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13 December 2017

Is a service-centric platform model the Next Big Thing for smart cities?

Is a service-centric platform model the Next Big Thing for smart cities?

Back in 2013, the old Spanish port city of Santander was featured in news reports as a smart city pioneer – a living lab with thousands of sensors deployed around the town of 180,000 to alert residents to traffic jams, help workers optimize city systems and keep tourists happily occupied.

Officials from around the world flocked to Santander to observe its grand experiment.

Since then, of course, cities large and small have followed the lead of early connectivity proponents like Santander, Barcelona, Amsterdam and London. As a result, we've:

  • Experienced the evolution of the Internet of Things and the data tsunami it spawned  
  • Watched the Open Data movement gather steam and the proliferation of smartphone apps that followed
  • Seen the concept of integrated infrastructure catch on as cities deployed cross-cutting digital technologies
  • Marveled at the growth and creativity in the new sharing economy

There's no doubt that all of that, together with advanced analytics, have dramatically changed how local governments operate and how citizen services are delivered:

  • Smart traffic lights, smart transit systems and smart roads are inter-connected to improve commutes and alert smartphone users to potential delays
  • Smart street lighting systems offer greater citizen safety through ‘push-to-talk’ alert buttons and the ability to increase lighting intensity when needed 
  • Data-sharing platforms enable social workers to pool data from a variety of agencies to help monitor care of the elderly and identify at-risk children

All of which begs the question, what's next? What does the next generation of Smart Cities look like?

A platform model
The smart city lexicon is indeed changing. Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles promise to alter the status quo.

Bas Boorsma, Internet of Everything lead for Cisco in Northern Europe and author of "A New Digital Deal," suggests the smart cities proposition is moving from an asset-centric approach to one that is service-centric.

We're seeing it already with mobility in cities. And in the business/consumer space, Everything as a Service (XaaS) or servitisation (referring to selling the function not the product) is increasingly common, from lighting performance to printer cartridges.

Boorsma admits there are many unknowns in a Cities as a Service model. For example: "Do we opt for private sector to own and manage top to bottom as in the old telco and cable company model, or do we stress the importance of keeping strategic assets within the public realm?" And "how do we – government, industry, society at large – prepare for the introduction of platform into our smart city thinking?"

Work in progress
Fortunately, those answers are being addressed in the Market Place, where our Integrated Infrastructures Action Cluster is focused on developing open urban platforms and data. It has growing market support. A letter of intent has been signed by more than three dozen cities to date, plus city associations that bring the represented number to more than 100 cities in total. Additionally, nearly 100 industry players have signed the Memorandum of Understanding to support this important initiative. The Urban Platform initiative has already delivered guidance that can help accelerate cities through pre-procurement stages essential to smart city progress.