, involving chess players and TV game shows. However the true utility of all these efforts is starting to shine through, with cities now able to access the power of self-learning prediction even on the Cloud. This will help cities to plan forward based on traffic, population, power consumption and other trends. Even more interestingly, predictive analytics of city and social media data is proving to be useful in daily operations, allowing instant changes to services.


The Internet of Things (IOT), Internet of Everything (IOE), Internet of Moving Things (Not sure this one has been coined yet) and all the other permutations that have sprung up to describe non-human use of the internet are clearly a big topic. The city was always a natural for IOT technologies, given the usefulness of sensors for controlling everything from parking to building temperature to waste water and beyond. However implementing IOT enabled city systems involves a great deal of planning and change in existing systems and processes. Even completely new services will need appropriate low power wireless networks and other facilities that take time to align. So this year will be a time when some services are release, a good number of pilots are started and those ongoing come to issue the results of their studies. What ever the status, both the public and private sectors are going to be ramping up their IOT powered services. And these services will be myriad, with plenty of scope for innovation which will continue strongly in 2015. This last year we saw the emergence of self-monitoring waste bins, the use of wearable technology interacting with city systems for health monitoring, mobile wifi networks and many more examples. Watch this space.


The use of Satellite sensors, such as image cameras, for granular management activities at the City level has increased this year and looks to grow. Services are allowing cities to control planning through precise measurement of buildings through satellite feeds rather than by wasting the time of scarce employees by sending them out in a van to inspect physically. The uses for satellite technology are sure to increase as the efficiency of the technology becomes apparent to developed cities as it has always been for remote area management.


While Open Data has been a subject for some time, the explosion of available data sources and cheap tech to deliver them to end users is going to deliver a number of services that will benefit not only from the data but from the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that cities will provide to access it. With these APIs, cities will increase real time uses of Open Data, such as in transport, energy, traffic and paid city services. 2015 will see a further realisation, therefore, of the potential of city data to be a powerful enabler for improvement of services to residents. One such implementation will be the use of data not only in summarized form but in personal form with the advent of Personal Dashboards. Cities will provide more individual services to consumers and businesses, while taking care of privacy and security concerns.


The growing importance of open source technologies has come to the Smart City this year and looks to expand in the next. Cities looking to leverage local skills or develop local tech hubs to provide services, while reducing costs, are looking to Open Source enablers to jump start many areas of technology. From IOT management to data repositories to analytics software and open data portals, cities now have Open Source options. Of course Open does not mean free, as systems need to be implemented, integrated and operated. However even expenses in areas are an opportunity, as cities can invest in local businesses to leverage Open Source technology.

Which leads to another question; why should city administrations provide all services by increasing internal costs or become eternally beholden to proprietary providers for the provision of services to its residents? Can some services be sourced from society as a whole? Enter Crowd sourcing, the increasingly popular method of delivering just about anything through laying out your request to communities of interested individuals and providers. Allied with the Open Data movement, Crowd sourcing is proving particularly useful for cities who can’t justify expenses on particular services which can prove useful to residents and provide an added value to providers. Examples have already evolved for transport and recreation services and many are sure to come this year. However services are provided, the processes of delivering and maintaining them have long needed an overhaul. Agile project management methodologies will spread their influence not only in the tech sphere but in delivery of physical services. The move away from one off delivery, or waterfall, mentality to iterative project deliveries is inexorable and will pick up pace in cities this year.


While Smart City services are often innovative but rather dull, fun is going to be a trend in city services which will expand this year. Examples we have seen in recent times of interactive street furniture, playful pedestrian traffic lights and amusing illuminations were just the start. As cities turn to the evolving science of happiness to provide residents with benefits and wellbeing, the aspect of joy or fun services in their own right or as part of existing functions will grow. Technology is playing a large part in that, as will Open Data.


Taking the lead from trends in the retail industry, cities will be looking to make their interactions with residents seamless, irrespective of the channel of communication. Technology is again playing a heavy role in bringing people closer to their city managers and each other in the pursuit of smooth consumption of city services. While PC and Mobile Government services have been evolving for a while, the next year will show a focus on greater integration that has already been shown by some of the larger and more dynamic and tech savvy cities. The efforts involved in bringing together and standardising resident touch points are considerable but this year more cities will be acting to ensure greater transparency and efficient use of modern channels such as social media.


Of course with all these smart services being powered by technology and in particular the unification of data, the one elephant in the room worth noting is cyber security. Cyber crime is on the increase and has become a central topic for the resilience of any organisation, as evidenced by many recent high profile events. As cities bring new services online which feature multiple systems they are setting up larger and larger targets for the criminal online element and the cyber crusader. Cities will increase their investment in ensuring the digital safety of their cities and data of their citizens.


International standards organisations are producing results from their years of focus on cities. The efforts of applying their considerable expertise in formulating policy to the arena of standardizing the complex set of evolving systems and processes for the Smart Cities of tomorrow are starting to bear fruit. This will provide a more level playing field for cities, solution providers, the open source community and self-help associations to provide smart services. More commonality will lead to better availability of smart solutions.

So all in all a dynamic year ahead for Smart City technology, with the widespread implementation of currently known tech and innovations to be discovered a plenty. Have a smart and happy 2015.

Andrew Rippon, Senior Consultant

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