If a city is going to be smart it has several options. It can take on the ambitious task of rebuilding itself as a fully integrated City of the Future, with everything connected, streamlined and packed with tech. Or it can take the incremental approach, implementing various point technology projects that solve service delivery problems and drive efficiencies.

However, before a city can become smart it must know the problems that it needs to address. A smart city allocates and uses the resources available to it in the most efficient and optimised way.  It reduces uneccessary waste. And it manages its risks by knowing exactly what is going on in key places.

Whether going big bang with a total Smart City reinvention, or picking a couple of priorities to deal with right now, there are few things that a city needs to do.

First it must have the right infrastructure in place. It must put in place a multiplicity of data sources in the form of devices and sensors. It must have ubiquitous connectivity that allows all the devices to connect to the Internet and transfer data. And it must have the capability to store huge amounts of data from these sources.

Of course, it almost goes without saying that all three of these areas require specific and special skills to get right. Local authorities should really look to partner with service providers who can deploy and manage these systems, because without added services such as data analytics and machine learning, connecitivity assurance and data governance – it is above all imperative that the Smart City takes meticulous care of the security of its mission critical, highly personal and irreplacable data.

There is no Smart without Sensors

Just us us humans use our amazing brains to sense, interpret and understand our physical environment, so that we can bend it to our will, so the Smart City needs physical sensors. Lots of them. Sensors that tell when a dumpster is full. Sensors that tell when an intersection is congested. Sensors that warn of a massive pipe leak. Sensors that tell us if the air is healthy to breathe.

With technology that’s come out in the past five years, all this sensing has become affordable. Sophisticated sensors can cost a few hundred Rands or less, require no external power supplies and communicate over pervasive networks for years without needing attention.

There is no intelligence without connectivity
A Smart City uses the intelligence in its data networks to steer data from any source to any destination. To do this, however, it needs ubiquitous connectivity. Cities need to start by creating a hybrid, meshed network that devices and sensors can connect into over a prolonged period. This is where internet service providers can play an important role – building and interconnecting the networks that will allow cities to transfer data.

An important aspect of an “everywhere network” is being able to speak to a multitude of devices using the most efficient technology – for exmple high speed fibre for real time video, low power wide area networks (LPWAN) for individual sensors. Once this data has been gathered it then needs to be sent to the correct endpoint – reliably, and irrespective of whether it is to an internal municipal system, a hyperscale Cloud service or some hybrid.

Data assets must be stored
Smart cities must employ structured sets of cloud data storage. They say, “Data is the new oil.” Data will become a huge asset for Smart Cities and they will need to manage it as such. This means storing it in the most cost-effective way, that can be exposed flexibly and securely. Cities will have to develop strategies for how they will convert their stored data into usable outputs.

Hyperscale and hybrid storage solutions will become common solutions the storing the masses of data a city generates. Cities will need to look to outsourcing as a cost-effective. In the future we will begin to see niche Cloud solutions dedicated to this purpose, in the form of a smart city cloud.

Data value must be kept safe
Data security for smart cities will grow in importance for two reasons. Firstly, the more devices you connect to your network, the more data you’re collecting. Eventually these devices will operate more and more smartly at the edge to process raw data, and only send back the critical to the Cloud. This means “security from accidents” must be considered.

The second reason is that the data collected by Smart Cities will become extremely valuable over time. Data may be “the new oil”, but like oil it will take a long time for the basic ingredients to morph and become rich in value. As more and more historical data is paired with new data sources and overlaid with machine learning, it will provide valuable insight into the behaviour of citizens, of how the municipality operates, of trends and insights. In an open environment such as the one envisioned as part of a Smart City streagy, it is crucial to protect this this data: “security from attacks”.

The smart city of the future will have a myriad data sources that will connect through ubiquitous networks to a variety of data storage systems, which will interact flexibly with other systems, or even third party service providers that buy access to the data to provide new services to community. A Smart City means lots of data which will generate massive value over time: it will need protection.

Smart cities of the future are going to need to partner with companies that have essential knowledge of data storage, hybrid and open platforms, and data protection if they truly want to reap the rewards of being more efficient and optimised.