Smart cities are here today -- and getting smarter

Big Data, mobile, sensors, social media are already in use, but security and privacy are issues.

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Security is indeed an ongoing concern for officials, "and if anyone [in city government] said they've never had an attempted hack I'd laugh," says Scottsdale CIO Hartig. "Every single day we see hits against our firewall, and people doing port scans. You've got to try to keep one step ahead and make sure you're doing things in a secure way. The more data you put out there, the more points of entry into your network, the more exposure you have."

To counter this, Scottsdale uses a multi-layered security approach that involves both technology and end-user training. Training is focused on city staff, Hartig says.

"There are always cyber security concerns around any kind of platform," adds South Bend's Buttigieg.

Citizens' privacy is another issue cities need to keep in mind. "The main challenges that we face ... are increased citizen surveillance and civic data collection, which in many people´s minds inevitably leads to the infringement of citizen privacy," says Naureen Kabir, director of the Urban (co)LAB at the New Cities Foundation. The foundation is a non-profit institution in Geneva, Switzerland, that promotes urban innovations through collaborative partnerships; the (co)LAB is the applied research arm of that group.

The foundation calls on government bodies "to promote increased transparency and dialogue with citizens," Kabir says. In other words, more discussions and plain-language explanations "could help prevent surveillance technologies from having negative implications," she says.

Cities also have to prepare for a new era of citizen engagement, where residents will more actively influence efforts such as the planning and maintenance of infrastructure components.

"When you look at what it means to be a smart city, some people focus on the technology aspects; things like sensors and business analytics," says Jennifer Belissent, an analyst at Forrester Research. "But you need to consider governance and how government is changing toward being more open and increasing engagement."

Mobile technology and social media use have reignited citizen engagement, and this will only increase with the growth of smartphones, tablets and social sites, Belissent says.

Getting government agencies to work with each other and with IT harmoniously is another challenge. "It involves a change in [management mindset] to move from siloed city departments to a more integrated and collaborative government unit," Belissent says.

Success "depends a lot on leadership at the executive level, and how IT and leaders of individual departments can pull together and use technology for shared services and to [improve] workflows across different departments," Belissent says. "It's a huge change-management challenge."

Yet another key obstacle involves the financing of smart city efforts. "Many cities are facing a dire economic financial environment," and smaller municipalities in particular are struggling, Belissent says.

Cost-saving IT efforts such as asset management, server consolidation and the use of shared services such as cloud computing will help bring down the costs of some smart city initiatives, as will the use of shared infrastructures.

"Cities will come together to jointly procure IT infrastructure, and I think that model will really take off," Belissent says.

This article, Smart cities are here today -- and getting smarter, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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