If the Rio Story penned by Gartner Analyst, Bettina Tratz-Ryan is anything to go by then it appears “signals” are at the heart of any smart city. Signals as defined by Web2.0 guru Tim O’Reilly, was about the use of syndication technology such as RSS to notify users of content changes.
Amplify that thought to conceptualize a myriad signals being emitted from a plethora of devices and other sources. When news feeds, weather feeds, intelligence feeds, traffic surveillance data, seismic and topological data, social media buzz all converge onto a single platform, it’s a lot of signals.
Signals & Orchestration
But signals by itself would be “noise”. When the same content is put in context of geo-location or adverse weather conditions or crowds build up, they become signals of a smarter kind. It tells city authorities what pre-emptive action has to be taken.
Knowing what is to be done is not enough. It’s the do-how that matters. Bettina writes “Bringing agencies under one roof and develop standard operations procedures sounds initially so trivial but represents a real game changer for many cities, considering that different public and private entities have always worked with different premises in their “day to day” activities or in their crisis resolutions. For Rio, the cooperation model has enabled the city to deal with their worst case scenario: heavy rainfalls that will threaten Favellas with mudslides. The center has now the ability to warn residents, through text messages and sirens, of the pending dangers and evacuations can be ordered almost immediately.”
Orchestrating different agencies is indeed a pain several cities across the world could do without.
The Smart Long Tail
At the back of this Star Trek environment however, another revolution is under way. The long tail of citizen engagement is beginning to happen and presenting itself in many forms. Open data and smart phones are enabling citizens to contribute to development plans, recommend improvements, develop initiatives to raise awareness and call to action on heritage structures, engage in contests to build a better and smarter city, and more.
Citizen engagement is not just about the potholes and traffic snarls; it is increasingly about the long tail of aspirations and interests. Public access to data and the ease of application development through open source platforms will spur development of new applications and services. As a result, specific groups large or small can develop an application to serve their purposes- for example a student led GIS project or an NGO led Green City Project or an executive-led car-pooling project. They may even provide sources of gainful employment and entrepreneurship. The promise of Web2.0 of enabling people to share their perspectives, opinions, thoughts and experiences through multiple tools seems to have found a totally new dimension, when applied to smart cities.
The key will be how smartly can we make data available to citizens, provide the tools to create smart applications and create a new breed of smart prosumers. If we do that the promise of the long tail of smart applications does not seem to be too far ahead.