IoT : From POC to Profits

IoT - IoT : From POC to Profits
IoT : From POC to Profits

The Analysts are predicting the rewards of adopting IoT to be over Trillion Dollars. But most organizations are struggling to justify investments beyond Proof of Concept (POC). Some don’t have enough use cases for monetization. Others report that the changes required to embrace IoT are too expensive and complicated. What would it take to get from POC to Profits?


Top 5 Learning Points

  1. What is the smartest way to assess a new technology like IOT to understand its ROI for a city?
  2. How do you turn a technology implementation for a smart city from a cost center to a profit center?
  3. How to achieve the balance between technology leverage for its own sake and using technology for better citizen amenities and better resources utilization for the city.
  4. How does a CIO need to plan for the right ecosystem to do the integration, data management, security, and everything else in between?
  5. What are the smartest strategies to tackle the issue of skilled resources for a new technology at a city level?


Show Notes

  • For IoT to be successful for a city, the RoI need not only be financial, it is about improving quality of civic life
  • The ability to reduce cost of utilities through smart implementations of IoT can be an immediate win, which will help us gain trust and credibility
  • It’s the ability to synthesize data into information through business intelligence tools and reporting dashboards and presentation, that makes it relevant to our citizens
  • As a city, it is difficult to try out new solutions because of the expenses involved, so POCs are important
  • When it comes to smart cities conferences, being part of that community and staying connected is very important to be able to learn from them.
  • You have to build the consensus through the collaboration of the resource owner, the broadband networking that’s required and the intelligence community that’s going to use the data and actually can write applications against it.
  • It’s an evolving landscape with many moving parts and I think, the thought leadership and being able to articulate the strategy is key as we move forward.


Transcript Summary

‘It takes a city’, and this applies to creating a POC (Proof of Concept) for IoT implementation in a city. While collating data is the easier part of IoT in the civic infrastructure, the challenge will be on how to make this technology more useful for citizens and improve the quality of life. It could be around transportation energy, utility usage or information around it. While RoI (Return on Investment) here does not need to be only financial, the advantage still needs to be proved. The CIO of the city of Albuquerque elucidates on the parameters that will define a successful IoT implementation for governance, the challenges he faces and the models he emulates. The trick is to get the overall strategy of providing data and information to citizens that are relevant and reliable.

As the concept of infrastructure changes from the traditional to the cyber world, it is an opportunity to turn the city infrastructure from a cost center to a profit center. So after a business case is made the plan can be implemented, working with the partners’ ecosystem, integrating data management, security, and everything else in between. Hence it is important to be part of the successful smart cities conferences and staying connected for all new developments.

Finally, in an evolving landscape with many moving parts, in order to move forward, it is important to have clear thought leadership and articulate the strategy.



Sanjog: Today I have with me Peter Ambs, the CIO of the City of Albuquerque. Peter, while people are excited about IoT, you do need a proof of concept because you don’t want to jump into new technology without knowing the end game. What are we supposed to do to either get clarity on the endgame so we are not stalled, or have a creative way to move forward with the implementation?

Peter: Sanjog, I always try to address these POCs and anything that we do for new technology in terms of- why are we doing this? What is the benefit to the citizens and what’s the benefit to the city as it provides services. But, as you’ve summarized the challenge very succinctly, there in a sense that we can’t do this just for technology’s sake or just because we have sensors and the infrastructure. We can get data, but how are we going to make sure it improves the quality of life for the city, around transportation energy, utility usage? Public safety is a big issue that we’re looking at in terms of getting a better understanding of how to deploy resources.

We can get data but how are we going to make this more useful technology for our citizens and improve the quality of life, whether that’s around transportation energy, utility usage or information around that.

Many times, the POCs that we have don’t necessarily have a measurable RoI. Our currency is constituency value, and we need to understand what it looks like as we go into a POC. When we do POCs for an emerging tech, it’s a topic of discussion amongst the tech community about how is it going to improve our daily Citizen life. That’s what we need to be able to explain.

Sanjog: Non-technical people would understand that the value of machine to machine communication lies in the possibilities it presents. But then they find no earth-shattering need for something new -on an all already spilling plate- with more money spent on it. So you do the POC and then you look for additional used cases and if nothing looks compelling enough, that’s like losing face. But still, a lot of this is going on. Who is not thinking?

Peter: Well, I try to tie everything back to a business case and that’s where we’ve been successful when we’ve had POCs. For example- soil moisture sensors. I’ll look at that as a quick case study. We’ve got an aging infrastructure when it comes to our parks and irrigation of golf courses and parks. If we’re leaking water into the ground, we’re not optimizing our water usage. Albuquerque being the highest desert city in the Southwest, water is a scarce resource and we need to make sure that we are conserving it. Being able to put soil moisture sensors into the ground and into our irrigation systems to know when there’s a leak, to be able to cut it off and turn that off immediately or when a sprinkler head pops in a park, are advantages.

Any of these use cases will help conserve water and reduce one of the largest expenses we have as a city – our water bill. The ability to reduce our water cost and usage through smart implementations of IoT can be an immediate win, which will help us gain face as well as trust and credibility. This is why we’re implementing IoT

…being able to tie it back to a safety issue or to a discrete and concrete business case, is where we can gain that credibility…

I made a joke at one point that we’re putting sensors everywhere and pretty soon there’s going to be a sensor in this chair that I’m sitting in. But we’re doing that with for safety reasons, for some of our transit in those areas. Again, being able to tie it back to a safety issue or to a discrete and concrete business case, is where we can gain that credibility.

Sanjog: You picked up citizen safety which is paramount and it’s above everything else that you may ever do. In the business world it’s the shareholder value and in the government world it’s the citizens’ expectation and the value you deliver, and that is what counts. There could be a risk of the law of diminishing returns when you overdo it because nobody cares after a certain point. You’ve got to do just to a certain extent, so you may have a good use case. But in order to put a matured IoT in place, that means all the related entities- everybody has to come together. While you may have created a use case for this one area, all the investment that you will do has to be somehow justified or the ROI has to be covered in due course. When you’re talking about something bigger, maybe it’s not the end game but rather, what’s your approach to even thinking about something which looks similar to an end game?

Peter: Well, that’s a good question. It requires a holistic view of the environment that we live in. What is important is how Albuquerque could be different from a coastal city, the East Coast or the West Coast or a Midwestern city. We have our own set of issues which we can address with IoT. The idea of having this holistic plan or a Smart Cities playbook is something that we are evolving to. But I think it’s the ability to show some quick wins around some sensor work that we’ve done.

Another example is the air quality. One of the issues we have today in Albuquerque is pollen and how that affects asthmatics and people with breathing issues and allergies. We have sensors for air quality and also for wild land fire smoke that comes into Albuquerque. We report on our ability to sense that, and to sense when plumes are coming in, etc. Then using that data from the IoT sensors, we can provide SMS and real-time information around the air quality situation. If your kids have a soccer game this afternoon and there’s a breathing issue that might be affecting their health, it’s important to know. So it’s that type of data that we’re deriving from the sensor base networks, that’s important to us.

We’ve heard that data is the new oil for local municipalities. So, data is important as a resource that we need to be able to leverage. If we’re data rich and information poor, it’s the ability to synthesize that data into information through business intelligence tools, etc., and reporting dashboards and presentation, that makes it relevant to our citizens. It’s got to be relevant, reliable, and secure. All these systems that we test and deploy have to go through a vetting process, a rigorous testing and proof of concept. So there is data and information available, but it’s important how we present it to our citizens through an open data format.

That becomes part of the holistic strategy of providing data and information to our citizens that’s relevant and reliable, when and where they need it.

I could speak of another example where we’ve made our bus transit location data an open data format. It is now on a mobile platform that provides citizens with a real-time bus location. Why is that important? Because now I know exactly when my bus is going to be here. I don’t have to call 311 anymore because that data is available to our citizens in a mobile real-time platform. That becomes a part of the holistic strategy of providing relevant and reliable data and information to our citizens, when and where they need it.

Sanjog: Especially when it is about citizens, so you could spend the same tax dollars on something which the city could use -because there are many priorities. When you look at the rationalization process, how do you justify something which is for the most part good to have, something without which the world will still continue, the city will still thrive? When will you come to a point where you will need to prioritize for, say a children’s library over IoT? Who is doing this thinking and rationalization and prioritization? How do we ever get to a point where a relatively technology-centric initiative gains attention and ground, so that you get to do things which could be more progressive? Who is teaching and who is thinking and who is learning about it enough so that you get IoT on the table amongst other things, and it gets the attention it deserves?

Peter: As IT has become transformative and we are charged with innovation, it’s no longer about keeping the lights on, running payroll and providing a service and storage. These emerging technologies are now entering into our government space. The best way to put it is, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what your priorities are. Your budget then is this ongoing process that involves your goals and initiatives. In the city, the budget is created with inputs from the mayor, the city council, the stakeholders, and the community that’s involved. So we can use some gamification type of activities around that to make sure that the priorities are being met in a municipal budget.

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Peter Ambs

Peter Ambs, CIO, City of Albuquerque

Peter has been the CIO for the City of Albuquerque for the past six years and is a recognized leader in the field of civic technology. Peter has a rich background in providing technology leadership and implementing innovative solutions. ... More   View all posts
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