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Don't Ignore the Lessons Learned From Smart Cities

smart cities 

By Patrick Hubbard, Head Geek, SolarWinds

Smart cities get a lot of press when it comes to using technology as an agent of change, but what if your enterprise might actually be just as smart? Of course, there are some non-trivial differences between a smart city and a smart business. But, the research, experimentation, data, and best practices coming out of these efforts can be extremely helpful as our businesses chart a course for business transformation or technology modernization.

The whole point of a smart city is using technology to deliver services more effectively and ultimately provide a better living environment for citizens. Innovation Helsinki, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, or Columbus could actually help untangle your customer's supply chain or make a physical plant run more efficiently. But cities also face the same challenges of complexity, aging custom applications, overdue infrastructure upgrades, everything mature enterprises deal with, and more.

Not long ago, the press and politicians seemed to be promoting a form of convoluted acronym alchemy, but recently several cities have made significant progress by adopting the emerging standards of business. They're early adopters of cloud, 5G, edge computing, data science, containers, IoT, and other related technologies in private-public partnerships. Their shift to standards-based tech VS. traditional, custom metropolitan-a mess of wires-has significantly accelerated the development of new services citizens notice and actually like. And more importantly for business, smart cities are laboratories for experimentation with new technology and approaches businesses can use to provide better customer expenses and a competitive edge.

Highways humming with autonomous vehicles might still be closer to Tomorrowland than 2025 but energy (read: money) saving smart streetlights won't just light the way. They become the backbone of a service grid, which provides multiple services like Wi-Fi 6, 5G, municipal voice and data, as well as IoT/edge local knowledge creation. Smart city mobility upgrades deliver not only internet to attract riders, but more dynamic routing, schedules, and real-time arrival notifications, but also much more efficient use of mixed fleets. Airlines might standardize around the Boeing 737 or Airbus 32x, but cities running empty, articulated busses on routes better served with vans results in significant waste for the city and its taxpayers. In short, smart city success comes in part because they're thinking more like smart businesses.     

Enterprise as Big as Cities

Many enterprises are larger and more complex than some cities. Get into the Fortune 250, and enterprise complexity is often greater than in many countries. In general, enterprise has an advantage over the public sector. Wielding technology as an innovation tool while overcoming complex internal organization and process is more straightforward when the hierarchy is top-down. In many ways, an influential CIO of a privately held corporation has the same technology influence as a leader in strong central government. Viable digital strategies succeed or fail based on buy-in and follow-through during the inevitable unexpected challenges inherent when modernizing decades-old heritage tech.

Same Tech, Same Solutions

In the U.S., smart city initiatives often depend upon bond issues. Corporations for their part tend to benefit from executive-level, project-specific budgets. This is another aspect of smart cities benefitting business transformation-earmarked investment. Cities trying to modernize by reprioritizing existing funds are about as successful as businesses "doing the best they can" out of cost center IT budgets-not very. If nothing else, setting aside resources-both financial and personnel-dedicated to a narrow, clear goal is always the way forward when overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles.

Advocacy and promotion are another area where smart cites offer guidance. Internal cheerleaders who personify complex business objectives and organizers who build community support for bond issues require similar skills and offer similar returns. They help work across departments to package a plan, while gathering input to make sure projects benefit the greatest number of shareholders. Human beings find it easier to get behind a champion, whether public or private.

In New York City, politicians have pledged to get buses moving more efficiently, not unlike a business identifying a need to improve services delivery for customer applications. For New York, there's the problem of monitoring vehicles and knowing when to generate backups of onboard data. For businesses, there's the problem of monitoring applications and knowing the least impactful hours for backups. They need sensors to keep traffic moving, whether in the warehouse or on the street. The tools as technologies are very similar-if not the same-and studying their approaches can unlock creativity in addressing your own.

Look for the Experts

Because municipal system data is generally public, business "changemakers" have the opportunity to analyze user community comments and funding, implementation, and operations details spanning the breadth of technologies typically combined to create smart city infrastructures. This is absolutely not the case with your competitors who generally shield the what and how of their transformations. Even better, there are many articles, books, and videos available with considerable detail about what's working and what isn't.  

If personal networking is more effective for you, seek smart city experts on Twitter®, LinkedIn®, other social platforms in vendor user communities, and product meetups. Go to the engineers who actually deploy and operate smart city technology and learn what they're doing. Ask them where they won and lost, because they'll tell you what vendors never will.

It's easy to scroll past smart city initiatives because we don't usually care what's happening in some city on the other side of the world. But they're learning things, and finally making progress in areas enterprise business are keen to address. They may teach lessons no one else can. They're not competitors, they're us. And in many cases, you're both battling the same barriers.


About the Author



An accomplished technologist with over 20 years of experience, Hubbard's career includes software development, operations, product management and marketing, technology strategy, and advocacy. An unapologetic market-hype deconstructionist, Hubbard is passionate about arming technology professionals with the tools and skills to deliver services that delight, not just satisfy, users. Hubbard's current focus is helping enterprises adopt cloud-native and DevOps techniques that deliver the business transformation CIOs increasingly demand.

Since joining SolarWinds in 2007, Hubbard has combined his technical expertise with an IT customer perspective to drive product strategy, launch the Head Geeks, develop and manage the SolarWinds Certified Professional (SCP) and SolarWinds Academy Training Classes programs, and create the SolarWinds online demo platform. Today, most admins recognize Hubbard as the executive producer of the Telly award-winning SolarWinds Lab, and SolarWinds THWACKcamp.

Published Wednesday, July 22, 2020 7:33 AM by David Marshall
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