Connected devices and data analytics lie at the heart of smart city projects
Smart cities are the future, there is no doubt about this. With numerous challenges both existing and emerging, exacerbated by growing populations and dwindling resources, it is essential for municipalities to more effectively control and manage many areas. These include water and electricity, traffic flow, parking, refuse removal and sewerage to name but a few. Connected devices, and the ability to analyse the data they provide - a concept now commonly known as the Internet of Things (IoT) - is essential to more effective and efficient management. IoT lies at the very heart of the smart city, and local governments need to look at deploying sensors and making use of those that already exist, in order to harness the data they require to take their cities into the future.
Key to the concept of the smart city is the ability to more efficiently manage assets and resources. This requires data from many thousands of data capture points – so called ‘connected devices’ – to instantaneously transmit information to a central server. The IoT forms the platform and network for this data collection and transfer, as well as the resultant analysis and intervention. These devices include water and electricity meters, environmental sensors, flow meters, level sensors, parking sensors, a variety of tracking devices, RFID readers and more. The potential applications for these are endless and can be used to revolutionise asset management, service delivery and resource allocation, among other areas.
For example, IoT sensors and data analysis can be put to highly effective use in managing traffic flows and traffic congestion. Utilising traffic sensors, parking sensors and other connected devices, valuable real-time data can be gathered on road usage and parking location statistics. This information can be fed back to authorities, which can assist with capacity planning, and to help citizens to make more informed decisions about their route and parking planning. If motorists are empowered to avoid congestion, they are able to save time that would otherwise be wasted sitting in traffic jams. This leads to more productive citizens, and the benefits of this will be felt as a knock on too many areas.
Smart metering solutions, which are already being applied to a certain extent, can also help municipalities and citizens to make the most of their resources. Smart meters can monitor usage, send statistics, provide analysis, and enable users to make more informed decisions about their usage of utilities such as water and electricity. They can also be used to switch supply on and off if this becomes necessary. Furthermore, IoT devices can be utilised in the area of services monitoring and maintenance. Sensors are able to transmit data about service failures and deficiencies directly to maintenance fleets, which are able to react with optimised routing and proactive services schedules, avoiding long delays and costly down time. Ultimately the power of the IoT for the smart city is the provision of information for analysis, which can then be used to drive more effective and informed decisions for planning and provision.
In addition to networks of connected sensors, it is essential for smart cities to leverage a Network Operations Centre (NOC), which is essentially the nerve centre of any IoT implementation. The NOC is the hub for gathering all relevant data from all of the connected end points and displaying such data in useful graphs indicating performance levels and failures. The NOC is also essential for analysing data to identify trends and make predictions, so that corrective action can be taken, or service personnel can be dispatched and monitored for effective failure investigation and resolution.
IoT can also be used to assist municipalities with asset tracking, monitoring and management, including real-time asset monitoring and management, workforce tracking and productivity analysis. This links into the smart city concept of effectiveness and efficiency, allowing for assets to be protected against fraud, misuse and theft, and for maintenance teams to be monitored and managed. IoT technology can, for example, provide advance notification on incidents of fraud, theft and misuse to limit the consequences or avoid such occurrences altogether. Assets are required to provide services, and through IoT, the city as well as its customers can now obtain an audit trail and monitor the delivery and effectiveness of services. IoT solutions can also measure and reconcile system data on all the Smart City services and therefore provide an undisputed and secure view on service related metrics. IoT provides up to date geo-location analysis as well as productivity monitoring. It allows for optimal routing and sizing of the workforce and provides proof of effectiveness. Smart cities require this to reduce costs and eliminate duplication and resource wastage as well as enforce compliance. The IoT allows for proactive rather than reactive maintenance, increasing service levels and avoiding costly down time. This in turn translates to lower rates and service fees.
The concept of the smart city can be applied in any country across the globe, and many European cities have made great strides in this regard. African cities have many unique challenges, including lack of infrastructure. However, while this can be seen as an issue, it is also an opportunity, as infrastructure can be deployed to support IoT, connected devices, and smart cities from the outset, ensuring that solutions can be developed with requirements in mind. Cities in Africa need to partner with suppliers and solutions providers that can identify, develop and implement the unique solutions required to meet the needs and challenges they face.
Eckart Zollner, Head of Group Business Development at Jasco Intelligent Technologies
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”