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Road Trip: In Search of the Smartest City in the World

The ease and decreasing cost of technology solutions introduce some wondrous achievements, from self-driving cars to self-healing databases.

by Franco Amalfi, Oracle / September 14, 2018
City Hall plaza in Albuquerque, N.M. (Flickr/David Swinney)

Your community is getting smarter.

Whether you live in a small, rural town or a huge city, you might be noticing profound changes in the way you interact  with local government. You get an email when your library books are overdue (yes, even the digital ones!). You interact on Facebook with your utility company. And you might even be using Alexa to report graffiti in your hometown.

The entry point to a smart city is data, and lots of it. This includes information streaming from every kind of connected device, from traffic lights to trash cans and everything in between. According to The Economist, the world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, it’s data. And cities of every size are taking notice and harvesting this valuable resource to enhance citizens’ lives. 

I’ve been on the road the last few months in both North America and Europe sampling the “smartness” of cities with leaders from communities of all sizes, and it’s evident that the concept of a connected government is here to stay, and evolving rapidly. 

Examples of Smart Cities

I started my journey attending two Harvard Smart Cities Accelerator events in Dublin and San Diego. Although separated by eight time zones and widely disparate weather, each event pulsated with identical energy and excitement. I learned about cities such as London, which is using open data duringtheir transition to a smart city, and Moscow, a city that is digitizing itsinfrastructure and leveraging analytics to gain insight for decision-making. Meanwhile, New York City has published IoT guidelines, adopted by 35 cities globally.  San Diego is covering half the city with intelligent street lights, and Las Vegas, in partnership with Oracle, is doing incredible work with AI, machine learning and autonomous vehicles in their Innovation District

I led a panel discussion in Los Angeles on how data insights can enhance livability at the Summit on Government Performance and Innovation. Los Angeles is doing exceptional work with AI and machine learning; San Jose, already forging ahead with a mobile, data-driven citizen engagement system powered by Oracle, is mapping  geological data to predict earthquakes, and is testing drones and autonomous vehicles.  And the University of Southern California’s I3 IoT Consortium is partnering with Oracle and other private companies to develop pre-built applications for IoT that can help cities jumpstart big data projects.

I criss-crossed the country to present at Smart Cities NY 2018,where I joined Deloitte to discuss how cities can adopt AI-powered chatbots and robotics process automation to reduce costs, improve customer experience, and minimize rote tasks.

And then I traversed the pond again, to the ICF Summit 2018 in London, as part of a Canadian delegation of cities. I will confess as a long-time resident of Montreal I was rooting for my Canadian compatriots -- the cities of Hamilton and Winnipeg -- nominated for the ICF’s award for the most intelligent community in the world.  Ultimately, the City of Espoo, Finland, won after meeting six ICF indicators for success.  

I have learned much on my tour of the digital direction of these cities, reinforcing my role with the Toronto Smart Cities Working Group. It’s apparent across all these cites that insights from data can improve employee productivity, make cities safer, more liveable and create opportunities for people to thrive. The ease and decreasing cost of technology solutions introduce some wondrous achievements, from self-driving cars to self-healing databases.

But we wouldn’t have gotten too far without the input and energy from city leaders, citizens and private companies all collaborating to create new opportunities for residents to thrive. It’s the people, as much as the technology, who have the potential to make every city a smart one.

Smart city initiatives are one of the most important drivers of public sector digital transformations, and cities are going digital to improve environmental, financial, and social aspects of urban life. In fact, the IDC estimates that some $135 billion will be spent worldwide on these modernization efforts.

Enabling the Internet of Things

A key enabler to transformation is the use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and the data collected from them, requiring high performance computing, sophisticated data management resources and artificial intelligence to render meaning to the mass of digital data collected. The University of Southern California (USC) is one of many such institutions at the forefront of IoT research and has launched an Intelligent Internet of Things Integrator (I3) consortium to further advance standardization and to create solutions to help cities jumpstart their transformations.

As an industry leader in IoT capabilities, Oracle has seized the opportunity to work with some of the brightest minds in the education world, and has provided the USC I3 Consortium funding in cloud infrastructure services for three years of development work. 

These advanced cloud computing resources will allow I3 to accelerate their development cycles, while greatly reducing the human and financial resources required to advance their core IoT, artificial intelligence, and Smart Cities research.

What is the Goal of the I3 Consortium?

The consortium’s goal is to help the cities to move beyond data silos where information is confined to individual departments, such as transportation and sanitation, to one where data flows between departments, and can be more easily managed. It also lets cities utilize data contributions from residents or even other governmental or commercial data providers. I3’s planned environment should significantly accelerate creation of Smart City applications like improved energy management, transit optimization, parking services, garbage collection, and many others.

Once the system is developed and tested, I3 plans to distribute the core system technology as open source software so other municipalities, states, and other government entities can benefit from the USC I3 vision.

Read more about Oracle’s role in helping accelerate smart city initiatives in this Forbes Voice story about the USC I3 Consortium.

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