The 3 tech tools driving smart city efficiency

By John Asquith

John Asquith, Head of Innovation, Government, APJ at ServiceNow shares how digital twins, citizen-led data collection, and cybersecurity are the key ingredients for cities of the future.

The book series Mortal Engines tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world where entire cities ride on gigantic wheels, trying to consume one another as if the cities themselves have come alive. Cities have come alive.

As more modern cities deploy technologies to sense traffic jams and change traffic lights accordingly, or detect earthquakes and send alerts to citizens, it would seem that elements of Mortal Engines are becoming non-fiction.

1. Understanding districts with digital twins

Digital twins technology provides virtual representations of real life situations and I see two ways that governments can harness this tool to boost smart cities.

First, digital twins can create a virtual copy of a transport network to help predict how seemingly small changes can have a big difference. For example, governments could see the impact on transport if schools opened 15 minutes earlier or 15 minutes later.

Being able to test these changing scenarios in a virtual environment allows governments to understand and plan city transport. Changing school opening times could reduce the congestion around peak times, which is currently the focus of city transport.

Addressing a 30 minute peak of traffic congestion was one issue highlighted by Singapore’s Health Minister and former Minister of Transport, Ong Ye Kung. He questioned why this peak existed and suggested flexible working hours as one option, GovInsider wrote.

Second, digital twins can help city planning pay for itself. For example, if the government were to build a school or train station in a particular area, digital twins could predict the subsequent rise in property tax rates in that area.

These new tax rates would provide income for the government, which could go towards funding the initial development. This means that governments will have the ability to plan building projects with a better understanding of the required budget, all thanks to digital twins.

2. Citizen-led data collection

Smart cities are empowering citizens by enabling them to report and highlight improvements to the city. While cities have a lot of information, you can't necessarily expect the government to look at what is right and wrong with every little bit of data.

This is where citizens can step in. Communities can take charge of their local area and report issues to the government, instead of governments discovering these issues themselves. Taiwan is particularly strong in this form of citizen engagement.

Taiwan released an app where citizens can conveniently file reports, rather than having to call a hotline. The app also enables citizens to submit petitions or ask questions about the city to public officials, reported GovInsider.

Data is a key part of this. Take for example, a citizen reporting a pothole in a road. Citizens could take a photo of this pothole and submit it to the authorities, who can identify the road through location-data stored in the photo.

Data analytics can detect if there are multiple reports for the same issue, highlighting it as a priority. Governments can benefit from a data system that combines these reports, rather than leaving them unnecessary copies for public sector staff to sort out.

3. Keeping track of IoT devices

IoT devices are enabling citizens and governments to understand the city around them. PUB is looking to install 300,000 smart water meters across Singapore by early 2022, for example.

These meters give citizens the ability to track their daily water usage, and alert them when there are suspected leaks or unusually high water usage. It also helps public sector staff, as readings are transmitted instantly, meaning they no longer have to be checked manually, PUB wrote.

Monitoring the many IoT devices across a smart city is key to preventing cyberattacks. IoT devices should be treated like any other technology, with governments recording what type of device it is, and what software it is currently using.

If any cybersecurity vulnerabilities are detected in a particular software, this data could help governments address the issue before attacks occur. But this requiresup to date data on thousands if not millions of devices.

ServiceNow’s approach is to treat IoT devices as valuable assets which require constant monitoring and visibility. This strategy was a key part of Australia’s cybersecurity protections for IoT devices in its critical infrastructure, such as energy production.

Whether it's digital twins, collecting citizen reports, or managing IoT devices, data plays a key role in smart city technology. But governments often struggle to analyse the data they’ve collected due to information being kept in different locations across their network.

ServiceNow helps organisations to manage their on a single platform, where data storage and analytics can take place instantaneously, unlocking new insights and boosting the citizen experience.

Thankfully, citizens won’t have to worry about entire cities on wheels just yet. But with exciting new technologies in the smart city space, that list of things to worry about is getting smaller and smaller.