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The Smart City Project: Infrastructure, Industry and Citizens

The Smart City Project: Infrastructure, Industry and Citizens

Building a smart city will take real effort by businesses to meet rising populations and industries with escalating needs. Utilities, IT and telecommunications need to collaborate to provide smart solutions for the community, anything from transportation, water, waste management and building systems to address new demands. How will so many elements related to technology, sustainability and even citizen well-being be integrated into our infrastructure? How will the private sector work together with local governments to find creative solutions, and who’s going to pay for it all?

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Summary

Someday soon, cities around the globe will be built upon technology. Sensors will be installed around the city to provide weather information, traffic congestion figures, automated light and energy and more.

Right now, there is no list of amenities, characteristics or capabilities that we can expect to be common place, but a Smart City is more than just a concept. The technology is there, cities are receiving funding, and the big challenges now are putting the infrastructure in place, getting every industry to collaborate and of course the cost of doing it all.

And yet utilities are finding this transition imperative. Most US cities are faced with rapidly aging infrastructures, and the necessity to update them provides new options in how we can fund. The idea is to provide citizens and customers more choices, lower costs and more positive outcomes, be they related to greenhouse gases, beautification or adaptation. But beyond that, local communities are compelled to transition to a smart city because it suggests that the city is a place willing to innovate and offer new amenities to their citizens, thus attracting talent and resources.

The struggle is that because many cities are still developing in this way, it becomes difficult to gauge ROI. No one knows precisely what a timeline or estimated cost will be, and time for failure must be built into the contingency plans. Further, city leaders must drive initiatives on a small scale to start. Not only can those projects fail fast and fail cheap in the worst case scenario, but it’s a way to see quick successes and have other investments fall in line behind them. One potential backbone to a smart city’s communication superhighway could be Smart Grid. Smart Grid enables consumers to have better information about their energy consumption and can even enable consumers to become active, involved sellers of energy, but it also provides utilities with greater ease of being able to gather data and maintain resilience, both of which go into reducing manpower and costs on utilities. But there are major questions of cyber security that must be addressed before the implementation of Smart Grid moves forward.

The idea behind Smart Grid’s two-way communication applies to the many ways in which cities use technology and information to have transactions with individuals and small companies in unprecedented ways. And because it affects numerous sectors and industries, its implementation requires collaboration on all parts such that each industry’s needs are met and everyone sees equal benefits.

The smart city utopia is a dream that can be met if enough cities sit down and collaborate to have discussions about the future. Taking small steps and not embracing every challenge and vision at once is a sure fire way to see success along the road.

Transcript

Sanjog Aul: Good morning and welcome to CIO talk radio, to learn more about the show please visit www.ciotalkradio.com and as always we invite you to join the discussion on Twitter; #CTRLive and look for this show as #Smart Grid. Today’s topic is “The Smart City Project: Infrastructure, Industry and Citizens.” And our guests for today’s show are Harriet Tregoning, the director of the Washington DC Office of Planning, Gary Foster, the CTO of the Massachusetts Bay Authority in Boston, and Dennis Gribble, the VP and CIO of Idaho Power. How much of Smart City is at a concept level versus a very well-defined list of standardized capabilities and amenities for urban living?

Harriet Tregoning: I think that it’s beyond just a conceptual phase, but I don’t think we’re yet to the place where there’s a standardized list of amenities, characteristics and capabilities. But it is definitely more than just a concept. For most cities it includes open data sources, flexibility, the concept of choice whether in transportation, electricity or power, and options for how and where people work. Having a very flexible set of utility options is an important part of that.

Sanjog: Are people coming closer to one definition of the truth?

Gary Foster: I think there’s always a kind of hype cycle going on in areas like this. Some very big companies like IBM have been talking about it, both in the marketplace and through ads, for almost a decade, but I think it’s happening and it’s happening at different paces. With the economy the way it is worldwide, how far a city can take it depends very much on where that city is at and how many partnerships they can arrange. But just the other day, ABC had a story on Santander in Spain, which is a country that’s been through quite a bit. They’ve managed to receive some funding, and their mayor is very advanced.

“It’s beyond just a conceptual phase, but I don’t think we’re yet to the place where there’s a standardized list of amenities, characteristics and capabilities. But it is definitely more than just a concept.”

They have put sensors throughout the entire city to tell people through an app the temperature, the humidity, how crowded the streets are, how crowded the roads are, and have an incredible amount of information. They even have visitors from Google and Microsoft and from other countries coming to take a look. So small cities like Santander on the coast of Spain; it’s not smart yet, but it is making quantum leaps in that direction. That’s just one of the recent new stories. So I think it is happening, and it’s certainly happening in Boston and other cities, but at different paces and with different focuses. To follow up on Harriet’s point, I think the open data and issues we’ve had here in Massachusetts have gone a long way to smartening us up.

Sanjog: Knowing that a utility has to maintain five-nines at all times in terms of resiliency, can we vouch for Smart City’s maturity by looking at its actionable plans or execution timelines?

Dennis Gribble: Well, I would  hope so. But I would say right now that as in any major project or endeavor, there’s always three parts to it: there’s the technology part, there’s the people part and there’s the process part. When you talk about Smart City, I think the concept is very valid, I think from a technological standpoint, I think that you do see the technology available and vendors are able to support that technology. The challenge really comes from around the processes and especially the people, and when I talk about people, I also mean organizations.

However, the barriers in the private municipal, governmental partnerships or processes that go along with that are very, very hard to challenge and really break down. And then when you also add into it the cost component, it always becomes a very big challenge in terms of seeing through a complete concept. So I think from a technology standpoint, I think we definitely are there, and the technology can support it. But when it comes to actually enabling that through the different processes and the different entities that need to be involved with it, that’s where the real challenges come, and that’s where it’s very difficult to make it happen.

“You do see the technology available and vendors are able to support that technology. The challenge really comes from around the processes and especially the people.”

Sanjog: Are there any cities around the world that have seen success all the way through? What are they doing that’s innovative that other people can follow as a lead?

Gary: Most large cities have been in existence for a long time, and with the combination of aging infrastructure, green initiatives and multi model initiatives that are going on, most cities are in a transition to becoming smart. New York City for instance, which of course is the richest and largest cities in the world, have a number of challenges in the transposition realm.

But they’re making a huge investment working with Siemens, and they’ve invested in everything from smarter schools to better lighting on the streets, to electric cars. So I think cities are prioritizing kicking off a transition. There are a number of cities from Dubai to San Diego that have made tremendous progress, but I don’t think anybody would declare themselves complete or even close. I think we’ve made tremendous progress just in Boston in the last five years, but we we’re just getting started frankly.

“There are a number of cities from Dubai to San Diego that have made tremendous progress, but I don’t think anybody would declare themselves complete or even close.”

I think the big problem is, you’ve got to start with some quick wins and it’s got to lead to growth for the community both in terms of being interesting to the private sector and affordable for the public sector.

Harriet: We’ve talked about what is a smart city and what are the technologies, but I’d like to take a step back and say, what is it that Smart City approaches are trying to achieve? One thing is to basically use the assets of the place much more efficiently and much more intensely, and in doing so, provide citizens and customers more choices, lower costs and basically a broader set of positive outcomes, whether those are greenhouse gas related, beautification related or adaptation related.

Some of these approaches physically cool the city or enable cities to better manager storm water or do all kinds of things. So I think in general, it’s about spending a dollar and getting four or five dollars’ worth of solution.

“You’ve got to start with some quick wins and it’s got to lead to growth for the community both in terms of being interesting to the private sector and affordable for the public sector.”

Sanjog: What’s really the compelling business case to be pursuing a smart city model now?

Harriet: From a city prospective, my city competes not with my suburbs, as center cities used to think. My competition isn’t Montgomery County or Fairfax County in the Washington region. My competition is full; it’s London, it’s San Francisco, it’s Boston and the ways in which cities compete are to attract talents, and then to attract investment, whether that’s human resource investment or people willing to invest in the infrastructure and the physical assets of the city. And in order to do that, I think that many of these Smart City moves are big signifiers of a place that’s willing to innovate and a place that offers a lot of choice and amenities to people. The census presented in 2010 showed that in my city we have had the first decade of growth since World War II. In just over two years since that census, we’ve already attracted more people in those 27 months than in the previous decades.

“Use the assets of the place much more efficiently and much more intensely, and in doing so, provide citizens and customers more choices, lower costs and basically a broader set of positive outcomes.”

And part of that is because we are offering people an enormous number of transportation choices. So they can live here without an automobile, and nearly 60% of our population growth is actually people under 35. So now the talent is starting to be here, which is beginning to reshape our economy, move us more towards the knowledge economy and diversify the factors that are here and the employment that’s here. So those are the ways in which I think a lot of the cities think about the return on investment; those are the indicators of a city succeeding.

Sanjog: What issues so far have cities faced in trying to move a smart city forward?

Dennis: Well, the first one I would highlight would be the cost perspective. I think Harriet’s right on in terms of making a compelling business case for Smart City or any kind of a technology investment that goes along with that. A couple of examples that come to my mind; one is Boulder, Colorado, a basic smart committee/city concept where they’re trying to put AMI, or Advance Meter Infrastructure, meters on a good portion of the city. It came in as about a $15 million project as an estimate, but by the time it really got going, it tripled in cost and became almost $40 to $45 million. And then you’ve got not only irate payers or costumers who are not happy with that result, you have elected officials who’re feeling the pressure from their cities, and then you have a applied utility and other investors who are involved and trying to a get a return on that. So it really comes down to the ROI in the business case. The concept sounds wonderful, but sometimes the ROI is not the biggest case. Another example I can think of is a utility in South Africa that is actually trying to manage the demand for the electricity. There are certain times during the day where they have excess demand; they can’t have enough generation to make it work. Rather than trying to go through a complete technology or infrastructure deployment to help give people information, they simply have their customers sign up via Twitter, and when it gets to be heavy demand, they send out a tweet that talks about that they’re experiencing high loads and ask people to cut down any unnecessary energy consumption. Their demand curves immediately drop off based upon this.

“Smart City moves are big signifiers of a place that’s willing to innovate and a place that offers a lot of choice and amenities to people.”

So those are two ways in which technology has been used. One has quite a bit of an infrastructure investment, quite a bit of cost and has not yet panned out in terms of if it’s ROI. But then you have another that’s simply using Twitter as their technology to simply get people to respond to needs and desires, and it has a tremendous ROI. So there’s two business cases; both using technology, one that takes a heavy capital investment, one that doesn’t. So I think it just comes down to how you can leverage a technology solution to get that business case ROI that Harriet’s talking about.

Harriet: I think that Dennis made a really great point. I would say if you’re going to fail, you need to fail fast and fail cheap. And so in our city, one example was our first bike sharing program. We started out with a relatively small system: 100 bikes, 10 stations, and honestly our utility had a very difficult time inexpensively and quickly moving to install the necessary electrical hubs in the locations that we needed them. And that was a big limit on the ultimate expansion of the system. That wasn’t the critical failure, but when that system failed, we were able to come back with a new system that was 10 times as large, and we had it solar powered so we wouldn’t have those issues of being constrained by the pace of the utility installation. And it was a huge success! It’s now the largest bike sharing system in the United States. And in the first two years, we had nearly 3 million riders, and it’s really become a signifier of what a bike-able city we’re becoming. A lot more people bike now even when they’re not using the bike share system. But at first, we never would have gotten that if we hadn’t experimented with this first system and learned from its failures.

“If you’re going to fail, you need to fail fast and fail cheap.”

Sanjog: For a city that has experienced some problems in this transition, what in hindsight can we now say they should’ve done in terms of a cost/benefit analysis, planning or resource allocation? What red flags should they have been aware of?

Gary: That’s a big question. Let me try and break that down.

First thing I’d say is what I like about the example in Washington with the bikes was they started small and they learned. I think one of the big changes in the public sector is moving from complacency to being a learning organization. Washington DC learned from some potential mistakes and moved right on. But what we really want to focus on are financial benefits. But in many cases, you really can’t quantify all the financial victories. There are many benefits that are non-financial. So we’re actually in the middle of a major training program for executives and leaders in both the state and certain local governments in the Boston area. What we’re saying is, if we’re going to make a huge capital investment, how are we are we really quantifying those benefits?

So I don’t have a great example of failure. Most of the research I’ve found is about successes that will see what happens, and New York City is obviously one of the highest rated in terms of being a green city. They’ve done a tremendous job in the last 10 years. They continue to make a huge investment. They make big bets in New York. I haven’t heard about the failures. Here in Massachusetts, what we’ve really done is, we have planted in most of our organizations innovation leaders who are typically less experienced in the government but have the right capabilities to lead a lot of this initiative. So the learning we’ve had is, we try not to mainstream new initiatives that are particularly innovative or smart.

“We really want to focus on are financial benefits. But in many cases, you really can’t quantify all the financial victories.”

I think our open data initiative is probably the best example. We kept the cost down, we managed it outside of our standard processes, so we cut out a lot of red tape and we worked incrementally through the process, without making any big investments upfront. Now that we are three years into it, we’re really ratcheting up the investment and watching for the benefits, particularly the non-financial benefits. So our open data initiative at the MV Chase has been a huge success. We have hundreds of thousands people, looking at apps built by third parties using our data and particularly, with Google being the big dog in in that fight, but they basically take a feed from us in real time all day long, and they have a complete way-fairing system on Google transit for Boston for the MV chain in Boston and
greater Boston.

Now I don’t really have a great story failure, but what I think we’ve done is we’ve learned from our mistakes and moving incrementally through some of these new waters, and it’s paying off.

Sanjog: That’s good, because what we want to also convey to the world out there is that this is a good program, and while there are always some lessons learnt, there are not always failures that you should follow. You just get lessons from them, and move on. You have a bigger and high purpose attached to this. So how are we getting different constituents at the local, federal or state level together to appropriate funds and resources to make this a success?

Harriet: That’s a great question, and it is also something that probably varies from city to city, but I will say that once you begin to be on a roll with it and have some successes under your belt, I find that you are in an inner, virtuous cycle. It becomes easier to find funds, to raise funds, to appropriate funds and to find partners because you have a small track record. And the good news is that this isn’t something that has been going on in cities for decades and decades. So the chance to leap to the front of the pack is there for almost everybody. Because it is relatively recent, and since many US cities are older, we have a lot of aging infrastructure. So the absolute necessity of having to replace that aging infrastructure opens up some new possibilities about how we might fund.

So one example in Washington again is, we have an ancient sewer system that combines sanitary source waste with storm water, and so in an age where we have increasingly large storm water events and rainfall events that dump large quantities of water on the city, we were having many more frequent overflows in the system, which ended up dumping raw sewage into our rivers; not a good thing. So the old solution would have been simply to build pipes and tanks, as big as you can imagine, to manage that problem, and then on the 80 days a year when you have 1¼ inches of rainfall, they’ll be useful. But in almost every city, the labor, the material and the equipment comes from outside of the region. And it does nothing for your economy on those other days of the year when it’s not raining. In fact cities
are looking to use green infrastructure solutions, where they are trying to make the surfaces of rooftops, of streets, of driveways and other places much more engineered and designed to infiltrate storm water, but they also do things like make the city more beautiful and support the habitat.

“The absolute necessity of having to replace that again infrastructure opens up some new possibilities about how we might fund.”

They literally cool the city, which generally suffers from something called urban heat iron effect, where it gets up to 10 degrees hotter than the surrounding country side in the summer time. So they do wonderful things. They reduce the energy bill for building owners who undertake these practices and just make the city more positive and more beautiful. Those are the kinds of solutions, I think, that are really there for every city.

Sanjog: How can Smart Grid become the backbone to a smart city and act as its common communication platform and superhighway?

Dennis: Well, I think it’s a great idea, I think it’s a great concept. I would say that from my experience, and what we’ve seen so far, is that you definitely need to make sure you’ve got that partnership with your regulators, your city governments and also your constituencies, in terms of the cost of what’s going to happen on those  particular scenes. As far as the Smart Grid, there are really two elements that you can look at. One is the Smart Grid that enables consumers to have better information, better education and be able to make better decisions, and then there is always the question about where does that Smart Grid end? Does it end at the meter or does it actually go into the home itself and be a part of the actual home environment also? Two forces that are really driving Smart Grid and Smart Grid execution from each other’s stand point, one is as Harriet mentioned, we have tremendous aging infrastructure across the US, in terms of the utility grid. This grid was created over the last 50 to 100 years, based upon the same concepts that Edison actually put in place when he originally founded the utility structure. And so as this aging infrastructure goes away, it’s replaced with technology that does enable a Smart Grid concept. Two things pop up in that scenario; one is the cost of replacing that infrastructure is going to put up the pressure on rates for consumers, and the second part of it is one we live and breathe every day, cyber security. It is such a pervasive network, it is such a pervasive ability, being able to protect it from any kind of cyber issues or cyber-attacks become a critical component of it.

“Smart Grid that enables consumers to have better information, better education and be able to make better decisions.”

So back to the point; if this is the going to be the superhighway they develop to provide this infrastructure for a Smart City environment, it certainly has the infrastructure and the capability within it, but how are we going to address the pressures of that tremendous cost? And then secondly, how can we make sure that this is a secure environment, because if you are talking about a waste management system or a sewer system or anything else, having that susceptible to a cyber-attack causes all sorts of issues and concerns for our community that we involve with. So there’s a smart platform for those types of communication highways. But it is going to take some awareness and some consensus building around the cost and security.

“As this aging infrastructure goes away, it’s replaced with technology that does enable a Smart Grid concept.”

Sanjog: If the Smart Grid was the backbone and made different infrastructure components, including your own, smart, what value do you see coming from that?

Gary: First let me we say that the thing that always gets in the way is cyber security. It is not a block but, it is something that has to be overcome in each of these situations. I’ll give you a specific example: we have a number of executive agencies and authorities in Massachusetts that are involved in what I call emergency management. And we have a state level, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Association, and we spent the last three years working on connecting these various agencies and authorities together through what we’ll call the Smart Grid, to keep it simple. And the project has been successful, so we have created what I’ll call an emergency management network.

But it is really a piece meal together because of the cyber security aspects of it. We had to make huge investments in what I’d call not just fiber management in the typical things, but in every agency and every authority and every municipality involved. Each in this emergency network has been built out as part of the public safety network, and they each wanted their own information security technology in place, each with their separate policies and concerns. What you have to think about the Smart Grid utilities in Massachusetts is that they are really not utilities. The actual grid is a for-profit, publicly traded company that’s not even US based. It’s a global entity in providing most of the grid in this area.

Working with someone like that is very different than it was 20 or 30 years ago when they were Boston Edison, and that’s really more a utility. So that’s changed. The face of utility has changed from the government’s point of view. And the bigger issue is each of these agencies I’m talking about who is connected to the Federal Government through a different agency. So transit has the FTA, highway has the FHA, the airport has the FAA and so on. So we work together quite frequently, but each is governed in very different ways, and the rules are not as consistent. I’m obviously not going to get into the Washington politics, but I think those trickle down effects on regulation make it very difficult to leverage the grid the w ay that we really could.

“I’m obviously not going to get into the Washington politics, but I think those trickle down effects on regulation make it very difficult to leverage the grid the way that we really could.”

Sanjog: Should we let utilities take lead in implementing to the level of sophistication it requires as opposed to repairing the infrastructure and then spending more to implement Smart Grid later?

Harriet: That’s a tough question to answer. I think that in many ways Smart Grid is a leading exemplar of an approach that I think many, many cities are beginning to adopt. And let’s talk about what Smart Grid means. It means that instead of our old meters that had to be manually read once a month or less frequently if you couldn’t contact the home owner to get access to some of the meters, Smart Grid includes among other things advanced metering that has two way communication. Electricity utilization information can be accessed by the customer at any time and the utility can communicate issues and problems to the consumer and identify issues with its own distribution network. So in places where the Smart Grid includes metering, it also means that individual customers could become generators of electricity so that we have some redundancy and some ability for generation to be less centralized, more distributed. That means I could become not just a buyer of electricity at my house but I could become a seller, maybe even a net seller of electricity.

“I could become not just a buyer of electricity at my house but I could become a seller, maybe even a net seller of electricity.”

So that’s the concept that’s really interesting. And I think it applies to all kinds of things, not just to energy. It could apply to that issue I raised earlier about storm water management. Instead of a developer or having an office building downtown having to meet all of its storm water management requirements on site, he might actually want to rent my rooftop every year. I’ll put a green, living, growing roof on my rooftop, and that becomes part of his system to managing storm water, and I can participate in that. I have an automobile that I use five percent of the time and I park it 95 percent of the time, which is very typical of auto owners in cities. Maybe what I want to do is allow other people to co-own my automobile or share the use of my automobile. So they can have the benefit of auto mobility but without the high cost of having to own and park a vehicle. So I think that the idea behind Smart Grid applies to the many things in cities that are basically about using technology, using information to have transactions with individuals and with small companies that would have never been possible without technology and without these innovations.

“The idea behind Smart Grid applies to the many things in cities that are basically about using technology, using information to have transactions with individuals and with small companies that would have never been possible without technology and without these innovations.”

Sanjog: Now Dennis, in your shoes, if you were to be invited to lead the pack when it comes to building a Smart City, how would you see that particular initiative go? How would the utility try to touch all different sectors? Do you foresee something like this becoming a reality with more cities?

Dennis: I definitely see that as being a possibility. I would say in our case here in Idaho that we’ve been able to lead that effort from a Smart Grid standpoint basically around our AMI infrastructure. We had a great relationship with our state regulator in terms of putting the AMI infrastructure, advance meter infrastructure, in place. It really came from two fold; one from a need to help manage the growth and demand of our electricity consumption in Idaho, but also from a standpoint of we’re a large sector of about 24,000 square miles. We had a lot of people running around in trucks reading meters on the road trying to get these all put in place. From a standpoint of us being able lead the ability to get those trucks off the road, it has house environmental benefits and also has cost savings for customers. But then it also gives us a lot of advantages in helping to manage that grid going forward. We then are able to also leverage that with a Department of Energy grant, then take that one step further to where there’s smart meters. Adding information coming from the meters could then be utilized and seen by our customers to helping manage their consumption and having to manage those bills.

“It has house environmental benefits and also has cost savings for customers. But then it also gives us a lot of advantages in helping to manage that grid going forward.”

So it really came down to the standpoint that we could lead the way with proper interaction and consensus with regulators, city governments and councils to make that happen. So I see that as the key part of these whole equations; you do need to have that consensus building between a utility or a grid operator and the city entities, state entities and even settlement entities to pull this into place. But I do see that utilities could play a key role in helping to make that go forward.

Sanjog: How do you envision Smart Grid, quantitatively or qualitatively, positively impacting the infrastructure elements like transportation, water and waste management?

Gary: In the transportation space, one of the great things that have happened in the Smart Grid are the underlying communication technologies in place. So we talked about that earlier when we have fiber strands available to share across modes, or whether it’s waste management having some strands and sharing with water management, the airport sharing fiber with NBTA; that’s a huge reduction in cost of construction, and it allows us to get the solutions much quicker. So the technology around Smart Grid and some of the companies that are building that up, all of these solutions that we talked about earlier in a conversation require the information superhighway to be in place, and that’s implied with Smart Grid. As we speak, we are leveraging that in Boston. Some of this technology has been sold to private companies and we’re marketing all of the extra resources we have under the ground where we’ve made big investments in laying out fiber and making them available to the private sector. We also are making them available to other members of the public sector at really no cost, and one of the big things we’re doing in Massachusetts is we’re going beyond greater Boston, across the entire state to create federal access for all the cities and all the residents, specifically building in places where utilities or cable companies haven’t seen the benefit of installing fiber and bringing cable to small towns in the countryside. We’re doing that through major initiatives in Massachusetts.

“No one really has the final answer as to what this is going to look like from mechanical or from a technical standpoint, so there are going to be some successes and there are going to be some failures along the way.”

I think those types of things will become the infrastructure for the Smart Grid, regardless of who is actually building it out. Whether it’s utility or the public sector, we can share all that and we can get AMI technology into the small cities in western Massachusetts where otherwise it just wouldn’t been viable.

Sanjog: How do we synchronize all these efforts so that different departments see equal benefits from making this whole ecosystem a smart city?

Harriet: I think that that Gary had some insights in this when he talked about how different agencies can use elements of communication technology to link in, and I think that that’s very, very critical, I think already in our cities we increasingly use different and much more efficient means of communicating. We used to take over the phone, and that would be very laboriously routed to different agencies. Now they can dispense electronically very easily to agencies and in real time when there’s an issue, whatever it might be, and that’s incredibly important.

We’re also asking our citizens to let us know how we are doing, so the dialogue between the customer and the agency providing the service is also becoming much more real-time and transparent. We have a project called Grade DC where many of our frontline agencies that have a lot of customer service interaction with our citizens get rated every month in terms of how they are doing. That’s one way in which across agencies, we’re seeing the value of becoming a smarter city, but I also think that we have capacity and assets that are currently under-utilized. I mentioned the situation of the automobile, which is a very expensive, depreciating, durable good that in many, many places in America there are six to eight parking places for each and every one of those vehicles. So anything that you could do that would increase the amount of use of those vehicles would actually reduce the number of them that you had to park. Those are real constraints for a lot of cities and a real cost for cities in terms of having to provide that parking and the cost of housing.

“You have to have a timeline allows for innovation, allows for failure and allows for learning.”

So I think in almost every instance we can talk, there’s a public safety component, there’s a resilient component and there’s amenities related benefits, such as whether that’s the quality of the service that’s associated with these kinds  investments. So I think in general, the whole city moves up the ladder towards being a much more livable, innovative, dynamic place when they begin to look at these technologies and systems in their city.

Sanjog: What sort of timeline can we expect? This is a pretty ambitious project trying to get different departments to coordinate and meet a certain level of maturity so that people keep investing in it. How can we synchronize and see the light at the end of the tunnel?

Dennis: Yeah, I’m not sure you can ever say you’re actually done with the project, because it is a series of many projects, and it all helps to start with the vision of where you want to be when you start a particular effort. But I think the important part again is making sure that when you establish a timeline for this, it is established with a vision and also a consensus about what that vision is within whatever entity you are, whether it’s an agency a city government, a state or even a national government. Having that vision and then having the consensus of where you want to go to make that happen is really the key part of that timeline.

“One of the things that doesn’t happen in a lot of cities is that we don’t sit down together to really talk about the future.”

But I think the other component of that timeline then is there needs to be some leeway in terms of that. No one really has the final answer as to what this is going to look like from a mechanical or from a technical standpoint, so there are going to be some successes and there are going to be some failures along the way. Allowing that failure to happen and allowing that recovery of those investments to happen as part of that time is very, very important. I always make the analogy back to the venture capital world, which I think this is kind of what was going on with the Smart City concept. In the venture capital world, you invest in nine out of 10 companies. The nine out of 10 sell, but that 10th one hits, and it makes up for all the losses that go along with the other nine.

“It’s really about our political leaders pulling together that broader community. Consensus is critical in deciding what we’re really interested in.”

So I think you have to have a timeline allows for innovation, allows for failure and allows for learning. Once that that 10th company so to speak is done within that timeline, that’s when you start to really engage the investment and see the momentum. But you’ve got to start first of all with a vision. You’ve got to start with the consensus for that vision and then you’ve got to allow for some failure along the line, especially from a standpoint of a private entity being part of that, because again, they have shareholders who they have to report to, and they are not going to be too thrilled about the investments that don’t allow some kind of recovery.

Sanjog: What is your appeal to the various constituents and regulatory leaders in order to make the Smart City utopia a reality?

Harriet: One of the things that doesn’t happen in a lot of cities is that we don’t sit down together to really talk about the future. Utilities are still highly regulated in our cities and they often operate under quasi monopolistic conditions, and I don’t know the kind of visionary, future oriented discussion that we really need to have in order to get the optimal outcome. So I think that would be an important first step to be able to sit down and do that, because as I mentioned, the fleetness of the utility might be a real constraint on the ability of the city to move these ideas forward, and I’m sure the utility would say the same thing about the cities regulatory armature, so I think that’s an important conversation.

“If we take everything on at once, we’ll have a lead balloon. Leadership needs to pick their priorities and drive people like me towards that.”

Gary: It’s really about our political leaders pulling together that broader community. Consensus is critical in deciding what we’re really interested in. In Massachusetts, we pick small things and we drive those so we reach some point of success, then focus on something else. If we take everything on at once, we’ll have a lead balloon. Leadership needs to pick their priorities and drive people like me towards that.

Dennis: In terms of happy consumers, happy rate payers, happy citizens, we all have the same goal in mind, and Smart City really can add to those kind of benefits for both the consumer who is a citizen and who is a rate payer. Getting together and finding out what those commonalities are and how to best approach those from both a private and public entity standpoint is a very key first step to making this happen. We do have the technology, and the process can be established, but I think it’s around people, and helping people get together to actually make that happen is the key.

“Getting together and finding out what those commonalities are and how to best approach those from both a private and public entity standpoint is a very key first step to making this happen.”

Contributors

Harriet Tregoning

Harriet Tregoning, Director, Washington DC Office of Planning

Harriet Tregoning is the Director of the Washington DC Office of Planning, where she works to make DC a walkable, bikeable, eminently livable, globally competitive and sustainable city. Prior to this she was the director of the Governors’... More   View all posts
Gary Foster

Gary Foster, CTO of Massachusetts, Bay Transit Authority (MBTA), Boston, MA

Gary joined MBTA in January 2008 as Chief Technology Officer and Director of Information Technology. He is responsible for Enterprise Systems, Information Security, the MBTA web presence, systems and network infrastructure. As Chief Techn... More   View all posts
Dennis Gribble

Dennis Gribble, VP and CIO, Idaho Power

Dennis Gribble, an Idaho Power employee since 1979, is responsible for the company’s information technology activities. He was appointed to the position of vice president and chief information officer for both IDACORP and Idaho Power in M... More   View all posts
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Harriet Tregoning

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