The Community of the Future is Smart, Resilient and GIS-centric

Jed Call, Executive Marketing Director, Cityworks

Carl Baumeister, Fruition Consultants

Everything seems to be “smart” these days. Of course, there’s the ever-present smartphone, along with a cadre of “smarties”: cars, watches, TVs, washers and dryers, refrigerators, homes, dog houses, classrooms and workplaces, to name just a few. In centuries to come, might anthropologists label the 21st century as the “smart age”?

At what point does a “smart community” become as common, vital and indispensable as the smartphone? If an organization is only as strong as its weakest link, is a string of smart homes and vehicles enough to constitute a smart community, while the city that houses the Internet of Things remains remedial?

Reason would dictate a resounding, “No.”

If a majority of residents, businesses and systems are becoming “smart,” then it follows that municipalities, counties, public agencies and utilities should speak that same digital language. In order to assure accurate dissemination of information and communications for budgeting, emergency management, operational efficiency, public safety and crime reduction, public utilities and a litany of other necessities, all channels need to be tuned into the same frequency.

The Evolution of the Smart City

According to a recent Gartner study, New Business and Technology Priorities in Smart City Require CIOs to Change, Bettina Tratz-Ryan explains, “Community development has strongly evolved from community information and notifications to an engagement environment. Smart cities provide the foundation for citizens to become active participants and contributors in the development of their city.” ¹

She continues, “City management as a business strategy can be a recipient of the power of civic contribution, such as ‘311’ environments involving interactive reports of potholes and waste receptacle collections, and caring for green spaces of parks by relieving public works from watering plants and mowing the grass.”

The advancement of technology has incrementally reduced the time and effort necessary to relay information from one entity to another. Communication from points A to B has nearly reached light speed; in effect, everything is point A. Yet if the communication is delivered with the newest technology (e.g., the latest iPhone), but received with outdated tools, the smart conduit fails.

With municipalities and utilities under pressure by citizens who increasingly want to be heard, building the right digital smart grid requires municipalities to not only adapt to the needs of their constituents, but also disrupt the status quo internally. State and local government CIOs are now at the table, influencing business strategy and leading technology investment to meet customer demands and the larger demands of their community ecosystems. They are investing in and upgrading outdated software regularly—building the infrastructure to support smart city strategies. However, for as many as are making the investment, countless communities are struggling to overcome the investment constraints.

Smart City Operating Framework

Asset 2@1.5x

What, Then, is a “Smart” City?

The emergence in recent years of smart personal technology, such as smart phones, and people’s comfort with and dependence on their smart systems suggests 1) the vital importance of local government adopting technology to increase operational effectiveness, and 2) an easier learning curve to introduce and implement digital strategies to the organization and customers. After all, a majority of people (city employees and residents) already use smart technologies, so connecting to them through their devices becomes common sense; and because they understand smart technology, they can learn quickly how to integrate across all departments.

To that end, Gartner defines a smart city as an “urbanized area where multiple sectors cooperate to achieve sustainable outcomes through the analysis of contextual real-time information, which is shared among sector-specific IT and operational technology (OT) systems. The smart city is an urban planning and city topology design utilizing a comprehensive IT-supported framework.”2

In an April 16, 2017 article called “The Rise of the Smart City,” Wall Street Journal writer Michael Totty quotes Stephen Goldsmith, director of the Innovations in Government program at Harvard’s Kennedy School, as saying, “In terms of city governance, we are at one of the most consequential periods in the last century.”3

Technology has never been so readily suited to manage public infrastructure. Today a city is able to know and engage with its residents with unprecedented speed and accuracy, enabling an open and transparent government. Within moments a resident can communicate a concern about a growing pothole via their “311” app. This is quickly turned into a work order in Cityworks and the pothole is repaired the same day, with a quick communication back to the resident who brought the issue to light.

Smart cities are empowering their communities and improving effectiveness across agencies and departments. Technology solutions that enable and promote innovation and cross-operational efficiency, like Cityworks, are critical to improving government effectiveness and success.

The Heart of a Smart City

At the heart of every digital solution is the “operating system.” For smart cities, the heart is the Geographic Information System (GIS). Jack Dangermond, chairman and CEO of Esri, simply described the vision of GIS as “enabling a smarter world.” GIS and mapping have always been key to understanding the value of “where,” so that we can manage assets better.

While GIS primarily uses layered maps that “visualize” geographic information in order to analyze, coordinate, integrate, manage, organize, schedule, share and store that information for a vast array of assets, it can also provide an abundance of other essential data, analytics and insights necessary to operate an effective community.

The GIS should influence every aspect of operations and civic engagement to improve the effectiveness of the city or utility.

Smart Resilience

IT and GIS professionals’ definition of a smart community often includes the term “resilient,” which indicates an area that can handle dire situations quickly and efficiently, and even address issues before they become problems. The government of such a community can use Cityworks to “plug into” a community’s GIS and light up its “dashboard.” Without tools such as ArcGIS and Cityworks, a city is at a great disadvantage in that it may take weeks or longer to ascertain what could otherwise have been deciphered in seconds.

A GIS-centric strategy for public asset management is risk management. The core premise of a GIS-centric strategy is helping local government gain the required insight to understand their capital infrastructure. With a clear digital strategy local governments will be more effective for all residents and stakeholders.

Further, a community’s business strategy should be inherently created to improve quality of life for residents and help bolster economic development. Building a smart and resilient community can be more fully realized with a GIS-centric approach. Cityworks and Esri’s ArcGIS are created and designed to help communities work smarter in relation to infrastructure management and civic engagement.

Part of the equation for a resilient smart community is the preparation and speed to recover from unexpected events. Chris Thomas, global manager for government activities at Esri, writing in ArcUser, explains that “[b]uilding resilient communities relates to assisting governments in preparing for and recovering from man-made and natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, economic collapse or climate change.” 4

Resilience, then, should be viewed as a necessary byproduct of a community’s efforts to implement the right technology. This helps stakeholders manage civic engagement with public assets. As smart communities continue to emerge, cities become more dynamic in the management of their physical assets and sync with information systems to improve operational efficiency across all departments.

A Smarter Community Approach

Thomas writes that the absolute first task in building a smart community is to “start with a world-class GIS platform.” Smart and resilient communities cannot be fully realized without a web GIS-centric platform (a term coined by Cityworks’ founder, president and CEO, Brian Haslam). GIS-centric tools accentuate, highlight, improve and make better use of the geographic information system. GIS-centric apparatus are vast and include field apps to collect and relay information vital to running a smart community.

The Future of the Smart City

As more municipalities, counties, and even states and countries advance in the implementation of tools and services such as Cityworks to make their communities smarter, they will also make their communities more efficient, more cost-effective with tax dollars and more secure places to live, resulting in a community that thrives.

In Dangermond’s opening keynote address at the 2017 Esri User Conference, he said “The evidence is clear . . . we need to be smarter. We need to understand and act together. GIS provides the framework and process for creating such a smarter world.”  He continued, “GIS is getting smarter and integrating and leveraging so many new tools … providing insights to what the future may hold if we do this, or if we do that. Smart GIS is about connecting everyone and creating a system of engagement between people and their organization. Providing context for communities and GIS and maps are the common language to communicate, understand and act.”

Haslam points out that Cityworks has always been focused on the power of GIS and that it is an enabling tool for communities when combined with Cityworks. Cityworks is about building smart, resilient, sustainable communities. At the 2016 Cityworks Conference he stated, “We all care about our communities. I think all communities are smart communities, or at least we all try to be smart. But, are we using technology so that our communities can be more resilient and sustainable?”

Haslam often declares, “Our GIS-centric approach has always been to leverage Esri GIS technology to help local government and utilities gain better insight and innovation in their decision making. In essence, to be smarter.”

1 Gartner, “New Business and Technology Priorities in Smart City Require CIOs to Change,” Bettina Tratz-Ryan, September 26, 2017

2 Gartner, Innovation Insight: Smart City Aligns Technology Innovation to Citizen Expectations, Bettina Tratz-Ryan,  Nagayoshi Nakano, October 2015, refreshed November 2016

3 Michael Totty, “The Rise of the Smart City,” Wall Street Journal, April 16, 2017

4 Chris Thomas, “What Does It Take to Build a Smart Community?ArcUser, Winter 2015

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