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IoT holds vast promise for smart cities that plan ahead

By Peter O’Dell on April 14, 2016

Filed under Microsoft CityNext


The Internet of Things (IoT) is coming! This means physical things like traffic lights and vehicles will be able to collect and share data by connecting to the Internet. Through analytics, cities can turn this data into intelligent information that will change the way the world works.

IoT offers cities revolutionary ways to gather this vital data. Analyzing this information to understand how a city operates will improve response times for everyday purposes and acute emergencies. This wave of change will enable innovation, new services, and cost savings. However, if a city is going to be “smart” (that is, IoT-connected), it needs to devise a strategy for deploying technologies rather than allowing 1,000 ad-hoc systems to take root without forethought. A proactive strategy will maximize the return on an IoT investment.

Take a simple example of an inexpensive sensor that can replace the current signs and decals that appear on hazardous materials containers, particularly tanker trucks. This sensor transmits its status and identity every 60 seconds, but it can also be activated by readers at electronic toll-collection points. The city can collect and process data from the readers in real time to gain a highly accurate understanding of where hazardous materials are located throughout the city—particularly on transit points like major bridges.

Sound straightforward enough? It can be, but only because the city did its homework first. In this case, that means addressing the complexities that arise from gathering large quantities of security, privacy, and interoperability data. For example, who is authorized to issue the sensors? Would the city standardize on a particular kind of sensor? Are the readers owned by the city, or could there be a collaboration among public and private entities so that multiple transportation initiatives can use the same infrastructure? Who has access to the data? How would the city manage data security? Do data-access standards change during an emergency?

As IoT solutions multiply, cities will have to decide how to manage their complex governance and standards. The Internet may have evolved slowly, but deployment of IoT devices and solutions is likely to be much faster and far-reaching.

Partnerships between public and private organizations could answer some of these new challenges by providing cross-entity capabilities and a central interface for all players. An example of this type of partnership is the Chicago Array of Things project, the product of a joint initiative between Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago. The center develops tools and initiatives to unite members of academic, civic, private, and nonprofit organizations in efforts to gather data on and improve the quality of urban life.

The time to prepare a strategy is now—IoT adoption is accelerating rapidly, and Gartner research group predicts that 25 billion new devices will connect to the Internet by 2020. By adopting interoperable data standards that also incorporate privacy and access-control policies for robust security, companies and cities can gain tremendous value from IoT. This approach sets cities up for success for years to come. The wide array of Microsoft solutions will further support this accelerating stream of innovation.

You heard it here first.

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Peter_ODell_CEO_SwanIslandNetworksPeter O’Dell, CEO, Swan Island Networks

Peter O’Dell is the CEO and Founder of Swan Island Networks, a situational intelligence solution based on Microsoft Azure that can create a global common operating picture for all types of organizations. He has held business and technical roles for multinationals and several startups. He’s authored three books, including Cyber 24/7: Risks, Leadership and Sharing. He’s an avid fly fisherman, occasional marathoner, and poor golfer. He spends his life in awe of the change happening around us.

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