An expert take on how to realize the promise of smart cities

If you live in a city, you can probably name at least three things you want to improve. Some common answers are:

  • Traffic congestion
  • Parking availability
  • Cell service
  • Public wifi access
  • Pollution & garbage removal

These issues affect us all. Making improvements in all of these areas requires municipalities to evaluate and adopt technologies that make cities smarter.

Smart cities offer innovative solutions to these pervasive problems, but there are many challenges to getting there. The processes to deploy and maintain so much critical infrastructure is daunting — smart city project management can be a challenge. We sat down with Thomas Motyka, the Senior Executive Director of Smart Infrastructure Innovation at the New Jersey Innovation Institute, to explore what makes a city “smart,” why the idea of smart cities is gaining traction, and how that vision can be realized.

So, what is a smart city?

“A smart city is not a single entity. It’s really about modernizing an urban environment.” — Thomas Motyka, Senior Executive Director of Smart Infrastructure Innovation at the New Jersey Innovation Institute

A smart city is not a single project, person, or organization — it’s an ecosystem with many different stakeholders, projects, ideas, and measures of success. A smart city uses improved, connected technology and data collection to continuously improve the lives of its inhabitants.

The work needed to make these technological enhancements a reality can be daunting. While new technology offers great opportunity it also adds layers of complexity and, oftentimes, more steps to project completion.

“Engineers and technologists, of which I am one, can find themselves falling into this rut. You get enamored by the latest iPhone, the speed on a wifi network, or something else. But, at the end of the day, you have to stay grounded. It’s really about what we can do to make something more efficient or effective, like getting somebody healthcare information faster or more readily, or to helping somebody register to vote. The list goes on and on.”
— Thomas Motyka, Senior Executive Director of Smart Infrastructure Innovation at the New Jersey Innovation Institute

The goal of smart city projects is not to deploy new technology for its own sake — the goal is to improve the lives of citizens.

What makes smart cities tick?

Thomas Motyka views free public wifi as the backbone that will support other smart city projects, as well as provide a benefit to citizens.

Smart cities are going to drive more than $20 trillion in additional economic benefits over the coming decade according to ABI research. Wifi projects are paramount to the smart city ecosystem fulfilling its potential. Utility companies are rolling out smart meters and introducing dynamic pricing schemes. Pharmacies are adding telemedicine kiosks. Real estate developers are integrating automation systems, sensors, and mobility options into their properties.

Underpinning it all are the telecom operators that provide the backbone communication networks required to run these systems and applications.

“If telecom companies can fulfill their promises, it will feed a virtuous circle that will reduce friction for future deployments and improve relations with the rest of the ecosystem. But, when operational excellence is missing, then deadlines slip, trust is lost, fingers are pointed, and nobody’s happy. That makes every subsequent deployment and civic partnership harder, so instead of a virtuous circle, you have a vicious cycle,” said Cameron Galbraith, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Sitetracker.

These massive projects need clear objectives, expectations, and time frames.

Intersection Media’s LinkNYC project is a great example of how to overcome such challenges to make public wifi a reality. The smart city project was ambitious: changing out 7,500 public payphones to wifi kiosks, creating the largest and fastest free wifi network in the world. Each kiosk deployment requires approximately 450 tasks, spread across 15 teams, from start to finish. Spreadsheets and generic software are not a good fit for that business process. Intersection quickly understood that traditional project management tools simply weren’t going to meet the logistical challenge ahead.

When Intersection learned about Sitetracker, they quickly saw the value of a central platform for smart city project management. Sitetracker enabled the entire LinkNYC team — from Intersection’s project managers and executives to vendors’ field workers and city representatives — to instantly see the status of all of their projects through easy-to-use reports, dashboards, and dynamic maps. Sitetracker ensured the successful deployment of these public wifi kiosks; unlocking the potential of other smart city applications.  

Sitetracker is the industry-leading full-lifecycle project and asset management platform for smart cities. Learn how Sitetracker can help you deploy smart infrastructure in your city and achieve operational excellence.