Smart Cities: The next digital frontier

SAP is helping cities — and those who live and work in them — to maximize their potential.

Since the first industrial revolution cities have been magnets for people, particularly the young, displaced migrants, and innovators. Today, half of humanity — 3.5 billion people in total — lives in cities and the percentage will grow to 60 percent by 2030.

Cities are centers of innovation and culture, but as urban populations have exploded so have the problems of city dwelling — aging infrastructure, pollution, traffic congestion, and crime. Now a new generation of city managers and politicians are harnessing the power of technologies like the cloud, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, and Big Data analytics to help solve some of these problems and make cities more manageable and livable.

These civic pioneers are using data to build next-generation smart cities or future cities.

Smart cities use data available from connected devices to benefit their citizens

According to technology research firm IDC, “The concept of Smart Cities is a construct in which to frame local government transformation. Cities need to transform in order to develop sustainably, improve resilience, meet citizens’ rising expectations, and attract investment, new businesses, and talent.”

This is a complex undertaking, especially when coupled with constrained financial resources. City leaders are investing in software and services that provide clear benefits and return on investment — software that can help them manage and monitor resources so cities can run more sustainably and citizens can enjoy happier, safer lives.

“Smart City business issues are driving investment in emerging technologies such as Big Data and analytics, the Internet of Things, cloud computing, and mobile solutions in departments and citywide and often with national government support,” says IDC. “Smart City solutions leverage information and communications technologies not only to deliver higher-quality citizen services more efficiently but also to realize significant operational cost savings and effect behavior change in government workers, city businesses, and citizens.”

Jonathan Reichental, chief information officer for the City of Palo Alto in California and an expert on city transformation, argues that the process of building a smart or future city begins with embracing the concept of a digital city.

“’Digital cities’ is just what it sounds like,” he said during a webcast CXOTalk interview last year. “It’s using the Internet to provide city services, so it’s taking a lot of paper-based services and putting them on the Internet, on website, deploying lots of cell phone capabilities and smart phone capabilities, having a more open government and making available data in machine consumable formats.”

He added, “If I could sort of summarize, we have significant challenges in our cities — whether it’s great transportation options, whether it’s the impact our cities are having on climate change… Whether it’s energy and energy solutions, whether it’s better buildings, more health, better public safety, all of these things are going to benefit from an improved and innovative technology.

“If we bring together massive city problems — and these are tough ones — we bring together innovative technology, data, civic engagement. If you kind of mash that together, you really have the beginning of a definition of a future in which cities just operate better; they create a better quality of life. And I think if you can distill out of that in somewhere there is a definition for what a smart city is.”

Smart cities use data available from connected devices to benefit their citizens. That means an IoT application, such as traffic enforcement, is just a starting point. The real value comes from breaking down the barriers between data silos, combining massive quantities of relevant data from multiple sources and then using technology tools to analyze it in real time, make decisions and take action. The result? If a city gets it right, it is better services and quality of life for citizens.

Major enterprise applications companies including SAP have risen to this challenge. Last year SAP expanded its commitment to help urban leaders deliver a high quality of life to their citizens, building on the success of the SAP Urban Matters initiative launched in 2012, with a new program called SAP Future Cities.

As part of the SAP Future Cities initiative, SAP is working with cities worldwide to help them better engage with citizens, drive prosperity, deliver enhanced services, improve tax and revenue collection, address social inclusion, open up government, and increase public safety and sustainability.

An expanding roster cities around the globe highlight the potential of SAP initiatives for smart cities

The impact of this strategy can be seen in cities like Buenos Aires and Nanjing. Situated at the mouth of the Rio Plata, Buenos Aires is subject to annual torrential rains. Given the city’s aging infrastructure and dense population, flooding has historically been an issue. Clogged storm drains have slowed down the city, caused property damage, and even resulted in lost lives.

Today, however, the city is experiencing less flood damage. Sensors have been installed in 30,000 storm drains to measure water levels, direction, and speed. The city is using SAP HANA to analyze real-time sensor data from the sensors and SAP Mobile Platform to provide maintenance crews with real-time data at their fingertips so they can clear drains and prevent floods to help ensure streets and drains are clear.

The City of Nanjing, once the capital of China, is one of the top 20 cities in China with a population of just over 8 million. Traffic volume is also enormous. There are about 10,000 taxicabs, 7,000 buses, and 1 million private cars running throughout the city road network. To help cope with the traffic volume, Nanking developed a next-generation smart traffic system that includes the use of sensors and radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips to generate continuous data streams about the status of transportation systems across the city.

The city makes use of an IoT platform from SAP and SAP HANA to analyze traffic movement patterns in real time. In total over 20 billion sensor data are generated annually in the city. This data is combined with other data such as travel behavior of individuals, fare prices, road conditions, and area accessibility. Smart traffic analytics using advanced analytical algorithms help the city to make sense of these data. All the information flows into one digital map that gives a detailed view of current traffic conditions across the city as well as the ability to predict status and provide recommendations for planning.

Buenos Aires, Nanjing and an expanding roster of other cities around the globe highlight the potential of smart city initiatives.

As Isabella Groegor-Cechowicz, general manager, SAP Public Services, notes: “With the world’s population continuing to urbanize, cities are now at the heart of SAP’s mission to make the world run better – and critical for our public sector business. Customers at all levels of government are seeking our help with strategies to address urban opportunities and challenges.”

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