When I first landed in the Smart City space in 2012, I was working for Kansas City as it pioneered its way through those unchartered waters. Back then, we didn’t have a universally agreed upon definition of what a smart city was. Today, we still don’t, but most people can describe the basic characteristics.


Pillar one: Data is key to smart cities

One of the chief characteristics of smart cities is data. Data is an enabler and force multiplier. And for today’s smart city, it’s what gasoline is to an engine. Communities are quickly finding out that data may be one of their most precious resources. But why is data so important?

  1. Faster pattern recognition
  2. Smarter resource allocation.

Or on a more basic level: awareness and action. All cities use data, but the push toward smart cities is to use it in ways that help cities become not only increasingly more informed (awareness), but increasingly more responsive (action).

Smart Cities are the ultimate end game

Every city will eventually become a smart city in the same manner that nearly every phone has become a smart phone. It’s not that we had dumb phones before (or dumb cities). Rather, the “smart” moniker denotes the ability of the device—or in this case a community—to utilize cross-domain information to deliver a richer, more robust experience.

As cities migrate toward smart city solutions and take steps to improve their infrastructure, they’ve historically done so in siloed approaches. Given the variety of funding cycles, project management priorities, and personnel resources, a “one at a time” approach has often been the result. This can lead to duplication in infrastructure and loss of value from cross-domain interaction with no sharing of intelligence and information. This method is neither scalable nor economical. Communities can’t afford to view and address these domains separately.

Effective data pipelines are the next big challenge

Data is not only one of the chief characteristics of the smart city, but one of the its foundational pillars. The challenge is that data seemingly comes from every direction and source and in massive volumes. So much so that even petabytes and exabytes are becoming common terms.

Data is such an encompassing term it can be difficult to wrap our minds around it. So, for the purpose of gaining a better understanding of this crucial smart city driver, permit me to offer an illustration that hints at the real power and value of data.

In 2006, Clive Humby, a mathematician from the UK, was quoted as having said, “Data is the new oil.” What Mr. Humby was attempting to communicate was not only the value of data as a precious commodity, but the process and effort required to collect raw data and convert it into a useable form. Like any precious resource, data doesn’t just sit on the surface; it must be mined, drilled, and extruded. Much effort goes into getting the raw data and, like crude oil, without transport and refinement the data, as potentially valuable as it may be, is virtually worthless.

I joined Cisco last year because, as a leader in the smart city space, it understands full-well the central role data plays in driving smart city growth and effectiveness. In keeping with the oil analogy, Cisco is also fully aware of the crucial role that transport and refinement play in converting raw data into actionable information and it delivers handedly in these two areas.


Pillar two: Smart cities need smart networks

Another foundational pillar of smart cities is the smart network, which functions as the transport vehicle. In this case, it is data, not oil, moving through digital pipelines. Cisco, at its core, is a networking company. With the majority of the world’s data traversing Cisco networks, its depth and breadth of experience in this area position it very solidly in the “expert” quadrant.

Cisco has invested billions of dollars in company acquisitions and R&D to create extremely robust network solutions. Cisco Digital Network Architecture (DNA) for Cities is a secure, resilient, and extensible solution that gives cities a durable foundation upon which to build their smart city network and the confidence to safely carry their valuable data. The smart network is the proverbial “pipeline” hauling raw data to the refinery.

Cisco Kinetic for Cities (CKC) is an IoT data aggregation and normalization platform. This “refinery plant” allows cities to collect sensor data from multiple vendors across multiple domains and prepare the data for ingestion into analytic, visualization, and contextualization engines, where cities can extract the real power and value of their data. Like crude oil being refined into gasoline, CKC aggregates and normalizes raw data into usable feedstocks with valuable application profiles.

Integration: often overlooked but critical

To help customers with their smart city journey, Cisco offers an integrated architecture approach. With our comprehensive product portfolio, our end-to-end customer services, and trusted ecosystem of global partners, we are creating the city as a platform solution. What does this mean?

Through two foundational smart city pillars (data and smart networks), Cisco delivers an extensible platform allowing for the addition of new sensors across different domains and different technology types. The versatility of the platform enables a community to connect their existing sensor environment, as well as onboard new sensor technologies, as they emerge.

This will minimize the need for rip-n-replace efforts when new technologies are made available. The added functionality also allows cities to work with multiple vendors within and across IoT domains, further increasing the economic value of the platform. Additionally, by leveraging the power of the platform, cities can engage with other municipalities and communities to seamlessly share information, insights and experiences across a region.

An integrated platform helps cities strategically align the domains in which they are collecting data today, as well as those where they will be collecting data tomorrow. This approach results in an effective, efficient, economical and scalable solution and promotes the unleashing of more latent power within the data they generate or collect.


So what is a smart city?

After our discussion, I think I’m a little bit closer to a concrete definition of what a smart city is (at least in my mind): smart cities are those that build smart networks in order unlock the power and value of data. And Cisco’s position in the technology space over the past 35 years allows it to bring the full breadth of its product portfolio, partner ecosystem and platform solutions to bare for cities.

Today’s smart city solutions are allowing us to do what we’ve never done before in ways that we’ve scarcely contemplated. And it’s anyone’s guess as to what problems we’ll be able to solve with tomorrow’s technology. While cities and communities may not be able to deploy vast amounts of IoT sensors across their environment today, building a smart network that is ready and capable when they are is an excellent first step and sets them up nicely to address the demands of tomorrow.

Cisco has been connecting people and devices for over three decades. Now, in the smart city era, we’re building bridges and connections to what we never thought possible.


Learn more about Smart & Connected Communities.




Mike Grigsby

Engagement Leader, Smart City & IOT Solutions

Public Sector/S&CC and IoT