Do you remember that moment of uncomfortable disbelief when a friend pointed out your new and exciting discovery had been around a long, long time? Smart communities are not a new idea. The concept first appeared in the 1950s, and by the 70s it had become a widely accepted ideal.

In just a few decades, we’ve moved from science fiction futurescapes to modern-day reality. From home automation and driverless cars to voice recognition and universal translators, the future vision of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s is now technologically possible.

Defining “Smart”

What exactly is a smart community? Read enough articles and a common theme begins to form: a smart community enriches the lives of everyone living and working in the community. To enrich means “to make finer in quality, to add greater value and significance to, to increase in abundance of enjoyment, to improve material wealth and condition.” Who doesn’t want more of that?

This working definition is simple enough to keep us on task as we contemplate our own smart initiatives. It applies readily to GIS and public asset management. The definition also applies to family and social services, to economy and banking, to environmental stewardship, to commercial and industrial development, to transportation, to utility growth and management, and to government systems.

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But is technology enough? Experienced product managers in the information technology field will tell you that technology alone will not solve the underlying problems smart community initiatives are intended to address.

A New Approach

For many years, software development struggled with technology-centric approaches that failed to delight users. Too often, this approach focused first on infrastructure, second on systems, and lastly on ecosystems—one layer at a time—with the hope of eventually providing value to users.

Today, agile development practices take a different approach, ensuring that the focus is delivering something of use and value to the end user. It’s helpful to identify one clear area that will genuinely benefit your constituents and build a thin, vertical infrastructure with just enough capability to support it.

Said differently, do something today with the data and technology you already have.

Engagement as a Litmus Test

Litmus paper provides a quick, unambiguous way of testing a liquid: red if acidic, blue if base or alkaline. For smart initiatives, engagement is the litmus test. In today’s tech-centric world, people are often eager to adopt intuitive solutions that engage, inform, and entertain.

A smart initiative that genuinely enriches quality of life won’t require specialized training or engagement campaigns. The challenge will be keeping up with demand. What better way to guide and inform your future investment decisions than understanding what your community needs and desires today?

So, while technology can support smart community initiatives, an organization must consider current process and end-user impact. For public asset management, this means developing solutions focused on better engagement, better data, and better location intelligence. This will lead to improved analytical insight and decision-making across the entire organization.

By Cam Barnard, product manager, Latitude Geographics


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