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Moving Beyond Connecting People to Delivering Engaging Interactive Experiences

As organizations move toward digital transformation, they are embracing the benefits of delivering timely, personalized information to customers, citizens, and patients. Connecting people with information and services when, where, and how they want, is a pivotal point in the way organizations process, apply data and deliver that information.

Given my busy schedule, I appreciate a shopping experience that is hassle-free and fast. I also want the information I need about a product or service to be easy to find.  And for that matter, I expect that a retailer knows what I am looking for and provides relevant promotions and discounts. These rising expectations have been born out of leading digital retailers and now that the bar has been set – anything that falls short feels like a disappointment.

Customer Experience

Today’s shoppers are looking for efficiency,  ease in problem-solving, and faster time to purchase. They want to take advantage of savings through discounts and promotional offers and they want to be engaged when learning about new items, entertainment, and product options.  To address these growing expectations, Cisco and Panasonic are partnering to transform the shopping experience through their Powershelf solution. The solution enables brick and mortar retailers to automate inventory tracking and pricing data, helping them optimize their supply chain and better manage demand.  In addition, real-time product information can be delivered to a customer’s mobile device.

Citizen Experience

The future involves much more than improving customer engagement. Cities are challenged with delivering enhanced citizen services and information on a limited budget.  In the face of inclement weather and emergencies, it is critical that cities link dispatch, first responders and the community with timely, accurate information. For example, the City of Mississauga is leveraging sensors and wireless connectivity to make these connections, analyze trends and share information between citizen services, public communications, and operations.

As more and more citizens prefer to receive information and updates via their mobile devices, this integrated public service system will allow cities to put a request into action quickly and efficiently and provide real-time updates.  Now, the City of Mississauga can deploy operations teams and emergency services faster, enable new services without recognizing an increase in IT budget and improve public safety with immediate, actionable information.

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Amplify the Internet of Things in Smart and Connected Cities with Fog

When it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT), cities have enormous potential. A city needs to manage many different processes and priorities ranging from trash collection to traffic management, for hundreds of thousands to millions of people distributed over a large area. Many of these processes can be enhanced through the use of IoT.

During the past several years we have seen more and more technology solutions being deployed to help cities optimize these processes and provide additional value to its citizens. Smart parking is perhaps one of the best known and perhaps the most visible for city inhabitants.

Typically an IoT solution stack for these processes is build on several layers: (1) sensors to measure, (2) for each type of sensor there is typically a compute infrastructure at the edge of the network near the sensors, to perform simple aggregation, protocol/access technology conversion and local processing/analytics, (3) connectivity (wireless, backbone) to transfer data to the cloud, (4) cloud for deeper analytics, business processes and long term data access.

No two cities however are the same and each city has its own unique challenges. Backbone network infrastructures are managed in different ways, and local views on privacy and security can differ substantially. Light poles form a natural infrastructure to connect sensors with the edge of the network as it provides power and physical security. However cities upgrade their physical infrastructures with different time tables, and upgrades take time (and money), which leads to different alternative IoT infrastructure deployments at the network edge. Each city is organized differently which means budgets are managed differently. The latter can be especially challenging if new services touch multiple departments.

But cities also face common IoT challenges. Different types of sensors typically come with their own edge hardware and service management software. If a city deploys multiple sensor platforms this leads to so-called box proliferation and service management siloes (what some people call the vertical approach to IoT). This is not only undesirable from an aesthetics point of view, but makes it harder (more costly) to manage the whole city IoT infrastructure.

Challenges edge services

Challenges edge services

More sensors also means an increased security risk. Certain sensors have little processing power (to save money and battery life) which can make them targets for security attacks. While network security can filter out a lot of attacks there is still an increased risk of infecting the whole city infrastructure, specifically on an application level through data obfuscation. Sensor platforms do offer a certain level of security, but it is not always the primary focus within the solution and dealing with multiple platforms leads to multiple different security solutions.

The above challenges make it harder to scale up IoT in cities. Therefore a paradigm shift is needed towards a hyper distributed architecture of smart nodes: The heterogeneous edge hardware and software platforms should be replaced by a platform on which the virtualized services of the providers can be deployed. This so-called fog platform has hardened security as well as common libraries, features and hardware that can be used by the service providers to deploy their virtualized edge services. The fog platform also provides uniform edge service life-cycle management, policy based data and service access, as well as multi tenancy, reducing the cost for a city to manage such an infrastructure.

Fog: a platform to reduce cost, increase security and amplify IoT

Fog: a platform to reduce cost, increase security and amplify IoT

The fog platform is a win-win for the city and its edge service providers. Service  providers can focus on their core competence of sensors, data aggregation/processing and business logic while leveraging standard security and processing features from the fog platform as well as the possibility to easier share and combine data (sometimes referred to as the horizontal approach to IoT) between different services.

For the city, the fog platform will make it easier to manage and deploy new edge services, without adding new boxes on the network edge for each new service, thereby reducing the capital and operational cost for managing the city IoT infrastructure.

The value of the fog platform for a city is not only the direct operational and capital cost savings as well as hardened security,  but equally important is the shorter deployment cycle of new edge services, and easier data sharing between the traditional service siloes. With such an approach the city can become a large distributed test-bed to incubate new innovative ideas on data fusion and processing and develop new services that contribute to the overall quality of life for its citizens.

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IoT Tipping Point Propels Digital Experience Era

Call me an optimist.

We are fortunate today to watch the dawn of the Digital Experience era as the world becomes digitally more and more connected.

Consider that there are already 3 billion of us connected to the Internet. Imagine what the next 4 billion can help us do as they connect.

Even greater change could result as the everyday “things” around us – bus stops, parking spaces, and street lights – get connected. I’ve seen predictions that 20, 50, even over 200 billion more things will be connected in the next couple years. Just think of the tremendous possibilities that could result from that amount of connectivity and collaboration happening around this planet.

What’s rapidly unfolding before us is the Internet of Everything – the intelligent connection of people, process, data, and things. Studies show that the Internet of Everything can drive $19 trillion worth of economic benefit for this planet. To put that into perspective, that’s almost as large as the U.S. and China economies combined. What is your country’s, community’s, or business’ portion of that?

But what fuels my optimism are the social, cultural, and environmental benefits waiting on the horizon — if we accelerate and if we change. With more efficiency and less waste, we human beings can benefit, as can our planet.

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The Future of Cities is Here, and it’s Digital

What does your #CityofTomorrow look like? 

Over the past decades, broadband Internet access has been an important enabler of economic growth, social inclusion and improved government services. Now, the latest phase of the Internet—the Internet of Everything (IoE)—is transforming our lives in whole new ways.  The biggest impact of this change is happening in our cities.

At this year’s Cisco Live in San Francisco, there was a lot of discussion around the idea of digital cities. New ideas that combine smart phones, cloud applications, data processes with whole new classes of connected devices are reinventing city services and experiences. This is the Internet of Everything in action: transforming every aspect of a city, from utilities to public safety to transportation.

There are many examples today. The city of Santander in Spain has installed sensors to monitor traffic levels, noise pollution and lighting levels. Santander’s smart parking application has yielded an 80 percent reduction in downtown traffic congestion!  Cities around the world are using the Internet of Everything to reinvigorate urban centers just like the one in Santander, which can adapt to residents’ needs in real time.  These cities are discovering new opportunities for energy efficiency and seeing immediate returns on investments.

Another IoE twist is the Los Angeles police department project using data analytics to more rapidly spot crime in progress, via license plate readers on police cars. These readers, which are in use as officers conduct normal business, digitally scan tens of thousands of vehicles over the course of a single day. This means automatic notification of stolen vehicles to officers as they drive past on their routine patrol.

Want to hear more? Cisco has teamed up with CNN to explore digital cities around the globe, just like Santander and L.A. The CNN “City of Tomorrow” looks at how cities are utilizing technology to improve our lives, diving into unique case studies with results happening today. Weekly editorials on CNN broadcast television and the City of Tomorrow hub showcase IoE examples happening around the world. Just as L.A. becomes a safer place to live, San Diego is able to increase the amount of available drinking water, and Seattle has created a completely green commercial building that leaves no carbon footprint. These are only a few examples of IoE in action; there are many more on the horizon. And you can learn about them all in this eight-week City of Tomorrow series. 

What you might not have realized is that the Internet of Everything is changing things in your city, too. How are you using the Internet of Everything today?

We want to know what examples of the Internet of Everything you see in your own City of Tomorrow – your neighborhood! Join the conversation online by tagging your photo and video examples with #InternetofEverything and #CityofTomorrow. How is the Internet of Everything changing your city? 

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Sustainable Cities & Technology: Insights & Final Thoughts from Meeting of the Minds 2012

I had the opportunity to attend Meeting of the Minds in San Francisco last week. It was an amazing event that brought together thought leaders from the world’s most innovative organizations to spotlight fresh ideas in urban connectivity and sustainability.

The emerging themes centered around innovation, leadership, and enabling connectivity. While there and after the first day of sessions, my team had the pleasure of catching up with Gordon Feller, director of the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) Public Sector Practice, Urban Innovations team and convenor and co-founder of Meeting of the Minds, to capture his insights. Check out the video:

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