Can City CTOs Save the World?

Source: Smart Cities Connect on January 9, 2017 | Chelsea Collier

It used to be that we lived in silos where the role of certain sectors was clear. Companies provided products and services to generate a profit. Nonprofits and NGOs performed selfless acts to save the world. Cities silently made the world run in ways that most of us never even noticed. With the advent of smart cities, things look quite different. Cities are now at the epicenter of the technology evolution with the integration of the Internet of Things (IoT), big data and connected technology.

As IDC analyst Ruthbea Clarke outlined in a recent Computer World article, “The uptick in city interest and funding started in late 2016, which means there will be big announcements of pilot projects and even deployments in 2017.” Chief Technology Officers, Chief Information Officers and Chief Innovation Officers are now at the heart of this transformation.

The first opportunity is to introduce technology on an entirely new level to make a city more connected and effective. These include things like sensors on traffic lights to control road congestion and communicate alternative routes or installing monitors on bridges and waterways so that infrastructure upgrades can be based on real data. In these instances, technology is an enabler to save a city money — essentially to do more, more efficiently.

The second opportunity is to look at ways that a city can not only save money, but actually generate revenue based on smart city technology. Cities are rapidly installing sensors, beacons and cameras and the result is a massive amount of data that holds insights on how people live, work and move. Big data has been named the holy grail of the modern marketing world. With the right approaches and appropriate levels of security and transparency, cities could hold the key to what private sector companies want to know — and will willingly pay for.

The final — and perhaps most important — opportunity is to leverage smart city technology to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges at the local level. CTO Miguel Gamiño (now with the City of New York and previously with the City of San Francisco and the City of El Paso) describes the notion of an equitable city along with being a smart city. When the right level of technology is intentionally applied with a spirit of inclusivity, there is the chance to meet the needs of disenfranchised populations with greater efficiency. PewResearch Center states, “Today nearly two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone, and 19% of Americans rely to some degree on a smartphone for accessing online services and information and for staying connected to the world around them.” Applied to smart cities, this means that providing connection to city services such as transportation, healthcare, education can become more seamless and less costly than other efforts, which relied on resource-strained nonprofits or person-to-person outreach.

Smart Cities hold tremendous promise for the future of American metropolitan areas and the citizens and residents that live in them. Chief Technology Offers and their Information and Innovation counterparts have a tremendous responsibility and opportunity to truly affect how cities serve the needs of their constituents. It is an exciting time and all eyes are on these civil servants with eager anticipation.

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