Smart City: You Can’t Do It Alone, You Need Partners

From pushing digital literacy  in homes to bringing faster Internet to every household, cities across America are partnering with vendors to prepare for a data-driven future where smart, connected infrastructure will provide better services to their citizens.

In fact, a smart city initiative ought to be regarded as a program and not a project “because a project is short-lived. A program is long-lived,” said Girish Ramachandran, chief technology architect for Dallas.

He spoke at the Smart Cities Connect Conference & Expo in Kansas City on this Tuesday’s panel.

Private sector should keep in mind that “cities alone cannot make smart cities happen,” he added.

“It needs to be built in conjunction with local businesses or corporations who have the technological capability to supplement the program the city is putting out,” he said. “It’s a partnership. Combined we can make it happen.”

Left to right: Kimberly LaGrue, Nina D'Amato. Girish Ramachandran, David Roberts and Jennifer Sanders.

Other panel members included:

  • Nina D’Amato, chief of staff of the San Francisco Technology Department.
  • Kimberly LaGrue, chief information officer for New Orleans.
  • David Roberts, chief innovation office for the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

Moderated by Jennifer Sanders, executive director of the Dallas Innovation Alliance, the panel – comprising government officials – offered updates on their cities’ smart initiatives, and how cities share a symbiotic relationship with vendors when it comes to innovative solutions.

Local governments, smart vendors

Vendors should acquire a thorough understanding of the cities they seek to do business with, and not be afraid to point out problems, said D’Amato.

“I’ll get vendors in the office and they’ll come up with solutions to problems I didn’t even know the city had,” she said. “People are usually excited when you show them, based on data, here’s the problem I’m trying to solve for you.”

LaGrue agreed.

“If you can bring us the problem and we see that we need to solve it, that’s great for the city,” she said.

“And for our vendors, really understanding what we have and what we need is also great, so we’re not just implementing technology for the sake of technology.”

The panel members also offered advice to officials and executives.

For instance, the private sector should understand the impact of budget cycles on city and state governments, Roberts said. On their part, governments should explain the benefits of digital expansion, and how the benefits “far outweigh the threats.”

And public servants should employ a “long-game mentality” regarding smart city initiatives.

“It’s about being strong leaders and making wise investments for future generations that don’t necessarily turn into votes today,” he said.

Dallas: Becoming Smart with Connected Data

dallasCities need to develop network solutions that can be utilized by multiple departments, said Ramachandran.

“The common problem that exists in any organization is the siloed nature of how applications have been built,” he said. “There’s an application for the fire department, the water utility, the streets.

In Dallas we have 40 different departments and 280-plus systems.”

But the fire, water and police departments use some of the same data, Ramachandran said.

“Understanding data and the necessity of data-centric architecture was something we embarked on in the past three and a half years,” he said.

“We have made an investment in a data platform. Our goal is not to take away the applications the police use or the streets department or public works use. We see an opportunity where we can connect the data in these different systems and create a true data ecosystem.”

New Orleans: Learning from Shared Data

new orleansThe drive to share data has played a key role in the rebuilding and revamping of New Orleans’ information technology infrastructure following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said LaGrue.

“As our network and our infrastructure started to grow, we went from about 80 sites to 130 now,” she said. “Our technical people had to look at why we were growing, what we were growing into, who we were growing for and what we had to support.”

The growth spurt required the creation of infrastructure to disseminate data, LaGrue said. “Now we’re building a culture of data sharing.”

And as the data grows, New Orleans is “looking at how we collect it and the integrity of the data. One of our initiatives around data standardization is knowing what data we have. Data inventory projects are important to us.”

San Francisco: Advancing Broadband for everyone

san franciscoSan Francisco is working on a “Fiber to SF” program designed to bring one gigabyte of internet speed to very resident and business in San Francisco, D’Amato said.

The program also includes a Lit fiber network and services, and free city wifi in public spaces, she said.

“There are principles that underlie this, and those principles are reflective of San Francisco,” D’Amato said. “Those are net neutrality, privacy, security, opt in and consent, and the ability to delete your data. The RFP is out there. There’s going to be a lot of effort around this in the coming months in San Francisco.”

Digital Literacy: Data Learning Begins at Home

Today, digital literacy is a priority for cities.

New Orleans offers a program in which teenagers learn to use digital literacy tools as part of an arts program to help them promote digital literacy in their homes.

San Francisco offers grant-funded internet training classes.

“We’ve created a place where there are plenty of computers,” D’Amato said. “They’re attached to the internet. They can come do the training and go back to their house and apply what they’ve learned.”

And Dallas takes “digital divide” seriously.

“Understanding the digital divide is something the leadership in Dallas has been focused on lately,” Ramachandran said. “If we are pushing, for example, public wifi, do people even know how to access public wifi?

“Do they have the devices needed to access public wifi?”

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