Smart City: Intelligent Interaction is Required

What are the prerequisites for networked services in a city? We wanted to find out from Claus Eßmann, Smart City and IoT expert and Principal at Adjuitec. A conversation about fair pricing and business models for services in Smart Cities - and why silo solutions should be avoided.

Smart City is on everyone's lips. What is important so that initiatives are not just talked about but actually happen?

Basically, something is happening, as the smart parking projects in Hamburg, Dortmund and Darmstadt or the "Monheim 4.0" initiatives show. In order for smart cities to actually function holistically across areas such as energy, transportation, the environment and citizen services, it is important that both public transportation providers and private companies do not fall into the usual patterns of behavior and only cook their own soup. Because then, as a rule, only isolated solutions are created. From a technical point of view, it is essential that data can be delivered to a centralized smart city platform via standardized interfaces and processed there. Of course, this requires that all data be available in the same standard format.

Even if this sounds strange at first: On a large scale, this can actually only work if concrete solutions are actually specified from above. Thought through to its logical conclusion, this even means that cars that do not have the necessary standards for data exchange will no longer be allowed into the smart city.

So the authorities are primarily responsible?

With all the issues, of course, we quickly come to the regulatory questions: Authorities such as the Federal Motor Transport Authority or the BSI (Federal Office for Information Security) certainly want to and should retain control, but to do so they must also take concrete initiatives quickly so that they are not themselves directed by others or faced with ready-made facts.  

By this I mean that federal agencies, for the most part, always recommend something that must somehow be complied with. However, successful and intelligent smart cities would benefit greatly from concrete specifications for data formats for end devices and servers, because only then is the overarching exchange of utilization or control information possible. Also, the backend server of an IoT or smart city platform would actually have to be hosted by the city's IT or a closely associated service provider. In reality, however, there are hardly any central platforms yet. Even the well-known smart parking solution from Libelium processes parking data on its own server, which in turn runs in parallel with other platforms in a city.  This creates silo solutions and the individual use cases of a smart city do not communicate with each other.

How might holistic, interlocking smart city services become more widely adopted?

First, by making all stakeholders more aware of the benefits of such collaborative models. City and regional governments have strong motivations to drive the transformation to a smart city. On the one hand, there are the cost optimizations through joint data storage of the various authorities, which saves many different written requests. Essential are citizen benefits such as support for intermodal mobility with central traffic control to avoid exhaust fumes, a networked parking service, or waste disposal systems that use sensors in the trash cans to know at all times which trash cans actually need to be emptied.

And, of course, it is also a question of creating fair price and business models for services in smart cities so that no luxury services are created, because IoT services become more profitable the more users participate in them. All those involved must also bear in mind that the return on investment in smart cities may well be several years, since a holistic approach requires major investments in hardware and software installations and new processes. There will be no way around this in the future.