Nobody knows what tomorrow’s smart cities will look like. However, some things are clear:
- Connected devices will change the economics of collecting and acting upon data.
- The data contains enormous potential.
- Smart cities will improve quality of life while reducing costs.
Still, given this perspective, we must ask, if all this is so evident, why isn’t smart city adoption happening quicker? What is holding the floodgates back?
The Good—Established Opportunities
Connected objects change the economics of solving problems.
Smart lighting reduce city electricity and maintenance costs.
Other solutions help cities track costly assets, improve transportation services, manage waste services, and create more resilient electricity and water distribution networks. Potential abounds.
These are clear use-cases with established returns, however they represent only a tiny fraction of the total potential.
The Compelling—Indirect Data Opportunities
Louisville, Kentucky, has one of the highest asthma rates in the US. In 2016 Louisville started collecting data from connected GPS-enabled asthma inhalers and crossing it with other data sets providing air quality information to help citizens with breathing conditions. The published results? Collaborative data-driven decisions and services lead to a 78% reduction in rescue inhaler use and a 48% improvement in symptom-free days.
Unfortunately, this was a major “project” requiring multiple community actors, technology vendors, and public funding to address the significant technical challenges.
Many of the benefits of data are indirect and will not generate revenue. For smart city adoption to reach critical mass, we need to reduce the financial and technical challenges to sharing data to indirect beneficiaries. Smart city adoption requires the creation of systems that allow us to shift the paradigm from “project” to “opportunity,” “decision,” and “action.”
Instead of requiring public-private partnerships and grant money to foment innovation, we need solutions a city health officer and chief data officer can implement with a few clicks of a mouse.
This is not currently the case The Boston Consulting Graph illustrates how smart city applications share data from many sources as in the case of Louisville. Unfortunately, many cities struggle to share data internally, let alone third-parties.
Boston Consulting Group research on how smart city solutions need to share data.
The Bad–Lack of Security
Since Ericsson’s famously announced 2011 prevision of 50 billion connected devices by 2020, everybody has been focused on IoT’s potential. Technology vendors worked furiously to bring products to market. Data scientists started slicing and dicing data. Developers began building technology blocks to get data from devices to the cloud. Telecoms and other LPWAN providers built-out networks in anticipation of huge markets. Unfortunately, too much was built on quicksand and we see this in markets like smart city.
Currently, according to Palo Alto Networks, 98% of all IoT data traffic is unencrypted with 57% of devices vulnerable to medium- or high-severity attacks.
Smart cities rely on connected devices to manage critical infrastructure—lighting, transportation, etc., with real people dependent on said services. Each additional device will drive efficiency creating vast amounts of data to reshape our world as in the Louisville example.
However, as we’ve seen with the Mirai botnet attack on IoT devices that almost brought down the entire internet, and more recently with the Solar Wind situation, lack of security attracts unwanted opportunists. What happens the first time New York’s lighting is attached with ransomware?
Smart city adoption without meaningful security measures is akin to building a house from the roof down while ignoring the foundation.
The Answer—Standards are Foundational
Smart City adoption will not reach critical mass until security, and the barriers to sharing data have been addressed. Likewise, the incredible secondary data-driven services and decision-making benefits are only attainable after the costs and complexity of sharing data have been dramatically reduced.
Device management based on Lightweight M2M addresses important challenges:
Firstly, it addresses costs. Today IoT development often requires specialized development skills inflating expenses. Likewise, operational considerations such as how to remotely commission, provision with security certificates, update, and manage devices are underappreciated. In the simplest terms, the lower we can drive costs, the wider the variety of use-cases supported.
Secondly, we need to build secure, open services unlocking massive economies of scale and innovation at the device, business-case, and data interoperability level. LwM2M, as a device management standard with a shared library of standardized data models and integrated, end-to-end security, systematically addresses these issues and more. Beyond less costly solutions, adhering to LwM2M means solutions will never be excluded from the smart city ecosystem.
Vision—Plug and Play IoT
A PC is composed of five major components with hundreds of sub-components. PC manufacturers don’t manufacture so much as assemble. The pieces are mostly interchangeable. If I want to add functionality, I plug in the new device. Expectations are that it works with my computer without a technician’s intervention or drivers. Would the market for PCs be even half as big without the plug-and-play concept? Imagine if every time we wanted to add a component, we had to do custom development or call for IT help. Or you could only buy from the same brand who sold you the computer.
Smart City IoT solutions should look to this plug-and-play model for inspiration. Security should be a standardized service. All the data should be based on a standard library, sharable by choice, and a web interface. What was done in Louisville should be reproducible with a mouse-click around the world benefitting billions of people from San Jose to New Delhi. This model would create important economies-of-scale harnessing the monetary capital and human energy necessary to accelerate innovation.
Some might argue this vision is naive and impractical, however, given 80% of the world’s population lives in cities and the unprecedented economic, ecological, and health problems we face it could be argued it is a global imperative.
When we look at the current state of smart city adoption, or lack of adoption, the exciting thing is the technology exists and I am optimistic sooner or later market forces will shape the market around standards.
What will be the tipping point for smart cities and IoT adoption? When will we hit Ericsson’s lofty numbers? When the value of security and interoperability becomes more commonly understood, standards will be the rising tide that lifts all boats.
To learn more
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