The smart city movement has tremendous transformative promise – with the potential to save the United States $5 trillion annually. As such, many forward-looking cities are taking steps to become smarter, and rightfully so. The possible benefits are endless – from advances in health and safety initiatives to keeping citizens aware of neighborhood updates to improved traffic signals resulting in less roadway congestion – it’s clear that we are entering a new era of digital services for citizens.

Impact of Smart Cities

We’ve come a long way since the emergence of smart cities – moving beyond thinking about solutions to isolated problems. Smart Cities 2.0 are data-driven and customer-centric – taking the real-time data that they get from devices connected to data management platforms and combining that with historical data for predictive analytics.

5G – the fifth generation of cellular technology – is key to enabling Smart Cities 2.0. Think of 5G like the connective tissue that ties all of a city’s assets and services together – supporting an immense amount of data that cities can mine for actionable insights. And cities will need a massive amount of computing capacity for that data. The digital backbone for this will be the cloud. Working together in the cloud, 5G and technologies, like Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI), will create new opportunities we never thought possible before.

Besides enabling new applications, smart city technology can help cities reach their goals around energy efficiency, air quality, intelligent transportation, public safety, public health, and other programs focused on improving quality of life.

There are several trailblazers leading the way. For example, the City of Chicago launched OpenGrid, a situational awareness technology that allows citizens to interact directly with data to get information about their neighborhoods. Another example is, a free information system providing information on traffic, transit systems, parking, and biking for commuters in the San Francisco Bay Area. And the New York City Department of Transportation rolled out Vision Zero, a traffic and pedestrian safety initiative designed to improve safety through enhanced transportation infrastructure. Vision Zero uses real-time data to inform decisions around street design and traffic patterns to cut down on traffic-related fatalities.

Challenges to Adoption

As with any transformative initiative, there can be challenges to adoption – from cybersecurity and privacy concerns to technology and funding issues. In order to make the best use of the massive amounts of data smart cities produce, governments must have a strong cloud foundation, which will allow them to aggregate and analyze this data quickly to improve constituent services. Building this foundation requires leadership commitment and an innovative vision – and will produce worthy results in improved constituent services.

Additionally, long procurement cycles can also be a challenge – due to the rapid pace of IT transformation, a technology may be obsolete before the procurement process is complete. The pace of procurement must speed up and procurement language and policies must be updated to match that rapid pace.

Despite the challenges, by moving forward into the era of IoT and 5G, the benefits cities stand to gain are unmatched. For leadership, an important aspect of building and managing a smart city is thinking of the customer first. “Smart” does not just mean operational efficiency, but also means customer engagement. In order to manage this, we must think about outcomes as opposed to managing solely for activities. Decision makers must consider how transformed services will translate to solving real problems – they must think beyond just the technology and analytics. Leaders must plan out technology-enabled programs that will make their city smart, and these are unique to each city.

AWS Driving Smart City Evolution

While 5G is still in its infancy, it promises to propel smart cities into the future. To help encourage innovation and transformation, the City on a Cloud Competition is AWS’s way of promoting and rewarding cities who want to innovate through grant programs. This initiative helps cities solve persistent problems such as the opioid crisis, homelessness, and other challenges faced on a daily basis.

AWS offers the services and infrastructure governments need to drive innovation and transform lives for the better. AWS helps smart cities take the extra step to bring together data from services to function more efficiently and effectively. Cloud enables data to be stored, analyzed, and shared in more reliable and cost-effective manner. In addition, by creating a large partner network, cities will allow customers to leverage new services. AWS partners live and breathe closest to the cities every day, therefore are best suited to provide the most valuable solutions. Customers not only can choose the partner platform, but can deploy individual solutions on AWS to meet particular needs. With all the potential, we can’t wait to see the future and what new technology will propel smart cities even further into the future.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs