Smart Cities are Cities on a Transformational Journey
As cities start to deploy Internet of Things (IoT) technology they begin the process of transforming themselves to become a Smart City/Community. This enabling technology, when used in concert with other systems presents a monumental opportunity to improve citizen experiences while also reducing operational expenses and the same time.
The first generation of IOT Smart City Systems were based on a series of focused application silos. In these systems, an application is deployed to collect data from an associated series of IOT devices, analyze the data, and, as appropriate, direct control signals back to the devices. These deployments were justified based on that single application’s ability to reduce a city’s operating costs or improve the lives of the citizens. For many cities, the results from these high value applications make good economic sense. However, in many situations, the benefits did not justify the costs and as a result many excellent projects were deferred until technological advances would allow the prices to come down or the benefits from the applications could be increased. These first-generation systems created an environment where applications that were viable in one city would not be logical in another because of city specific differences; as a result, no two cities have the same tactical approach to making their city smarter.
Furthermore, within the city’s IT infrastructure, this siloed approach resulted in the creation of a series of application specific operational structures within each city. IT silos are notoriously difficult to support and maintain because each structure is unique, operational staff may have to visit multiple applications and many IOT devices before a systemic policy change can be implemented. As the number of silos increases over time, the costs to maintain these systems begins to increase. Eventually, these costs will reach a point where they exhaust the capacity of the IT staff; no matter how talented, a relatively fixed IT staff cannot contend with an exponentially growing number of IOT devices and applications. When this plateau is reached, resource limits will inhibit the city’s ability to consider newer technologies and as the devices continue to age, the level of service could even atrophy.
Luckily, solutions to this conundrum are on the horizon. This coming generation of smart-city systems will not be associated with a vendor specific walled garden, but instead based on the communities that coalesce based on common social needs. These communities of IOT data generators and consumers can be considered as a data-centric ecosystem that exists to serve its participants. In such an ecosystem, participating partners will work together to eliminate redundancies that are associated with dedicated systems. In many ways, this evolutionary progression mirrors the evolution of the Internet, which began its life as a series of environment managers such as Telenet and Tymnet which curated Internet experiences on behalf of the user. Eventually these gateways gave way to a more open and democratic network structure that allowed the users to connect to the network and makes use of its resources at will. Managed IOT application silos will similarly give way to create an environment where an IOT device can provide data to any application interested in the data that it generates.
This next generation of IOT networks will reshape the economic forces that serve to inhibit the nature of today’s smart cities. Instead of an IOT deployment project being justified by the benefit of a single application, deployments will be justified based on the benefit of a series of applications. This is a more powerful economic model and one that will enable the deployment of a whole new class of IOT systems – systems that could not have proven on the basis of a single application.
In such IOT networks, the IOT device owners will be more actively involved in managing the IOT devices they own. Instead of simply configuring the devices communications parameters, the device owner will be actively involved in determining the level of networking they wish to allow their devices to participate in. This is a much more different paradigm than the current situation, where device owners cede IOT data control to a specific application that must be trusted to manage the data distribution process on behalf of the device owner.
In a siloed environment, security, privacy, and trust become key points of discussion once an IOT application has been approved for deployment. In the next generation of networked IOT environment, these issues become the foundational issues upon which the network is built with selection of the applications becoming the secondary consideration. In an IOT network, the ability for the device owner to directly manage their own data governance represents the difference between an IOT communications network and an IOT cognizant network.
Advances are being made daily in the area of artificial intelligence (AI), distributed data management, and advanced communications networks (5G). These systems stand to bring significant benefit to the smart-cities world, however, additional attention is needed to create a network from the IOT devices that serve as a foundation for many of these advances. It is fitting and logical that the next area of focus for smart-cities would be in distributed and networked IOT device management, an area that characterized by its ability to manage IOT device streams on behalf of the IOT device owner.
The I3 Consortium (i3.usc.edu) is an example of an open, member driven effort that is working to create such a next generation IOT network fabric designed to support smart cities and other IOT communities. The I3 environment was developed to create framework by which diverse IOT device owners can come together to create an enhanced networked environment where it is easy to connect IOT devices to applications under the guidance of the IOT device owners. The opensource nature of these IOT efforts reflects the original intent of the Internet founders to create a democratized fabric that facilitates the open exchange of data among parties within the community. As an open consortium, other companies, government agencies, academic institutions, and non-profits are welcome to join a growing consortium that includes participants like The City of Los Angeles, the County of Los Angeles, Verizon, Oracle, the University of Southern California, Korea University, and many others as we move toward a next generation vision of IOT networking.