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Making Cities Smart: Considering the Catalysts for Technology Adoption

June 29, 2020

Gorm Tuxen

Recently, a drive to add more technology solutions in order to improve the function of municipalities has become a pervasive reality. A drive to make cities of all sizes more efficient. A drive to make them more effective, more responsive and better connected to the people who live and work in them and the systems that are used to manage them. A desire to improve their ability to respond to the needs of the inhabitants and the patterns and behaviors of groups and individuals. In a word, a drive to make them “smarter”.


Modern parking availability and guidance systems have capabilities and scalabilities only dreamed of in the not-so-distant past.


The idea of smart cities is not new. In fact, in various forms and by different names, it could be said that the ambition to make cites smarter has been around as long as cities themselves. Population densities have long provided many advantages to city dwellers. Concentrations of people equate to concentrations of commercial opportunity for a full spectrum of businesses. It’s easy to see that the cultural advantages afforded for the creation of arts and entertainment enclaves that encourage collaboration and attract the most talented and capable performers are in cities. And in all aspects of life, this is the case. Elite medical facilities and economy-directing financial institutions reside in cities, making them not only centers of local culture, but of the global community as well.


But in every case, these advantages are coupled with challenges. Needs for sanitation, transportation, energy and the procurement of food, water, and communications, as well as health care, law enforcement, human services and support, education, housing…the list goes on and on. To address these challenges, we have long relied on technology advancements from plumbing to paved roads, from electricity to the advent of the telephone and the invention of computers.


In recent years, with the rise of the internet, the invention and adoption of smart phones and the arrival of the “internet of things” (IoT), more capabilities and more and more technology solutions have come available. In fact, some argue, we may have more solutions than actual problems at this juncture, yet still our cities are faced with growth challenges. So, with many opportunities and many solutions available, how do municipalities decide which technologies to choose and which problems to address?


If We Want Smarter Cities, We Need to Add Value, Not Just Technology


Value is the key. Discernable, measurable value, that either adds new, or improves existing, functionality to key city services or operations. To put it plainly, technology solutions should be added that make cities function more smoothly and more efficiently and/or that make them more livable. While some of these types of technologies may be easy to see (traffic management systems, communication improvements, etc.) some take more analysis and a strong understanding of what makes a city function smoothly.


Parking as a Key Smart City Parameter 


One crucial area of the function of any modern city, from the very large major metropolitan centers, to mid-tier, and even smaller municipalities, is its transportation infrastructure. For cities to function, it is essential that they can accommodate a multitude of transportation forms and that those forms are able to navigate efficiently and with the greatest ease possible. The ability to move people and goods into, out of, and within a city dictates the overall function of that city. Increased vehicle congestion, while a natural side effect of our auto centric society, can grind the function of cities to a halt. 


Key Elements to Parking Technology Selection


Functional Capability Combined with Effective Policy 


Modern parking availability and guidance systems have capabilities and scalabilities only dreamed of in the not-so-distant past. But they certainly are not all the same, and even the best systems, if combined with poor parking policy, will struggle to provide optimal effectiveness and performance. In selecting these systems, it is key to ensure that they can accurately and consistently provide the reliable functionality that they promise. That they be able to not only collect data, but be able to communicate it effectively to both users and administrators. Also that, importantly, they are scaled, designed, and fit to support well-crafted parking policies that improve the parking experience, whether it is done on a small scale, such as a single structure, or across an entire municipality.


In order to develop these policies, it is best to work with entities and technology providers that have deep and extensive experience and understanding of the unique challenges of the parking industry. Those companies that not only have a strong technological offering, but also understand how it fits into an overall parking operation. Providers who know who and where the key stake holders are and can assess and mitigate pitfalls that can undermine even the best intended new system adoption. 


Data – Data Types, Data Quality & Quantity, and Interoperability 


Data that adds value to a system by the specificity of its parameters, such as data that is time stamped and geographically specific, can be more valuable than data that is less specific, or an amalgam of other inputs. Sensing technology that is able to record discrete data sets that may be analyzed and processed to deliver insights into real-time and historic usage. Data that provides the ability to discern specific use volumes and densities, in a multitude of parking scenarios, from surface lots, to delineated OR non-delineated on street parking, to public or private structures Hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal trends that can inform policy decisions and further infrastructure expansion or reallocation. Optimization of existing assets for improved efficiency and overall improvement of the system. 


Data transfer through APIs insulate software systems from one another without sacrificing interoperability. These types of systems offer all the functionality of a fully integrated traffic management system, without having to do an extensive software integration. Protecting software developed for specific and unique functionality by subject matter experts and reducing or eliminating the need for extensive recoding and development resources.


Maintenance Monitoring Functionality & System Uptime Assurance


As with any dispersed technology it is essential to the overall health of the system that the individual parts that comprise the system are functioning properly and performing their jobs accurately and effectively. Yet sensor failures are an inescapable fact of life. In order to mitigate this reality, it is imperative to work with companies that have the capability and the capacity to monitor all of their associated IoT devices. Giving operators and administrators a portal into the overall health of the system and the ability to keep it up and running at the utmost level of performance is important.


Optimizing Traffic Management Technologies


Technologies that are open and provide and contribute multiple forms of data insights, and are versatile, are invaluable to municipalities as they become smart cities. Just as technology is always improving and evolving, with valuable new tools introduced regularly, so, too, must the software that connects the various types of technology. That’s why it’s so important for the hardware and software that cities rely on to manage their smart cities’ capabilities be open. Open technology permits smart city technology suites to grow organically, as new technologies are developed and new capabilities to existing technology are introduced. 


Gorm Tuxen is President/CEO of IPsens, LLC, a leading provider of cloud-based parking, data exchange, and information management solutions. He can be reached at gorm.tuxen@ipsens.net.



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