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What can smart cities administrators learn from enterprise networks? 2019-09-23

Urban planning is entering a new era. Breaking the mold with centuries of agricultural living, urbanisation has taken place on an unprecedented scale since the industrial revolution. Today cities are home to more than half of the world’s population, and it’s anticipated there will be a further 2.5 billion urban dwellers by the year 2050.

With this dramatic shift in demographics, pressures on infrastructure systems increase exponentially, particularly with the expectation quality of life should continue to increase. That’s why we‘ve seen smart city projects make up the largest segment in the IoT space over the last few years.

With hundreds of active initiatives, vendors and municipal governments around the world are paving the way for the digital cities. As an example, in the US, telecoms operator Verizon has been working with city authorities in Sacramento, San Jose, Boston, and elsewhere to roll out IoT connectivity for a variety of areas from traffic management and integrated public transport, to energy-efficient street lighting.

"An interconnected smart city is certainly complex – but we can also see it as a larger version of existing enterprise networks"

A smart cities programme in Singapore has been rolled out to deploy sensors and automated meters in order to improve the efficiency of the city’s power grid—and to also incrementally reduce the use of air conditioning in residential areas. Meanwhile, even closer to home, the city of Cambridge’s “Smart Cambridge” initiative focuses on improving the city’s public transport.

A city that never sleeps

Smart cities consist of multiple, interconnected networks of remote sensors and endpoints—both fixed and mobile—that continuously record and exchange data. This data is then stored and analysed to identify underlying patterns and trends across the ecosystem. But the sheer volume of data, plus the complexity of the many interconnected networks involved, means that it won’t just be the city that never sleeps at night; system administrators face a monumental task of maintaining this added complexity within the sensors’ underlying systems.

An interconnected smart city is certainly complex. But we can also see it as a larger version of existing enterprise networks that connect offices in different locations, collect and analyse large volumes of data from different sources, and work closely with third-party partners and providers. The important difference is a smart city involves a broader scale and scope—with more network layers and endpoints. But a smart city requires the same skills needed by administrators to manage and maintain a conventional enterprise network.

Connectivity is the key

The features and functions associated with smart cities, such as traffic management systems and integrated public transport networks, aren’t just interwoven, they must operate in real time. They’re coordinated by, and dynamically adapt to, variable circumstances such as vehicle congestion levels or constantly changing locations and speeds of buses and trains in and around the city. These features reply upon low-latency and two-way connectivity between sensors. But if this connectivity breaks down, even for a few seconds, consequences result, whether missed connections for commuters traveling to work or even a sudden gridlock on the streets—and could send the city into standstill. It will be the administrator’s job to rapidly identify the source of a problem across the network.

Smart cities and connected enterprises both depend on ultra-reliable, ultra-secure, low-latency connectivity to link them to important storage, computing, and analytics resources, plus third-party applications and partners increasingly hosted in the cloud. Without this, administrators will be presented with more issues that will need to be explained to management, which, in this case, would be the city administration/council.

A data goldmine

Like many large enterprises, a smart city generates vast quantities of data to store and analyse. And in today’s world, data is a highly valuable asset. With this in mind, the level of complexity involved in the analysis of data surpasses human capability, therefore machine learning and AI will be essential for the city administrators to extract and cross-reference insights from the different datasets involved. With this, administrators can then use the findings to solve problems, automate processes, improve performance, and come up with new smart features and services.

"In the same way that an enterprise respects the privacy of customers’ personal data – or at least should – a smart city administrator must have a robust and transparent policy that reaches new heights when it comes to individual data for personal navigation or localised search"

Large-scale machine learning and AI requires considerable computing capability, which is increasingly cloud-hosted. It’s for this reason, combined with the need for always-on connectivity between smart city sensors and connected devices, that accurate and constant monitoring of the smart city’s network performance and connectivity is critical.

Thorough ongoing monitoring to identify and resolve—and perhaps even pre-empt—network outages, is as mission-critical for a smart city as it is for a large connected enterprise.

Compliance—reaching new heights?

Smart cities and connected enterprises share another important feature: they both run on data. In today’s GDPR era, the responsibility on the administrators shoulders for smart city and enterprise network to be compliant is the same. Admins have a responsibility to first secure the increasing amount of data they collect and store, and second, to ensure that they and their third-party partners don’t misuse it.

In the same way that an enterprise respects the privacy of customers’ personal data, a smart city administrator must have a robust and transparent policy that reaches new heights regarding any individual citizens’ data that it collects to use for features and services such as personal navigation or localised search. Any policy must acknowledge the sensitivity of this data and obtain the individual’s permission to use it. The smart city must also be clear on how the data will be used and how long it will be stored.

Same skills, new challenge

Network administrators could initially see the scale and complexity of a smart city’s interconnected networks and systems as a daunting challenge. However, there are clear parallels to draw between enterprise networks and smart cities that they can used for guidance during development.

Smart city administrators can apply the same expertise and tool-set to manage other services such as enterprise networks. By prioritising real-time monitoring of network performance, security connectivity, and data privacy and security, they can keep their smart city connected, secure, and delivering benefits and new opportunities to its citizens for the future.


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