Cities can be famous or notorious for many things – their vibrant arts, their close-knit communities, their booming economies. But infrastructure for water, energy, mobility and buildings underpins all quality of life in cities. Notoriety for traffic congestion, uncomfortable buildings or high water costs is a type of fame to be avoided. It’s not too far from the truth to say that a city is only as good as its underlying infrastructure.
Much of the conversation about smart cities has focused on leverage of data, citizen engagement and entrepreneurial app developers. As a result, few cities have an overall strategic approach to the real-time control systems that are the core technology for services and amenities that are vital to the city.
A new paper “Smart Cities: Strategic Focus on Real-time Infrastructure Control Systems” explores the issues that cities face when trying to get the most from their infrastructure, and makes recommendations for strategic focus. Reasons supporting the need for a strategy vary from improved synergy with citizens’ and visitors’ behaviour, improved outcomes from overall situational awareness, integration between different domains at acute touch points, and technical sustainability.
Although many responses can be automated, human operators are still an essential part of the system. Cities face similar emerging workforce challenges to the commercial and industrial world. Some managers of operational teams talk about as much as 80% of their staff retiring in the next 5 years. This presents an enormous replacement challenge. Not only that, the persons likely to be hired may be very different to their predecessors. They may be more geographically mobile and move to a different city within a few years. They may have different personal ambitions and be more likely to engage in a career change. Increasingly, they are likely to be digital natives with different expectations of working environment and different ways or learning and interacting with technology.
Consequently, we may anticipate shorter average employment durations among the new workforce, and it will become increasingly important to reduce the “time to experience”. Twelve months will be too long for an operator to achieve competency if they move on after two or three years.
A strategic approach to real-time platforms ensures that cities can gain the maximum benefit from flexible operational teams that work in a transient manner across multiple sites and assets. Central operational centers increase the scope for collaboration and improvement. Thirdly, systems that incorporate knowledge management and decision support help decrease the time to experience by embedding a virtual expert in the team at all times. Without this, operators are confined to acting based only on their own personal experience. Situations that fall outside that experience incur delays in decision making and meanwhile tend to get worse with each minute that passes. A platform that consolidates knowledge within and across categories of infrastructure transforms workers into knowledge workers and enables consistent quality of operational decisions in the “now”.
To not only cope with but triumph over these workforce trends, cities should look beyond individual procurements to a strategy that satisfies their holistic needs and optimises total cost of ownership across multiple platforms, not only individual procurements. This requires a CTO or city manager with a broad vision and a focus on operational technology (OT) as well as on IT. In this way, the city infrastructure will continue to perform, even if 80% of staff are new.