Lessons from Cary, N.C.’s ‘Living Lab’ for Connected Tech

Cary, N.C., chief information officer Nicole Raimundo discusses the benefits the city has seen from its testbed for smart city technologies, and how she works to secure the data it collects.

by / September 2019
Alyson Boyer Rode/Alycat Photography

Nicole Raimundo, CIO of Cary, N.C., prefers not to use the term “smart city” because it implies the municipality wasn’t smart in its previous endeavors. She prefers to call it a “connected community.” Since assuming her role in 2015, Raimundo has focused on deploying connected technologies to better the lives of residents. Through the city’s “living lab,” a test bed consisting of city-owned buildings created in 2017, Cary has partnered with companies to assess connected solutions, gather data and install systems citywide.

1. How have you used Cary’s living lab to change the business of government?

We started with building a lab, using our City Hall campus to test technologies and letting some businesses use it as a showcase and for us to learn, everything from “Is that the right sensor in the ground that we would use?” all the way through to maturity. In terms of building out the lab, we’ve been able to learn a lot of lessons and also do our due diligence from a citizen perspective. Since smart cities use taxpayer dollars, we want to make sure that we’re testing things out first and understanding how they work because when we started this a few years ago, it was really new. It’s come a long way, but it still is new and always evolving. 

2. What have you learned from the living lab so far?

We really have learned how to put in a platform strategy. At the end of the day, the last thing we want to do with any of our solutions is to have one more thing that our staff needs to manage. We made sure that standardized applications have open APIs so we can get data out or in easily. We can then aggregate it, and it helps us with our security to look across multiple applications and make better decisions. We don’t want another dashboard. So we’re working with startup companies to make them understand that we’re not always going to use their dashboard, but as long as it has an open API, we will use it so we can pull the data. That’s really important because you don’t want to be managing hundreds of new applications with all these endpoints and all this data. It’s critical as people think about how they’re going to roll out IoT technology to make sure that it has an enterprisewide strategy, as opposed to implementing a whole bunch of siloed applications. 

3. How do you secure the data from citywide programs and the living lab?

This goes back to that platform strategy so you don’t have siloed applications all over the place. It’s much easier to manage when you can bring it all into one place and understand the layers of security you need. The key is to look at what data you need and what you’re collecting because there’s no sense to pull and store unnecessary data. It may allow you to capture all sorts of things, but if you don’t need it, then don’t capture it and don’t store it. 

4. What is your vision for Cary from your standpoint as CIO?

The simplest way to put it is that it’s just going to be the continuation of implementing technology and utilizing data to better serve our community. How we get there will be the technical strategy of looking at how to integrate all these systems, the different ways of taking snapshots of the data sets to make decisions, and how we get it so that it’s eventually real time and predictive. It’s that process of going from something that’s reactive to proactive to predictive so that things are being automated and they’re being done before you know something’s happening. That’s the ultimate goal.

Patrick Groves Staff Writer

Patrick Groves is a staff writer for Government Technology. Previously, he worked for five years at newspapers in Washington state, Idaho, Florida and Northern California. He has a Bachelor’s degree in communication from Washington State University and lives in Northern California.

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