Four ways utilities can shape smart cities’ success


Itron and Panasonic highlighted smart cities best practices during the 2018 Itron Utility Week held in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Nowadays, it seems everything on the planet has gotten “smart.” Smart shirts record your heart rate and smart doorbells scan faces and tell you who’s there, writes Panasonic’s Jim Vona and Itron’s Itai Dadon.

The potential and impact of smart tech on our lives is especially important in cities. Gartner estimates that by 2020, nearly 1.4 billion connected things will be used to make cities more efficient and sustainable, and offer citizens a better quality of life. Many of the devices that are being connected areold-fashioned streetlights – smart street lighting improves energy efficiency, lowers municipalities’ operational costs, enables remote lighting management and control and improves citizen safety. There are also many new sensors and smart traffic solutions being deployed along our highway systems, collecting and distributing data to help improve driving and roadway safety and feeding municipalities data to help them with future urban planning.

The unique role of utilities

Utilities play a unique role in communications infrastructure and have had a long-standing impact on their communities through innovation.

In Colorado Springs, the municipality-owned utility company is heavily engaged in smart city efforts. Colorado Springs Utilities is partnering with the city to develop an advanced metering system that is future proof, enlisting Panasonic’s leadership in both global smart city initiatives and specialty sensors, to collaborate on an implementation strategy that taps integrated technology and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Real-time info for cities and residents

Itron , known for innovating the way utilities and cities manage energy and water, has achieved success working with cities and utility companies to deploy network infrastructure that can be shared to manage streetlights, find water and methane leaks and usage anomalies, detect and locate gunshots and more. Harnessing the power of IoT, utilities can monitor conditions in real time, while cities and the people living in them benefit from real-time information and the ability to make decisions based on data.

At the heart of smart cities is data, and the equipment, such as sensors , that constantly generate data streams and serve them up across the network for consumption. As urban areas and companies collaborate to deploy IoT technology and leverage data for a range of city services, they face inherent challenges, from increasing costs, siloed city departments and technical complexities. A recent study on disruptive technology by Panasonic found that as organizations adopt next-gen tech, there are additional obstacles including a lack of skilled employees and lack of expertise for effective implementation. In fact, half of the companies surveyed believe they might need a partner to guide them on how best to adopt and integrate these solutions into their business.

Here are four best practices that Panasonic and Itron have learned from real-world experience, that help cities work smarter, not harder:

  1. Integrate technology

When you’re leveraging disruptive technologies, such as specialized sensors, data storage and face the challenges brought on by the Internet of Things (IoT), there’s a very real need to integrate these technologies into a unified, standard, simple and secure platform with a rich ecosystem.

City departments responsible for services such as lighting, traffic or transportation are often siloed with no mechanism for cross-department collaboration. Creating a shared network infrastructure enables these groups to leverage resources to increase efficiency, reduce cost and provide better services.

Cities like Glasgow are meeting their objectives by integrating multiple city services on a common platform, using one network canopy for several applications. Bringing data from many devices onto a common platform enables new approaches in distributed intelligence and real time analytics.

  1. Leverage data 

All the information and insights being collected by all those sensors is only valuable if its actionable. Successful smart city initiatives typically determine what value will be derived from the data, whether public or private, which data should be open, and how the data is to be managed and governed.

In many cases, it can make sense to promote an open data platform. Social media is connecting city leaders to its citizens more than ever. Many cities are looking to share data sets from across the city with individuals, businesses and research facilities to help improve quality of life and foster innovation.

Create a culture that encourages developers. It’s hard to predict what the ‘killer apps’ that improve city services will be. Success will require building an ecosystem of developers leveraging open standards and nurturing their ability to disrupt.

  1. Ensure reliability 

Conduct due diligence to research and select a smart grid/smart city technology partner. Set specific benchmarks and overall deployment goals to ensure technology will meet your needs.
Make sure to look for standard, secured, reliable and mature solutions.

To ensure fast results, begin with low-risk/high-return projects, such as networked LED street lighting, to quickly demonstrate public safety and operational benefits. Your community will instantly see the difference with better and more reliable street lighting, and you get immediate ROI with lower energy usage and drastically reduced maintenance.

  1. Engage the community 

Community engagement is invaluable to a smart city initiative. Involve citizens from the start and empower local businesses and innovators to get involved by holding town hall sessions and leveraging social media. Publicize concrete statistics that demonstrate the success of your project along the way, such as operational savings, reduced energy needs and improved customer satisfaction.

In Colorado Springs, city officials initiated open discussions with the community via a live web link that enables citizens to provide feedback on what they would like to see in areas like smart mobility, sustainability and other city services. Creating an ongoing dialogue with the public creates a sense of ownership within the community, keeping leaders focused on projects that will improve the lives of citizens.

About the authors

Jim Vona – Director of Strategic Business Development at Panasonic Industrial Devices Sales North America

Itai Dadon – Director of Smart Cities & IoT at Itron