IoT-enabled smart cities require cloud foundation, broad participation

Apr 12, 2018   |   Erika Basham, Sr. Product Manager, IoT, Microsoft

Modern cities are highly complex environments, each with its own unique challenges and priorities. Whether it’s tackling economic development, public safety, infrastructure, or education, the challenges municipal governments face are multifaceted and deeply rooted—and none are easy to solve.

But progress is being made, in part because the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart city initiatives are creating new possibilities, new insights, and new outcomes. Bridging the gap between people and information, IoT initiatives are helping urban centers become more efficient and capable in support of their citizens and their own economic sustainability. They are also turning the utopian vision of smart cities into a reality.

Deploying IoT solutions across a city is a difficult undertaking, however, requiring broad participation from government officials, community leaders, public and private entities, and technology providers.

Before a metropolitan environment can begin to resemble Orbit City, each individual part of the city must become more connected, data-driven, and intelligent. It’s a massive 3-D jigsaw puzzle that starts with individual connections, leads to coherent groupings, and eventually forms a unified whole.

A common foundation

Cities working to advance their IoT capabilities need a vision for their future and a solid foundation on which to build it. After all, assembling a complex jigsaw puzzle is difficult without a sense of the bigger picture—and near impossible without a level, secure surface.

Smart city transformations start with a connected blueprint tailored to the city’s unique goals and priorities. Developed by a broad group of stakeholders and contributors, the blueprint outlines a range of IoT-enabled use cases and how they fit into the greater whole.

The next step is establishing a common foundation to support—and eventually connect—these use cases. A central repository such as Azure Data Lake Store, which enables the accumulation, sharing, and customization of a vast pool of data resources, is the underpinning of any smart city transformation.

Think of it as the table on which the puzzle is assembled. One that is big enough for others to bring new ideas, insights, and assistance.

Putting it all together

Putting the pieces in place and assembling the larger puzzle takes an incredible amount of experience, coordination, and a much wider range of expertise than any one IoT provider can deliver. That’s why Microsoft has built a vast ecosystem of IoT partners who can bring essential eyes, minds, and hands to the table.

Once a connected blueprint and central repository are in place, our IoT specialists and partners can help you build and implement smart city solutions that collect and analyze data from thousands or even millions of sensors and devices across the city. As data is accumulated and insights are generated, new connections and new use cases become possible—and coherent groupings can be formed.

A city that has deployed IoT-based traffic, air quality, and weather sensors, for example, can combine and analyze the data from those sensors to generate new services and outcomes. Public health and safety alerts, commuter services, and greenhouse gas emissions tracking can all be improved.

From developing the connected blueprint to implementing the cloud-based data repository to aligning stakeholders and contributors, Microsoft and its partners can help build a thriving smart city that enhances the quality of residents’ lives in countless ways. Piece by piece.

Toronto—a smart city in progress

With thousands of new residents moving into the city each year and an increasing strain on its resources and infrastructure, Toronto is in the beginning stages of its smart city transformation. Potential solutions could include deploying traffic light sensors to decrease congestion, route optimization technologies for its fleet of city vehicles, and sensors for monitoring air quality and water usage.

But these would just be the initial pieces of Toronto’s smart city puzzle, and the possibilities for IoT-driven improvements are endless.

UPPlift: Toronto, an urban pilot program (UPP), has been launched to identify and nurture these possibilities. Supported by Microsoft, the incubation program is creating a living lab in the city, attracting and retaining an innovator ecosystem, and facilitating the deployment of connected, data-driven technology into the city’s infrastructure and operations.

Toronto is just one example of how Microsoft works with a city to bring together stakeholders and contributors, formulate new ideas, and turn those ideas into action. Updates on the UPPlift: Toronto program—including the IoT solutions and CityNext partners involved—will be shared in the coming months.

If you need help assembling your smart city puzzle, contact us at IoTCity@microsoft.com.

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