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Value proposition: The IoT and smarter cities

IoT can be a game changer for urban development. If you're evaluating an IoT project, experts recommend knowing how the data will be used before getting started. Also, keep a realistic perspective, and know the value proposition.

Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), smart cities are popping up across the globe. Take a quick look at what some cities around the world are doing to support urban development, and you'll see how IoT technology is a game changer beyond the data center. For one, Amsterdam was named as the European Capital of Innovation by the European Commission in April 2016 for the city's quest to bring innovation to all areas of urban life. Already renowned for its cycling culture—there are more bikes than people in Amsterdam—the city is also making it easier to park cars using a peer-to-peer platform called MobyPark.

On the streets of Singapore, a network of sensors, cameras, and GPS devices tracks and alerts the systems that manage the traffic, helping motorists avoid congested routes to get to destinations quicker and safer. The island nation boasts one of the largest experimental test facilities for smart grid technology, and it continues to increase connectivity to its citizens and expand government services through nationwide broadband networks.

Barcelona was an early adopter of e-mobility projects and plans to test all kinds of sensors for addressing challenges ranging from noise and air contamination to waste management. Its 22@Barcelona project experiments with smart streetlights, mobile tourism apps, and public safety programs. The program has already driven significant improvements in quality of life, inspiring cities like Boston and Buenos Aires to adopt similar technologies.

Automatic cities

Using information and communication technology (ICT) to manage a city's schools, libraries, transportation systems, hospitals, power plants, waste management, law enforcement, and other community services, real-time monitoring systems can collect and analyze data to improve the efficiency of the city's infrastructure.

"The key to making the technology work is to take the human component out of the mix," says Tim Crawford of the IT consultancy AVOA. "The sources of data—sensors for water levels, for instance—can create a heat map of the city's water supply issues. These systems automatically know where the hot spots are during a rain storm and can quickly dispatch the nearest trucks with the necessary equipment to eliminate flooding. There's no need for any human to get involved. You eliminate human error and increase response times all at once."

Worldwide, there will be more than 21 billion connected devices by 2020, up from 4.9 billion today, according to Gartner. These statistics surrounding IoT are staggering to consider, but many experts, including Crawford, suggest those estimates are low. "I think the statistics about big data and connectivity by 2020 are grossly conservative. We're only starting to scratch the surface with the Internet of Things and the data we are gathering," Crawford says.

"I honestly believe that big data today will be viewed as 'minuscule data' in the future," he adds with a smile. 

Make the IoT matter

Crawford urges executives to be mindful of how they use data and maintain a realistic perspective. "Think of the value proposition," he says. "You know, how does it really help?" 

Understand, too, that some of the things we connect to are simply novelties. "You can connect your toothbrushes and refrigerators," he says, "but what you really want to do is to bring people, processes, and data together in ways that add real value."

Google is doing just that by bringing "Works with Nest" programming into the home. Smart thermostats, smoke detectors, light bulbs, and cameras will add a new degree of consumer-level oversight to control the substructures of our communities. Crawford warns that we will need increased security for all these new technologies. "It's easy to cause significant downstream effects when you muck with automation," he says, "so security for IoT is going to be hugely important."

The benefits of a connected city ecosystem could also be huge. "Imagine in a heat wave, when the power usage is high, if we could adjust the temperatures on thermostats citywide by a couple of degrees and avoid a blackout," Crawford says. "We can empower computers to hear, to see, and to smell the world around us—but we need to do it in a smart way."

Smart cities and IoT: Lessons for leaders

  • When evaluating any IoT project, consider how the data will be used. Keep a realistic perspective, and think of the value proposition.
  • Look past connecting novelties, like toothbrushes. Instead, focus on bringing people, processes, and data together in ways that add real value.
  • The key to making IoT work is to take the human component out of the mix.

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.