Where Municipalities Should Start on Smart Cities


“Smart city.” By now, every governor, mayor and councilperson across the country has heard the phrase.

But those two words encompass a myriad of connected technologies that can improve city life and municipal efficiency. In 2016, the capabilities encompassed in the term “smart city” have grown to include public Wi-Fi, gunshot detection systems, garbage route sensors, connected utility meters and infrastructure monitors, intelligent street lights, traffic management solutions and parking assistance.

So where should municipal officials start if they want to make their city smarter? According to Extenet CTO Tormod Larsen, they should start small.

“Part of the challenge is the cities basically go out and they want to do everything,” Larsen said. “They want a network that does gunshot detection, they want free Wi-Fi, they want meter reading, they want environmental sensors, they want information screens and they want all these different things and they want it for free. So it’s like ok, you want all these things but you’re not really putting a value on it. If there’s not a business there, we can’t make the investment.”

Larsen said municipalities should start by creating a roadmap of what services they’d like to add and then prioritizing which ones they’d like to get online first. That way, he said, the company building the infrastructure can install a system that is capable of meeting that long-term vision, even if all the components aren’t installed at the start.

“If you don’t have a network, then it’s a pipe dream,” Larsen said. “If you’re only focusing on different type of services and don’t take a step back and say ok let me first get the network in place that has the capability of support some of these high priority services - and know that’s the backbone, the fundament of making it happen - you have a hard time getting off the ground. If you have the network in place, then you at least have a base to build on.”

According to Larsen, municipalities would do well to consider technologies at the start that come with a clear business case for deployment through the savings they provide. Connected technologies like smart meters and meter reading and LED street light replacements to save on energy are a good starting point.

But it isn’t just about what technologies a city chooses to deploy; Larsen said the attitudes of municipal officials also count.

When considering a smart city build, Larsen said it’s helpful for municipal officials to approach the idea as a partnership with the company they hire. Offering an in-kind service is a good way to help deployments along by offering an upside for both parties, Larsen said.

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