by James A. Bacon
Suggested reading for every elected official, senior administrator and department head in Virginia government: “Smart Cities Readiness Guide” published by the Smart Cities Council. This easy-to-read document walks government practitioners (and interested citizens) through the process of using sensor, communications and analytic technologies to collect, communicate and crunch data. Proven smart cities strategies can boost productivity, increase responsiveness and reduce impact on the environment.
The early 21st century is a perilous time for state and local governments, which are overwhelmed by unfunded pension obligations, decaying infrastructure and a slow economy. Yet it is also a time of boundless opportunity as well. The emergence of smart-city technologies present a historic opportunity for local governments to address infrastructure-related problems without debilitating tax cuts. Cities around the world are grasping these opportunities — Virginia cities cannot afford to be left behind.
Implementing smart-city technologies can generate major efficiencies. Hard-pressed local governments often complain they have limited resources to invest, so the Readiness Guide points to eight areas that can yield quick payback.
Smart transportation. The ability to monitor traffic real-time, predict congestion, synchronize traffic signals and suggest alternate routes can yield massive savings by obviating the necessity of investing expensive concrete and asphalt.
Energy efficiency. Building automation systems can generate fast paybacks on HVAC, lighting and general electricity consumption.
Smart grids. Smart grids, which tell power companies were problems are occurring on the electric grid, can reduce outages and improve reliability, especially in areas subject to hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes or floods.
Smart water networks. Worldwide, 30% of all municipal water never reaches its destination. Smart water systems can pinpoint leaks and theft;as a bonus, they can alert customers to unusual consumption patterns that might indicate a problem.
Smart street lights. Smart systems can turn street lights off when not needed and enable remote diagnostics that can reduce maintenance costs.
Digital government services. Municipalities can reduce administrative costs by making manual systems for processing licenses, permits, registrations and other routine interactions accessible online or on smart phones. AT&T has bundled eight popular city applications into a package called Community Central that is hosted on the cloud and can be rolled out in short order.
Smart payments. Cities can generate significant savings by digitizing disbursements and collections.
Public safety. By feeding crime statistics into analytic programs, police departments can predict where crimes are more likely to occur and allocate manpower and resources accordingly. Automated systems also allow police to reduce time spent on paperwork.
These low-risk strategies have generated millions of dollars in savings in cities around the world. For the most part, Virginia municipalities are in solid financial shape; they can afford to make the investment. Elected officials should press their administrators to explore smart-city options aggressively. If elected officials are asleep at the switch, citizens need to smack them across the face until they wake up.