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'Smart' Technologies Will Create 'Intelligent Cities'

New technologies, open platforms, and better governance are helping to create cities that are both environmentally responsible and economically attractive. We are increasingly witnessing the growth of intelligent cities - cities which increasingly deliver services with the aid of so-called smart technologies.

Man vs. Machine
Photo: Don Klumpp | Getty Images
Man vs. Machine

At the forefront of this are cities like Amsterdam and the Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town, but many others now boast key attributes that help create the infrastructure necessary to deliver better and more efficient services to the population.

This week, Barcelona will host a global congress to discuss the impact on society that smart and sustainable cities can and will have. Discussions of issues such as mobility, energy, the environment, planning, government and funding will all be underpinned by the role that technology is now playing. Technologies and platforms embed intelligence in a city’s infrastructure to extend the effectiveness of services at a lower cost.

This kind of capability can now stretch across a city’s services, from monitoring power generation so as to optimize electricity and water usage, to open (or gateless) tolling on urban roadways.

In addition to these kinds of “machine-to-machine” capabilities enabled by telematics and radio-frequency identification tags, other important technologies include smart grids to encourage better energy production and delivery; intelligent software and services; and high-speed communications networks connecting all related city, citizen and business services.

These are all parts of the overall technology environment of a city, something we call an “intelligent infrastructure”.

Challenges Ahead

Many cities currently face difficult challenges in harnessing and integrating these leading-edge technologies. They struggle with legacy systems that often hamper their integration efforts. Systems are often based on proprietary, closed infrastructures and technologies.

Over time, information systems take on lives of their own and become costly to maintain; those within one city department such as public transport cannot easily be integrated with those from other departments. The negative impact of this fragmentation can be felt in excess costs, diminished services and an infrastructure that is not agile enough to adapt to the needs of the future.

This technology-centric perspective alone does not get at the full challenge of making a city both sustainable and attractive, primarily because what needs to be integrated is more than just the technologies. The integration challenge includes the entire suite of city services and capabilities: natural resource management, transportation, office and residential buildings, health and safety, waste management, education, culture, tourism and public administration.

At the heart of discussions in Barcelona will be the need for integration which extends to everything that ultimately makes a city worth living in, like the organizational structure of the city and the way it is planned and managed. The real pioneers are doing more than just one-off initiatives; they are trying to coordinate technologies, services and management more effectively, in a more open environment.

Intelligent cities in the making are also pursuing the best way to integrate intelligent infrastructure initiatives across service domains, including energy, water, transport and buildings. Enabling technology capabilities across city departments is also essential; this integration includes communications and data, sensing and control, plus customer-facing hardware and applications.

Intelligent Cities Out There

Intelligent Cities

To better understand both the benefits and challenges of becoming an Intelligent City, consider one pioneer. The city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands is in the midst of an ambitious initiative to develop and implement sustainable and cost-effective programs to help the city reduce its carbon footprint, while also making it a more attractive place to live and work.

Ian McKinnell | Getty Images

The program has three primary environmental objectives: a 40 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2025 (using its 1990 baseline, twice the European Union objective); reliance on 20 percent renewable energy by 2015; and achieving a net-zero carbon foot-print by 2015.

Accomplishing these objectives involves bringing together various technologies and approaches that include smart meters, electric vehicles and intelligent building design to promote energy efficiency in the residential, commercial, public and transportation economic sectors. Underlying it all is a smart grid, which interconnects electricity networks with information and communications technologies, ultimately providing electricity more reliably, safely and affordably, with reduced carbon emissions.

Consider how interoperability helps deliver more effective smart traffic management solutions, for example. Open tolling is currently being adapted by several leading cities as a way to control traffic more effectively. Sensors can help reduce traffic congestion, which also reduces carbon emissions in the bargain, and generate additional revenues through congestion-based pricing.

For example, in Stockholm and London, zones have been created where an additional fee is collected from vehicles entering a congested city center. Singapore has gone one step further and launched a program for dynamic road pricing to adjust the fees for different driving and transportation behaviors in real-time.

But for programs like these to work, different city services and different technologies have to interoperate. Traffic management has to coordinate with areas such as urban logistics, mass transit, emergency services, and so forth. Vehicles have to be equipped with technologies that integrate them into a smart grid. This is where the open platform comes in.

Open Approach to Technology

One of the most important characteristics of a truly Intelligent City is an interoperable and scalable platform, one based on non-proprietary code and interfaces. This infrastructure leverages open technologies and architectures, which means that interfaces can readily be created and maintained across all the service domains of a city. This means that different areas and services of a city that need to tap into common capabilities can interact more effectively through a central hub.

These technology capabilities are a critical dimension of making a city intelligent. They allow it to maximize carbon reduction and support better coordination with other parts of city government overseeing employment, investments, and tourism.

As cities look to the next generation of Intelligent City solutions, a new and more open approach to technology and management will be essential. This approach to the design, operations and management of an Intelligent City encompasses not only technology, but strategy, people and processes as well.

The open platform also enables city services to be delivered in a leaner fashion. It offers infrastructure capabilities delivered as a service, ready and adaptable for a city’s unique needs, by integrating all relevant services in a single, Internet-enabled utility. This reduces the costs of city services not only by reducing the initial investment, but also by lowering the costs of maintenance and operations through usage-based charging.

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The author is Patrice Massat, Global Managing Director for Accenture’s Infrastructure and Transportation industries

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