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Smart cities: making data talk to inform the decision-making process

Climate change and galloping urbanisation pose unprecedented challenges to the world's major cities. Half the global population lives in urban areas today, and by 2025 that proportion will be seven out of ten – and cities already account for more than 70% of the world's carbon emissions.

Ensuring personal safety, managing crowds, regulating road traffic and improving public transport are key concerns for cities everywhere. To be appealing, they need to be safe, liveable and sustainable, and their vibrancy is measured in terms of their ability to attract new talent, innovative businesses and visitors from around the world.

Many cities have already taken steps to address these concerns, investing massively in non-intrusive surveillance, mobility solutions and sustainable development, and competing with one another to host major sporting and cultural events. They take every opportunity to engage their communities and communicate about the services available. It's good news for residents and visitors alike.


Data: the treasure trove of the modern city

And good news never comes alone. As the Internet of Things (IoT) gains traction, the pervasive use of sensors and open-source data opens up a whole range of new opportunities for cities. They can provide real-time information about road traffic conditions, for example, or see if a crowd is forming at a sensitive site, or report on rising water levels after a storm... All of which is driving exponential growth the volume of data collected.

This is especially true when cities have open data policies in place to allow people to access the data generated by their public services. They're sitting on a goldmine and they know it. Some of them hold "data challenges" that encourage companies and the general public to use the data at their disposal to test new ways of organising city projects, managing waste or greening urban spaces.

Making data talk is an art and a science, and it takes real expertise to create value from this treasure trove of information. In connected cities, Big Data technologies and AI algorithms can help officials anticipate problems, prepare for crises and manage air quality, mobility and energy use more effectively. But first they need to know how to make the most of their vast reserves of precious data.


Data aggregation and correlation

Individual factors such as public health, safety and transport clearly affect residents' overall quality of life, which in turn has a direct impact on the attractiveness of the city and its economic success.

But a city is a complex system of systems, so it makes little sense to deal with each of these factors separately. Yet many major cities still have a fragmented approach and keep their data in silos.

To overcome this problem, they are increasingly adopting digital platforms, with all the latest cybersecurity measures in place, to aggregate, cross-cue and correlate data from multiple sources. Aided in part by AI, this process can generate really meaningful information that will help them to make the best decisions and tap into this wealth of data to solve problems and deal with incidents of any kind.

The digital platform takes all this information into account and identifies key performance indicators that decision-makers can use to track progress against any and all of the city's objectives. At the same time, these indicators help to drive community engagement by showing citizens how the city's policies are making their daily lives simpler and easier.


Identifying use cases

On a giant screen in the city's central control room, operators keep a watchful eye on day-to-day operations. All the systems are interoperable with the digital platform, which can even provide a complete overview of the situation on their computers, smartphones or tablets.

The indicators are updated in real time and displayed on a 3D map, creating a virtual replica of the city – a digital twin – that helps operators to understand the situation at all times.
The platform is smart enough to transform data into use cases. For example, if it sees that an unexpectedly large crowd of people is forming at a given location, it alerts the operators and proposes a set of measures and procedures so they can keep everybody safe however the situation may unfold.

This kind of digital platform is a powerful decision aid, but obviously human operators make the final call. It isn't designed to replace security personnel in the field, for example, whose detailed understanding of a given neighbourhood and its residents will always play a crucial role.


Finding the right industry partner

Many major cities already have systems in place to gather the data they need, but they can move up to the next level by working with an industry specialist. They need a trusted partner with the expertise to tie together all the latest technologies and deliver an integrated solution that's quick to install and easy to use. They need a comprehensive solution that's tailored to their own particular policies. And this is where Thales's Smart Digital Platform can help.

Smart cities don't happen overnight. They call for a long-term plan encompassing everything from concept design to system deployment, operation and maintenance. At Thales, we recommend an iterative, incremental approach based on the principles of agile development to tailor our solutions to the priorities and objectives of each individual city.
Only a world-class industry partner with an in-depth understanding of every aspect of the smart city project can offer the broader vision required today. Thales has established its leadership in this field on the ability to unlock synergies – between institutional players, businesses of all sizes, innovative start-ups and the general public – and on a proven capacity to support the development of local industries through partnerships and collaboration.

Last but not least, the right industry partner will have a detailed understanding of the local context and the key stakeholders involved. 

Delivering a successful smart city project is always a technological challenge, but above all it's a multi-faceted human, industrial, economic and cultural adventure – and a journey of discovery that Thales is proud to be part of!