Smart City Q&A pt. 3: Ron Gordon, senior advisor Smart+Connected Communities CISO Canada

What is a Smart City? The Business Dictionary uses a very broad definition to define the Smart City as:  “A developed urban area that creates sustainable economic development and high quality of life by excelling in multiple key areas; economy, mobility, environment, people, living and government. Excelling in these key areas can be done so through strong human capital, social capital, and /or ICT infrastructure.”  (Emphasis added)  Does it make more sense to talk first about the Digitally Smart City or even the Digitally Smart Municipal/Regional Government?

So often it is about looking back to look forward. I remember one person, his name was Gibson, who said the future is already here, it’s just not well distributed. One of the things I see is that cities are already doing Smart City things while others are just asking what these Smart things are and can we copy them. Someone is doing something Smart somewhere and then someone else gets headwind of it and asks “should we be doing something like that.”

When we look at Smart Cities, we see it as using ICT [Information Technology Technology] to deliver services more effectively and more uniformly throughout the city. Whatever you can do to engage citizens and provide them with services in a more efficient manner then that means you are not just throwing manpower at an issue but dealing with it in the long-term.

When we start looking at the kind of technologies that city can use they usually fall into one of four functions. If they don’t respond to one of these four they just don’t get consideration. The four “buckets” I like to use:

  1. It reduces expenses and extends budgets;
  2. It creates new revenue models;
  3. It engages citizens and delivers information and services to these citizens;
  4. It foster start-ups and innovation.

If it doesn’t fit into one of these four, you usually don’t get a lot of interest from the municipalities or cities. Those people in actual departments, however, are probably looking more at actual budget and revenue improvements that will help them stay afloat.

The other two things we find are that broadband is becoming a fourth utility for cities and fast broadband is not universally available. The big thing about broadband is that it overcomes geographic barriers.   More and more the population is moving into the cities and often that is caused by this search for connectivity because they need that to compete on the global stage.

How do you ensure connectivity within the Smart City?

Fibre and wireless have to work together. If you look at wireless, for example, security must be taken into consideration. All your wireless towers have to be connect by fibre. Mobility, however, is becoming more and more prevalent so I would say, from a “last mile” perspective, wireless is becoming more prevalent but fibre is not going away in the near future.

In Toronto there are specific hotspots like a Starbucks or a Tim Hortons that you can go to for Wi-Fi so it is more the private sector that is offering services. Toronto, through the TTC, has just set up a relationship with BAI to provide wireless within the subway. The Union Pearson Express offers wireless.   But they have not yet set up citywide Wi-Fi throughout Toronto. It is something they are considering but it is only one of a number of projects the city is considering.

Halifax is putting free wireless in their harbour area and this will roll out before the summer. The idea is that it will be in operation before the cruise ships start coming in and they will be able to service the tourists. They want to get them into the urban area to shop and to eat at restaurants and so on. By providing wireless, they can get tourists off the cruise ships and into the city to add to the economy.

Where are we in terms of integrative applications: “there’s an App for that” versus “there’s an integrated system/framework in which to fit that App.” (system of systems – Smart Cities Council)

When you say “integrated” that is key because that is what is currently lacking. The first step is to develop a strategic plan, an overall look at what is the realized digitalized city, its scope; and, how do you see it rolling out in the city. One of the biggest challenges, is the number of different departments that operate through different budgets that have different performance measures. These discrete departments are interested in being able to show that they have made their key performance indicators. Thus, there are no incentive to combine with other departments to do something that is more integrated and achieves a higher level of service by combining things.

As an example, you might have cameras on the streets monitoring what is going on with the traffic. These same cameras could also be used for safety and security by police enforcement as well as for monitoring parking and crowds. But the different departments don’t tend to work in a way that can leverage these synergies and encourage sharing between the departments. That is probably one of the bigger challenges. However, if you had a strategic plan in place that is adopted at and for the city level and then shared among departments as a blue print, when it comes to doing different kind of Smart initiatives, they can see how maybe tourism can work with traffic can work with public works and so on.

Connectivity and open standards are key but the first step is to have that consolidated plan that people can adhere to.

Systems of Systems – does CISCO have such platforms and are they based on an open system platform rather than a unique proprietary network?

Yes, because if you look at what we believe in, we want to work with open protocols and open standards so that what people put in place can be broadly built upon rather than having purpose built systems where they have a specific network that is going to work for street lighting but cannot be used for traffic. If you want to be able to leverage the same network for water and gas meter reading – the idea being that instead of duplicating or constructing from scratch – what must be able add incrementally to an open standards network that does not require replication or a new standard.  

We work quite closely with IBM and other on Smart City initiatives. They add a lot of analytics in order to take big data and make sense of it, putting it into usable formats so that you can do something with the data. That is not a strength for us; what we do is ensure the data is available, properly secured and delivered into the hands of the people that you want to be doing something with it.

Building on this need for open systems, where are we at in terms of common platforms (the android model perhaps?) such as Europe is demanding?

Many companies go the path of least resistance developing their own gateways and protocols so that it works within their own applications [and this is a problem]. But there are also different approaches to how you transmit data [which is less of a problem]. We have talked about mobility. It is one thing to focus on Wi-Fi but what people don’t realize is that Wi-Fi is just one protocol. You have Wi-Fi, cellular transmitting at 900 megahertz, Bluetooth, or LoRa, which is a low-power, long range with small data bits protocol. Each may serve a different function. There are so many different ways to enable mobility and it depends on the application you are trying to do. In agriculture they are using LoRa quite a bit where they put sensors out in the field so they can see what the soil conditions are; they use LoRa when they put different types of sensors in bridges and highways.


For example, one of the ways they have used Lora is in Hamburg, a German port city that was getting larger and larger container ships coming in because of the improved shipping but the size of the port has not increased. So, they have to load and off-load more and more cargo. The need was to find a way to do it more efficiently. They looked at traffic outside of the port area and at where the trucks that were next in the queue to deliver or take off a container. They wanted to track the priority trucks as they neared the port to make sure they were at the front of the queues. They put sensors into their 130 movable bridges so they would knew when the bridges went up and down to let ships through and if the bridge failed sit properly, they would know and do some maintenance but also reroute the trucks affected by the crossing problem.

Then they looked beyond the port area to how they could affect things that were interrelated to what they are doing. Again, they now use sensors – transmitting on LoRa – that use video to see what traffic is doing. They also married WI-FI with the LED streetlights they were putting in. They looked not just at the port but how they could drive efficiencies throughout the entire chain. Again, that is where you are using different types of technologies. But, they built it all on one network. They had to make sure the system was security but they went with an open network so that as new technologies became available they would not have to rip out the old.

When you talk about the IBMs and the CISCOs and the larger players, they know the value of open standards and how it all comes together. When you have these open standards you also open up to all these smart minds, these smart millennials, and what they can develop. If they can develop an application to work on your structure that is already in place, it gives them a foot into the market to introduce creative solutions that five years ago you and I would not have thought about.

How open Standards allow for cross fertilization

I was just looking at a firm in London Ontario. What they do is provide different types of sensors that can go into trucks for refrigerated food transportation to ensure food is at the proper temperature ( on average, 20% is lost because of transportation spoilage). That is a small company that came up with a way to track temperature status. They then used universal standards so that it can be used on Wi-Fi or cellular depending on what works best in different locations.

Another public example. You look at many cities that have clinics throughout the city and each has refrigeration for vaccinations. Many cities have to send out technicians clinic to clinic to ensure the units are working properly and not putting the contents at risk of spoiling. There is no reason why you could not put in sensors to tell you if there is an issue requiring remediation steps. This is the kind of thing that you see coming out and why open standards are important.

How do smart city applications interface with the private sector; e.g. building energy usage and taxation/regulation or commercial garbage pick-up determined by need.

Smart meters like we have in Toronto regulate price based on when you use the energy. With sustainability and the environment becoming such a big issue, I can see [governments] doing something like having different metering so that if someone was increasing their carbon foot print or doing something negative to the environment you could detect right away and take corrective measures; or, maybe you do apply a penalty or charge them.

What is really interesting in terms of buildings themselves, is if you display the power consumption or how one building is doing against another building it is really interesting how the competitive nature of people kicks in. If they know what their numbers are and they can compare themselves to someone else, they try to do better. We did some work at PWC tower at 18 York St. in Toronto where we installed a number of things from the smart city perspective, like putting everything onto a common backbone with all the building automation systems sharing the same network so they could also share information. PWC’s inner offices have no light switches or dimmers. Instead, they have all the light control on the telephone so they saved about $200 per office and there over 500 offices. They then displayed the savings or the consumption they were achieving floor-by-floor to digital displays in the lobby area and marked out who was conserving the most energy on a bright day. They ended up having a competition between floors; it just accidently happened.

We saw something similar to that in Charlotte, North Carolina. They did was what they called “Connect Charlotte” with 60 buildings connected through Duke energy – CISCO had a part in it – and what they did was install digital displays throughout the city which showed how much energy each building was using. They found that by putting it on display and having it visible to all dropped the overall energy bill 10% and it was this real time visibility that was key.

Governance and the two-way conversation: How can ICT facilitate engagement, consultation, transparency and input without isolating those governed?

I have had communications with cities about being able to show consumers what their electrical consumption is compare to the average in their vicinity to see if the consumer has specific problems. Issue of confidentiality, of course have to be respected.

There is an app that Mississauga has put out where you can take a look at where the snowplough is located with a 10 minute delay built in. When they launched the app, there was snow storm and if you went on it you could also find found out just how many snow plows they had out there – they were out in full force. They are now looking at other ways they can do similar things in other areas. One of the things that I talked to them about, is doing the same kind of app with garbage collection.

Big Data; what is the ability of Cities to use big data, is it still pretty limited?

I would not say it is limited, just that there is so much information out there that it is a matter of determining what is relevant and what isn’t. What is just noise? I know many instances where cities are trialing many things like, for example, Chicago who put out sensors into certain areas to collect environmental information. A subsequent app developed by the private sector tells you what the pollution levels are in real time along your walking route. By having open data out there, someone was able to create this tool to help avoid pollution.

How are we doing in terms using logarithms to make decisions rather than humans making decisions?

I think there is more and more of that coming out but the biggest challenge is that most cities have old, aging infrastructure that cannot accommodate such functionality. For example, Toronto has in excess of 2000 intersections and they have a lot of legacy equipment. As they are upgrading this equipment, they are asking: “What is the capability they want to build into it?” For example, when they do the traffic signals they put in video and the video. This can be can be used to monitor traffic as well to determine the number of cars in the left hand turn lane last. How long the advance green should could be automatically set based on your logarithm. But to do this, you need a broader strategic plan so you are just moving the problem from one bottle neck to the next.


Where does Canada sit in terms of implementation relative to Europe, USA and Asia?  What are the major challenges in Canada?

Canada has shown a lot of interest; but, I think we are behind where Europe is and where Asia is. This is because in Europe the cost of energy is so high with a lot older buildings and infrastructure in place, that there has been more to do something sooner. In Asia there are a lot of new cities coming into play and they are implementing Smart Technology from the start. What I really notice in Canada in the last few months is that instead of going to talk to officials about possibilities, now the conversation we are having is on what are the next steps, what are the first things we need to do, what is the art of the possible. This is a great thing that the will to adopt is there; now the need is to plan, to determine what are the first key steps now that decision-makers have crossed the threshold

What are the most common areas in which ICT/Smart City applications are being applied in Canada?

LED street lighting is one of the low hanging fruits. The problem is that they often don’t have a full strategy in place and they just do a light-to-light age out. They don’t take advantage by putting in things like smart controls on the lighting. Maybe they should also be taking into consideration things like putting in Wi-Fi hotspots to serve our citizen base. What I am finding is the LED is low hanging fruit but they are not going deep enough into the possibilities. It seems also there is a lot of interest in snow plow location apps as well as what do we from a traffic perspective, whether it be traffic lights or taking into account autonomous cars. There are a few cities in Canada and Ontario who have put up their hands and said we want to be an autonomous car test bed…. Stratford and Windsor, for example.   Smart meters is one of the things that now have to be put on a network. They have to think about how they can stretch out services that they provide to citizens. One of the other emerging services you see out there is the ability to take a picture of say a pothole that can be sent through an app to have the proper department for a to be crew sent out to affect the repair. And if they want, the reporter can be updated on progress.

Which Canadian cities are leading the way in applying Smart City applications; any moving toward integrative frameworks/systems?

Most of the cities in Canada are doing different pieces. I like what Halifax is doing in taking a look at what they can do in the harbour. As a test bed, Montreal is really doing a lot. If you had asked me about that six months ago, I might not have mentioned that city. Montreal is starting to look at what they have to do overall in order to be out front. They are still a world class city and they want to stay as a world class city. Toronto’s Waterfront City won ICS’s World Smart City Award in 2014. Still, Toronto has a lot more to do. London is doing some interesting things as is St. Albert [Alberta]. In many instances they don’t have a strategic plan in place, it’s a pocket of strategies, pockets of enablement.

No city really has a full [Smart city] Strategic Plan in place. Mississauga is doing some great things; what I like about them is that they have their city network in place that they have in place to run the government and are now looking what they can add on to it and they have gone to their business improvement association and said, “now that we have enabled these things which ones of your regions want to become test areas” and they all put their hands up. They have an overall idea of what they want to do and now it’s a matter of there are so many solutions out there, they want to see which ones mean more to us and which are going to be most relevant to which parts of the city.

Should the development of Smart City applications/capabilities be considered part of the infrastructure the federal and provincial governments will fund under the proposed stimulus package?

I absolutely believe so. Take a look at the need for fast broadband throughout the city. This means you have to have your city network in place to exploit the applications coming out and because it equalizes things from education to working at home. If you don’t have that kind of connectivity you fall behind quickly those that do have it. When we are talking to cities, they are often waiting for the private sector or the service provider to come in and build out the infrastructure for them. In many cases it doesn’t make financial sense for the private sector to do it; yet, the city has all these other infrastructure services in place like sewers, lighting, sidewalks, water mains, roads, etc., etc. but they won’t invest in broadband because they believe it should be provided by the private sector.

If they are not preparing for what is coming down the road when everything changes so quickly; if you have to wait for the private sector to deliver some of these things, you are going to be lamenting “gee, we should have done that 10 years ago when we had the chance.” Case in point, when they are putting in place these LRT builds based on public/private partnerships, P3s. They evaluate them only on the parameters of the project and award the contract with the best price. But if they have not considered that when they are ripping up roadway and putting tunnels and are not putting in conduits then they just do not get it. That is the challenge; so often the people writing up the requirements not guided by a Smart City Strategic Plan, they are simply not looking forward far enough.

If a city is going to be successful, it must centralize its Smart City decision making so all the program areas can benefit.

Ron Gordon, senior advisor Smart+Connected Communities CISO Canada
Ron Gordon, senior advisor Smart+Connected Communities CISO Canada
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