XChange SLED Keynote: Solution Providers Can Unleash Smart Cities Windfall By Breaking Down Silos

Solution providers must convince municipal departments to collaborate and share data for smart city initiatives to gain traction, according to an industry leader speaking at XChange SLED 2017, hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company.

The channel should work with municipalities to create a single, city-wide service delivery platform, data architecture and communications layer that can speak to every municipal-owned device regardless of department, according to Jason Nelson, executive director of partner engagement for the Reston, Va.-based Smart Cities Council.

"The technology piece of it [smart cities] is largely there," Nelson said. "We think there's a people issue we can try and help solve."

[RELATED: XChange SLED Speaker: Municipal IoT Adoption Driven By Technology Advances, Public Demand]

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Civil service agencies have traditionally operated in silos, with agencies such as the Department of Public Works and Department of Transportation directly competing for finite municipal resources, Nelson said at the Grand Hyatt Atlanta Wednesday.

Each city today has separate departments, Nelson said, each of which has their own budget, data sets, data center, and communications networks and channels. For instance, Nelson said a municipal-owned utility might communicate over a network licensing from the city, but would typically be reluctant to share its data with other agencies or the general public unless it really has to.

"They're used to competing with each other for civic resources," Nelson said. "They don't really like to collaborate."

But Nelson envisions a future with blended apps where municipalities have put everything together and created models that measure and track how the city is really functioning.

Municipal departments would not only share the same communication layer and data architecture under this model, Nelson said, but would also open their service delivery platform to third-party developers to allow for the creation of even more applications and services.

Solution providers should, therefore, work to develop offerings that help break down silos and barriers between departments, Nelson said. And when creating platforms or solutions, Nelson said channel partners should consider how well they can talk with other smart devices already in use by the city since enhanced interaction lowers costs and allows for more data sharing.

"Help cities see the future and think big," Nelson said. "But then you have to start by solving real, incremental problems for cities. That's the only way that you get traction."

Many city stakeholders aren't part of the municipal government, Nelson said, and can include entities such as local universities or developers.

"What we're talking about is trying to break down the various silos of government at the city level, and get city departments to start participating collaboratively in the deployment of these technologies," he said.

Smart city projects usually contain three components, according to Nelson: a sensor to collect data about a system or process; a communication layer that transmits data back to a central hub so it can be included in a large data set; and a computational system that crunches and analyzes the data.

All told, Nelson said the cost savings and reduction in problems facilitated by smart infrastructure projects more than make up for any upfront investment associated with the work.

"Nothing else makes sense," Nelson said. "It's time that we start investing in our grandchildren's infrastructure and not our grandparents."

Solution providers need to demonstrate actionable return on investment and help municipalities develop a plan for digital transformation to unlock value from smart city initiatives, according to Gideon Kory, director of data analytics for Trianz.

"It's almost like we need to evangelize smart cities to local government," Kory told CRN.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based solution provider said it would need a scalable framework and assessment process to collaborate with municipalities and generate a smart city gameplan, Kory said.

From there, Kory said IT service providers must be able to identify specific revenue generation or cost savings opportunities stemming from smart city deployments to convince municipalities to put these theoretically frameworks into action.