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BI and ANALYTICS sustain smart city initiatives

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Cities account for only 1% of the world’s land usage, but they are home to more than half of the world’s population, according to the Smart Cities Council. They are energy-intensive, consuming 75% of the world’s energy and producing 80% of its pollution.

In an effort to make cities more livable, many cities have launched so-called “smart city” initiatives, which use information and communication technologies to improve their operational efficiency and promote the well-being of their citizens. Transportation, energy, emergency response, and air quality issues are among the top priorities for smart city initiatives. All of these efforts require intensive analytics to make sense of Internet of Things (IoT) data and to provide correlations across functional areas or departments.

The technical requirements for smart infrastructure, sensor integration, and data analysis are often difficult for cities to meet. “Three hundred U.S. cities have populations of over 100,000 individuals,” said Phil Bane, managing director of the Smart Cities Council, “but many of them lack the resources to implement a smart city program.” Even simple projects can take years to launch, because funding and technical resources can be slow to materialize. The Smart Cities Council is a knowledge resource that assists cities in becoming ready to use the technology that enables smart city implementations. Most recently, it has created an online platform called Smart Cities Activator, which allows cities to share information and strategies for project development.

Despite the challenges, cities of all sizes have succeeded in setting up programs, although most consist of one or more point solutions rather than a full ecosystem. The long-term prospects for the market are positive, although IDC has predicted that by 2023, global smart city spending will reach $189.5 billion. Resilient energy infrastructure projects, data-driven public safety, and intelligent transportation are expected to account for more than half of the spending. The specific use cases include smart grid, fixed visual surveillance, advanced public transportation, smart outdoor lighting, and intelligent traffic management. Other studies predict market sizes of $200 to $700 billion, depending on what sectors are included; however, in general, growth rates are expected to approach 20% per year.

Transportation management is a top priority

The smart city initiative in Denver was sparked by its participation in the Smart City Challenge issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2015 for mid-sized cities. Denver was one of seven national finalists that sought to develop innovative solutions for urban issues, and although Denver did not win that grant, the city went on to win a grant that supported development of connected vehicles through communication between vehicles and infrastructure. “We had a long-standing program to get information to and from the traveling public,” said Michael Finochio, engineering manager in Denver’s Smart City program, “but with the availability of the Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) 9.5 GHz frequency set aside by the Federal Communication Commission for transportation, devices can now relay data from the edge, which provides a lot more data much more quickly.” The city’s primary source of data is the traffic signal data that is collected at traffic intersections and aggregated in a central traffic management system located in the Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Traffic Management Center (TMC).

The new systems now provide travel time reports in real time. The intelligent traffic management systems also will support transit signal prioritization for emergency vehicles, snowplows, and connected public transportation. These initiatives are included in the DSRC projects. Denver is working on coordinating cross-departmental analyses spanning traffic, weather, air quality, and public safety to explore other analyses that could be carried out to provide benefits to its citizens.

One of Denver’s major steps in building out its smart city infrastructure was to develop a new enterprise data management (EDM) system to support analytics and facilitate planning and operations. The system is built on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform and can ingest, aggregate, analyze, and visualize all types of data—relational, unstructured, and semi-structured. The sensors collect data at the edge and send the data to the TMC and then to the EDM. Microsoft Power BI provides BI dashboards. “The data is consolidated in on-premise servers and made outward-facing via APIs, to push it into the EDM system,” commented Finochio.

“Transportation is related to many other aspects of urban living, including air quality and citizen safety,” he continued. “Another one of our goals was to install air quality sensors in the field so that we could have accurate measures throughout the city.” The sensors are being installed on traffic signal infrastructure and at schools so that air quality can be reported in the same type of alerts that are sent out for bad weather.

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