Authorities need to identify the return on investment before spending on IoT tech, writes Marc Evans, VP client solutions at Precisely
Building smart places is not simply about the installation of sensors and other internet of things (IoT) tech; the key element is the data they deliver.
In turn, the data has limited value when managed in silos; it realises its full potential when it is used in a holistic approach, making it possible to examine how the different parts of a smart place work together. And that should influence the decisions on technology investments.
The significance of this became apparent from the audience polls at the recent UKAuthority Smart Places virtual conference. When asked what makes a city or place smart, the answer drawing the largest response was data and intelligence with 79%. And when asked whether their organisation makes the most of the data it holds, 61% said it has seen the potential but is still in the early stages of trying to do so.
Most local and regional authorities still need to get to grips with the fundamentals in this area, focusing on the purpose of a smart place in helping to improve the quality of life for local citizens. This depends on local infrastructure – including council assets such as highways, lampposts and street furniture, along with key services – and the data on its performance.
It is possible to learn from the data, automate operations and predict how changes in the environment and people’s behaviour is going to affect the pressure on different elements of the place. And it makes it possible to engage with people more effectively and give them a sense of being empowered.
Precisely provides the Confirm platform for collecting and managing the relevant data. It has a heavy presence in UK local government, where it can be used in the management of any fixed asset, including those that are often seen as important features in smart places, such as roads, cycleways, pavements, street lighting and drains.
While it can be used for the day-to-day management of these assets, it is also a source of data on their condition, how they connect to each other and fit into the long term changes in the local environment.
The company goes beyond the role of tech provider in working with its public sector clients to understand what underpins their drive to create smart places, understand the validity of their technology investments and provide long term improvements for their communities.
It does this through taking the ideas an authority has about becoming smart and challenges the thinking behind them, questioning whether the investment have in mind is really necessary.
For example, an authority may be looking at investing in a large number of sensors for its drainage network to mitigate the risk of flooding. But interrogating the data from the platform could show the areas at risk are fewer than imagined, that the number of sensors required is not as many as thought, and that they need to be in the right locations to provide full value.
That is where we pull it back to the foundation of understanding where the infrastructure is, how it is maintained, how it performs and then using data around it for intelligent investments. This can often come from enriching that core data with external datasets and produce a much better return on investment.
We will challenge that investment in smart tech, asking if it is linked to data, is the investment based on long term trends, and if the new assets will really help to solve the problem?
A key factor in this is that, while authorities need to move from having the data to building intelligence to becoming smart, many try to skip from the first to the last step. This often involves continuing to look at the data in the silos around specific assets, failing to see how they can relate to each other.
Because of this we also take clients through the key stages and deliverables of building intelligence before making the investments in smart technologies. It amounts to encouraging them to walk before they can run.
This can go further to influence how the technology is used. For example, data on any surrounding events could increase demand for spaces in a public car park, and be used to provide incentives for drivers to find an alternative parking spot. Or data on public assets and infrastructure could be fed into an app to help people understand the pressures and tailor their own behaviour accordingly. It can encourage people to interact with their places in a smart way.
More than technology
The key message is not to invest in IoT technology just in case it can be useful. Just installing a lot of equipment does not necessarily create a smart place.
It needs intelligent investments to deliver clearly identified outcomes, and that comes from having a comprehensive and reliable data platform providing a clear view of the operations that connect with each other to provide a truly smart place
It is using data to take operations out of silos and ensure they are part of a co-ordinated whole.
Pitney Bowes Software and Data are now Precisely. To learn more about Confirm, Precisely’s solution for smart infrastructure management, please visit:
Image from iStock, Spainter VFX