Taking smart cities beyond city hall
By Kevin Eggleston
Cities have long held the responsibility to provide the foundations for us to prosper and live our lives – this includes schools, libraries, transportation systems, hospitals, power plants, water supply networks, waste management, law enforcement and local departments’ information systems. These sectors also generate as-yet underutilized assets: new and more accessible sources of data. Open data portals exist in many cities today, but these contain only a fraction of the amount of data that is being produced within a city.
Combined with the datasets that businesses, organizations, and academic institutions collect, the data-driven insights available to us could help us tackle many of our day-to-day challenges, while accelerating innovation and the growth of our digital economy. But only a small amount is actually being used to its potential today. As cities grow and become increasingly connected by the internet of things (IoT), we have an enormous opportunity to integrate private and public assets to improve the quality of life for residents while ensuring that enterprises can thrive and the surrounding natural environment can flourish.
Bridging data gaps to increase public safety
Public safety is a crucial concern in urban life, and public-private partnerships are already enabling solutions that keep people safer, in the melding and analysis of disparate video feeds. Restaurants, bars, hotels and office buildings often have cameras recording activity outside their establishments. Integrating data from these cameras with those deployed by the city, including inside patrol cars and worn by police officers, analyzing the resulting massive dataset for patterns, and then displaying the video and insights on a single screen is increasing the potential for rapid response and improved situational awareness before, during and after an emergency.
The benefits will likely help to not only prevent and combat crime, but to bring communities and governments closer together. Early in October, Cambridge University published the results of data collected in seven police departments in the U.K. and the U.S. Half of the police officers were randomly assigned to wear body cameras and keep them on during all encounters. In the year before the study, 1,539 complaints had been filed against officers; at the end of the experiment, complaints were down to 113 – a drop of nearly 93 percent! Most surprising of all, complaints dropped even when officers weren’t using the cameras. So it seems, regardless of what caused the drop in complaints, that better community relations may also result from a commitment to transparency and accountability between residents and their public servants.
In May 2015, the White House launched the Police Data Initiative, which brings together law enforcement agencies and digital experts to improve the relationship between citizens and police through use of data. A year later, 53 jurisdictions, from Oakland to Baltimore, had committed to the initiative, and more than 90 data sets had been released. The results are certain to be enlightening and help cities and their communities plot their path forward to a better future.
Technological innovation will drive social innovation
For meaningful change, we must break down public and private data silos, as well as the silos within our communities. In this way, disparate datasets can be used to help us better understand the underlying causes of social problems and which solutions are working. City stakeholders from diverse sectors can work together to empower each other to tackle the challenges they face, and recognize new opportunities to solve those challenges with data, whether it’s improving public safety or reducing traffic congestion, maximizing energy efficiency, making our cities more sustainable, or keeping local economies thriving.
We’re very used to our devices being interconnected via the Internet, and we’re growing more and more comfortable with the idea of the world around us coming online via the Internet of things. Smart cities will utilize this data themselves and enable their stakeholders to do the same to achieve our collective goals. It’s time that we use our technology to solve the challenges of our time and bring us closer together.
Kevin Eggleston is Hitachi Insight Group’s GM of the Americas, where he works with teams from multiple Hitachi Group companies to develop and bring to market a broad range of IoT-optimized solutions. He also guides IoT business strategy and operations for Hitachi Insight Group in North and South America.