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Orchestrating Smart City Ecosystems

- November 23, 2016 - 0 Comments

Just as an orchestra relies on the careful selection of instruments and skilled players, each contributing uniquely and working in tight collaboration, to create a truly symphonic experience—so, too, does the development and operation of a smart city. In the case of creating harmony on the urban services stage, a number of companies must come together as part of an ecosystem, each playing their part, to develop, implement, and sustain an integrated set of solutions. And, as with an orchestra, there is a reliance on a common set of signals and standards to conduct the players and devices in order for them to interact effectively.

Orchestrating the smart city ecosystem is a combination of art and science that blends company cultures, business models, and objectives into a living, evolving expression of alignment with the goals of city leaders and citizens. It requires a blend of local partners—who have already built key relationships and trust with city leaders and citizens—with global partners who can leverage broad experience and economies of scale. It requires partnering with technology and application experts, data and analysis experts, communications and connectivity experts, services and integration experts, even business and financial experts. Orchestration of these partnerships, this ecosystem, requires a keen understanding of the foundational infrastructure and Cisco takes on this role. In fact, we recently announced a specific new cloud-based tool set to oversee and support this orchestration: The Smart+Connected Digital Platform.

The Smart+Connected Digital Platform provides a cohesive guidance layer to align the expertise of these partners—providers of sensors, applications, data analysis, security, services oversight and so on—and get them and their assets all operating effectively together to gather, analyze and deliver data and a shared experience. Through that integration, data can then be shared with new contextual relevance for better informed decision making, more interactions with citizens, and the identification of new opportunities for revenue generation and cost control.

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Cisco works with a wide variety of partners that fall into the following broad categories and orchestrates their participation across its smart city ecosystem; in some cases, companies may serve in several categories.

Solution Partners (Sensors, Applications and Analytics) 

Solution partners are those that play a role in data management. They may produce hardware such as sensors or software such as applications. They may provide processes such as data analysis schema. When it comes to sensors, there are more and more of them everywhere; their role is to capture data at various points—say on a light pole or in a water pipe—to provide measurements of conditions over time. For instance, a parking sensor—buried in the roadway or embedded in a video camera—senses and reports on whether a parking spot is occupied or vacant.

One of the key roles of the Smart+Connected Digital Platform is to allow sensors to be added into the overall smart city system quickly and have it capturing and feeding data over the network with relatively little fuss. So data from multiple sensors—deployed to serve a single vertical industry or multiple industries—can operate as part of a shared environment to fuel a new synthesis of information through intelligent correlation.

For example, real-time parking, traffic, and public transportation data—fed into the same digital platform—can be correlated to reveal city bottlenecks to city planners, new parking pricing opportunities to parking authorities, or the best transportation option for two excited theatre-goers to get across town on a Saturday night.

Understanding the data requires that it be packaged for its particular purpose and audience—such as on a control-center dashboard or a mobile application, for instance. The Smart+Connected Digital Platform exposes data that various application developers can access via established application program interfaces (APIs) prebuilt into the system. Experts in different domain areas can craft the applications that will serve their audiences best—whether that’s a city agency worker, an arts enthusiast or a city visitor.

Systems Integrators

The marriage of physical infrastructure and technology infrastructure in an urban setting often leads to integration complexity. One category of partners with whom we work often is the traditional technology integrator. These partners are particularly adept at integrating networks, sensors and applications. In addition, infrastructure integrators are critical as they have the right clearances and permits to work on deploying public infrastructure within a city. So, a smart lighting solution, for example, involves combining physical infrastructure elements—light poles, luminaires and fixtures—with elements of technology infrastructure—control nodes, sensors, cameras, access points, and light-management dashboards and so on. And it requires the orchestration between both types of integrators to successfully implement the smart lighting solution.

Urban Operators

We have been building a stronger set of partnerships with this important category of partners more recently and in some cases urban operators are our direct customers. Urban operation partners enter into long-term contracts with cities for the delivery of urban services, such as water, transportation, energy and facilities maintenance. CH2M, for instance, is an urban operator we have worked with that manages end-to-end public infrastructure for eight U.S. cities. In the UK, Amey, a subsidiary of the Spanish urban operation company Ferrovial, manages 30% of the outdoor street lighting in the UK. These partners are, themselves, engaged in their own digital transformation journey to digitize their value chain so that they can offer urban services to their customers more efficiently. We are increasingly working with urban operators as they already have strong relationships in cities, which potentially smooths the integration, deployment and adoption of these solutions.

Service Providers

Services Providers are traditionally providers of communications and Internet connectivity services. But they have been branching out in their service offerings and have increasing begun providing smart city solutions as a natural extension of their business model. Service providers also have strong city relationships and existing footprints by way of their fiber, wireless and wired network investments. They also have a heritage of providing both consumer- and enterprise-related network services.

In Copenhagen, for example, one of the most advanced smart cities and an important customer for Cisco, the top service provider is TDC. Cisco is partnering with TDC to deploy and offer a portfolio of smart city solutions in collaboration with the local ecosystem.

In Kansas City, Missouri, another forward-looking city, Sprint played a key partner role with Cisco in enabling and deploying smart city solutions. Cities worldwide have very different ways of working with service providers and we have clearly maintained a diverse set of relationships to ensure flexibility, collaboration, and strong outcomes for the cities we work with.

Ecosystems should be designed with flexibility in mind

Cities are living, breathing organisms that evolve over time. Smart city projects need to be designed with this in mind so that they are flexible and future-proofed and so that new services can be provisioned easily. Cisco’s approach to having an open ecosystem that can exist over a common network and platform provides this flexibility…and of course what that looks like will continue to evolve over time.

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