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Smarter Cities, Smarter Government

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Yash Acharya
December 23, 2016

  • Scenario:

Recently, I was involved in a terrible car accident in which my car was struck by another in an intersection. Both cars were totaled and others nearby were damaged. Luckily, no one was seriously injured, and while the police arrived quickly and investigated, they weren’t able to determine fault.

That incident left me with questions:

  • Wouldn’t it make sense for cars to be equipped with a black box that tracks speed and position in the event they are involved in an accident?  Of course, any black box device mandate would need to also consider an individual’s privacy rights.
  •  Shouldn’t governments require car features like automated braking, blind side detection, etc. mandatory features in a car for public safety?
  • Wouldn’t it help to have devices at intersections that track vehicle speeds in order better understand crash scenes?

Finally, wouldn’t it help to gather data from such accidents to analyze whether the intersection should have a four way stop sign, or perhaps solar-powered stationary speed guns to track and ticket offenders?

  • How my scenario is related to Smart Cities & Internet of Things (IoT)

We’ve heard terms like Smart Cities and Internet of Things over the past couple years.  Let’s try to define them:

Internet of Things: The various devices, assets, buildings, etc. connected through software that allows them to share data to assist humans or analytical programs in decision-making.  It could be as simple as a traffic camera calculating the density of the traffic to help city traffic departments to reroute traffic and decongest those roads.

Smart Cities: This is a vision where cities and local governments leverage the networking of devices, IoT, and smarter analytical technologies to integrate various processing of business and technology functions to assist the government officials and residents of these cities.

My ideas expressed in the scenario above are components of smart cities. My accident was a minor example of how smart cities could help government officials (in my case the police) and their residents (me) analyze incidents and perform more effective decision-making.

  • The challenges of implementing smart city concepts

light-bulb-1002783_640It’s largely about organization, process (includes regulations and laws), and technology. Let’s look at each of these challenges:

Organization: City governments are generally segregated, with each agency performing specific function as defined by statute, with little sharing of data. Any sharing requires a memorandum of understanding (MOU), so seamless data sharing across agencies is generally lacking. For example, in my scenario, the police department worked independently and didn’t think about checking to see if the transportation department had cameras to track the situation and rewind the sequence of events.

Processes: Based on statutes, regulations, and business requirements, city agencies define the policies that ultimately drive their business processes and procedures. Let’s face it, many of these processes, and the laws and regulations guiding them, are dated.  To fulfill the promise of smart cities, there must be a refreshed vision of what’s possible and how existing agencies can improve processes and operations. In my case, the police department should have sat down with transportation planners to discuss ways to mitigate future accidents, like a ‘four-way’ stop sign or other measures.

Technology:  Of all the challenges facing cities, technology is the most important.  For example, systems built decades ago to address a single specific requirement are now outdated because they hinder the ability of one city agency to share data feeds with another.

  • Something to think about

Ever-changing technology, including the advent of social media, requires government agencies to adapt and evolve to address the three pillars I discussed above. Here are some ideas:

Organization: First, develop a detailed Smart City Operating Model (SCOM) that would spell out needed improvements, such as how to better integrate departments. Then, craft an enterprise-wide MOU that would allow various agencies to share data between programs, systems, and processes.

Processes: Once the SCOM is defined and the agencies are on board, they should focus on updating the policies and the associated procedures and train their teams to understand how the SCOM can improve service for residents.

Technology: Cities must embrace  modern technologies that  support the SCOM vision, including installing systems in various agencies that  share  common data exchange and application standards, allowing for seamless data integration and information exchange. The technology vision should be three-fold:

  1. The data exchanged between these systems should use established standards and the SCOM vision, allowing systems to interact effectively for better decision-making.
  2. The data exchanged should be analyzed by smart analytical engines and should produce real-time recommendations for the users of the systems to make effective decisions.
  3. The systems should be built to intelligently analyze historical patterns around certain events, such as the New Year’s Eve celebration in NYC, various street fairs, religious and cultural events, among others.  

As technology advances, it’s increasingly clear city agencies should focus on Smart City initiatives in order to better manage budgets and improve services for their residents. Something to think about!!


AuthorCreativeTechNerdie – Yash Acharya is a director within KPMG LLP’s State and Local Government Practice, with a focus on assisting governments with business transformation initiatives. Thinker, coffee fanatic and government transformation passionist. Yash’ s column shares innovative ideas, thoughts and real world challenges for government, companies and the public to think about where we want to go next. Views expressed are his own.

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One Response to Smarter Cities, Smarter Government

  1. Luv Reply

    December 24, 2016 at 9:55 am

    Another Amazing article. I wait for your articles. I love the simplicity you put in your article to explain the difficult things. IOT and Smart Cities are very well explained in this article and how the integration would benefit one and all. Keep up the good work.

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