Creating a smart city needs collaboration

You hear a lot of rhetoric surrounding the ‘smart city’. All technology vendors will have a POV on the topic, suggesting they have the network or data analytics platform to slot into any location around the world. All you have to do is slot this new kit in and you’re on your way to becoming smart. Most know that isn’t how it works in reality.

If you attend any smart city conference, or explore a city that professes its smartness, you will constantly be reminded of the barriers facing smart city ambitions. There will always be physical, legal and technical barriers to implementation.

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Ever heard a vendor suggest that they can pull all data from every corner of the city into the same place in order to make truly smart decisions? Impossible. The pace of technological change and the legacy systems in place, will not permit this.

If the smart city is really going happen, businesses and government have to acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers, yet. The multitude of vendors who speak about the smart city all have a good point, but to take things further they need to be working together to make their existing solutions better. And that means open standards, technology collaboration, and partnership.

How to balance security and experience

If you’ve ever travelled across large cities, like London, you get a taste of the ‘smart experience’. You may come across different patches of Wi-Fi that you can use, or contactless machines which streamline and speed up payments. But it is all separate.

Consistency in the connectivity is key to providing people with the smart city experience. Until this can be achieved, the experience will always fall short and the security risks around connected city equipment will continue to grow.

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In order to provide wireless access to millions of residents would require thousands of wireless access points, across indoor and outdoor environments. If you then want to offer other services, then you have thousands more IoT sensors, different types of hardware which need to be connected too.

But allowing more devices to connect brings its own issues, as it provides more entry points for attackers. In fact, after surveying local governments last year, Aruba found 86% of those who have adopted IoT in their city have already experienced an associated security breach. Sharing data between systems is key for the smart city, but first and foremost must be security and privacy concerns.

To get consistency, ambitious cities need to start with a network environment that can segment individual users and devices that are trying to connect. That means being able to understand the difference between different hardware and software, to interpret whether the traffic is from a road sensor or a customer mobile device. In doing so, the IT team will be able to prioritise connectivity to specific services as they are needed, and isolate incoming threats as soon as they are detected.

This act of integration can only be achieved with a multi-vendor approach.

Open architectures are imperative

What do you do if you want to add something like traffic information services in your city, but your existing hardware isn’t compatible with the software? Does the IT team have to rip and replace their equipment, or scrap the new service? In the same survey Aruba carried out last year, it found that 49% of cities are struggling with just that – integrating older technology with new.
If the aim is to create lasting smart city experiences, there is no alternative. Cities need an open infrastructure that is built on open industry standards, open APIs, open source coding and is available to an open network of partners.

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The more open APIs are enabled, the greater the flexibility and speed at your fingertips. Just think, you won’t have to wait for your existing vendor to develop functionality any more, new features can be bolted on using a third party.

An example of how this ‘smart city collaboration’ approach works in action can be seen at Cambridge University. Its use of an open network infrastructure helped it to create a public access network, used by local councils, service providers, students, researchers and members of the public.

The network is used by thousands of people in Cambridge each day, across the city, and many different IT systems are in use. But consumers of the network are not affected, because wherever they are, indoors and outdoors, their connection is uninterrupted, and their login credentials do not change. The people of Cambridge are able to get from A to B more quickly, and ultimately that’s what the smart city is all about.

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It has been said countless times before, but smart cities can’t be created in one go. It takes time and needs to be a step by step progress. But it’s time to stop suggesting that one vendor can accomplish this alone.

To truly improve the welfare of citizens, the smart city needs to be built on open foundations, with security and the user experience front of mind. That can’t be achieved without help and co-operation.


Sourced by Simon Wilson, CTO UK&I at HPE Aruba

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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