CTO Download: Data-centric is the smart city approach

Bob Bennett, CIO of Kansas City, Missouri, is leading the effort to create a national blueprint for data-centric cities to use in their smart city pursuits


Civic technology leaders who would like to participate in CTO Download shoud email editor@efficientgov.com.

The promise of standardizing municipal data is more efficient and effective local governments. Bob Bennett, CIO of Kansas City, Missouri, who leads smart city deployments for his municipality, is also chair of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s City Platform & Dashboard Supercluster (CPSC). The CPSC is an initiative led by the cities of Kansas City, Missouri, and Bellevue, Washington, with collaboration from twenty others.

In superclusters, part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Global City Teams Challenge, multiple cities and stakeholders work together on common issues to develop and deploy solutions. When tackling shared issues together, its stakeholders are ultimately responsible for creating a blueprint for other cities and communities to address their challenges. The CPSC is building the standard for data-centric cities to use for developing their own smart city strategies.

The CPSC believes data is a fundamental element in enabling municipalities to become smart cities. The collection and analysis of data is a powerful tool according to the CPSC, as they seek to uncover the common set of items that municipalities all measure. By standardizing how information is measured, the CSPC hopes to utilize the data to tackle challenges in communities regardless of size or location.

The benefit to local government of this initiative can unleash potential and stimulate civic tech opportunities. Bennett shared insights from his data standardization work and smart city experiences, which include everything from decision support for broadband deployment to implementing WiFi on public buses and testing connected roads.

What do citizens ultimately stand to gain if their city is able effectively measure and understand data to transform into a Smart City?

Bennett: Citizens will be able to engage with their city using the same devices they currently use to navigate, shop and communicate with family. Cities will provide services proactively, thus saving funds by eliminating operations that fix something that breaks – we’ll do better scheduled maintenance to prevent the breaks. And cities will be better stewards of the resources allocated to us by our taxpayers.

Is there a specific example that comes to mind that exemplifies a municipality utilizing data to make their city smarter?

Bennett: All of us are using 21st Century tools to meet the needs of 21st Century citizens. In our case, we’ve used data to save street maintenance budget by allocating resources where we know potholes will develop instead of waiting for an emergency repair requirement.

In a similar way, we’ve predicted where crime will occur so we can work with both police and other organizations to intervene in a manner that prevents crime (we’ve not done it long enough to assess efficacy yet).

Louisville has used data to improve public health, especially among asthma sufferers.

Chicago is using data and sensors to better manage irrigation at public parks. We’re all in this together.

How will cybersecurity protections for data be baked into the standardization efforts?

Bennett: In most cases, cities have to partner with industrial leaders like AWS, Azure and Google to store the massive amounts of data that modern cities and citizens generate. This is beneficial for cities, because we can use the same systems that the federal government uses to protect the databases managed by our intelligence organizations.

Our challenge is to ensure that our edge processing elements are protected, and we can do that by working collaboratively with our corporate partners to minimize data exposure at the sensor and ensure security by transitioning it via fiber or encrypted, small segmented bits to the city data blocks.

Collecting and analyzing data can become an exhaustive and expensive task, what advice can you offer to local governments with limited resources and budgets who want to evolve into Smart Cities as well?

Bennett: Be creative.

Every city in the world already has 85 percent of the data it needs to be “Smart” now.

Permitting data, water usage, speed compliance, crime and economic data already exist. Leaders need only embrace a data-centric approach to better understand what their citizens actions are telling them instead of relying on the same 12 people who show up at every council meeting with the same anecdotal stories.

As you improve operations and save funds, you can reinvest the savings into sensors that provide you the remaining 15 percent of data you need to get to a point where you can predict issues instead of just reacting to them better.

EfficientGov’s CTO Download column highlights the work of civic IT leaders that achieve notable, forward-thinking technical solutions that change the game for their local governments. Who they are, what they believe and their approaches advance cities governing under limited resources.

Derek is a freelance writer, columnist and blogger. He is passionate about technology, and works with public sector customers on digital transformation programs.