Sensors and the city: Where the Internet of Everything should live

Cisco’s chief globalization officer Wim Elfrink visits Toronto to talk about how municipal governments can leverage increased connectivity to solve otherwise overwhelming urban problems

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You learn a few things when you spend four years living in Bangalore, and one of the things Wim Elfrink learned was this: the problems facing cities may soon start to look completely overwhelming.

As Cisco’s chief globalization officer explained at the Meeting of the Minds conference in Toronto on Wednesday, economic, environmental and demographic forces are profoundly changing the demand for critical government services in places like India and beyond. A million people are moving from rural parts of the country to Bangalore each week, Elfrink said. In ordinary circumstances, that would necessitate a new school opening each month, and a new hospital once every quarter. Of course, there’s scant chance of those things happening.

“We have to turn to the virtualization of education, and the virtualization of health care,” said Elfrink, meaning the use of communications technologies that can bring in expertise from remote locations. This is already possible with unified communications tools like videoconferencing and so on, of course, but Elfrink suggested that too often these products are bolted on after the fact, rather than integrated as part of a comprehensive strategy to ensure citizen services are sustainable.

“I still see a lot of 10-year plans,” he said. “I’ll say something along the lines of, ‘What about the role of technology?’ and I’ll hear something like, ‘Oh, right. Good thought.’”

While all levels of government can be more proactive about planning their future technology needs, Elfrink said cities are in a particularly good position to rise to the challenge. That’s probably why Cisco got involved in Meeting of the Minds, an event that focused on how technology is changing the future of urban development. Elfrink suggested municipalities begin thinking deeply about the increased connectivity of so many objects beyond smartphones and computers, and how they could be harnessed to improve citizen services. Most people call this proliferation of sensor-based connectivity the Internet of Things, but Cisco prefers the “Internet of Everything,” (IOE) because it’s important to loop in people and data along with the “things.”

The smartest local governments will weave connectivity into every service they offer, Elfrink said, describing the end result as “a city with a digital overlay.” The metrics they should use to gauge their success include productivity, asset utilization, customer service (or in this case, citizen service), and innovation.

Of course, Canadian cities like Toronto don’t

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necessarily have the same problems as a Bangalore, but they do have similar opportunities, Elfrink said. Mobile networks have the power to generate more data, which can be used to explore what-if scenarios and improve civic life. Why drive to the DMV to renew your driver’s license if you could do it online? Why not share the talents of the best doctors to a wider set of patients through telemedicine?

Finally, Elfrink suggested an even loftier goal for city IT leaders. “Big data can become open data for citizens to use,” he said. “Turn data into wisdom.” In other words, there’s a lot governments could do with the Internet of Everything. Citizens will soon expect that they start doing something.

Lay the foundation for the Internet of Everything by downloading ‘The Converged IP Network: Your Future Productivity Depends on It,” an Allstream white paper.

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  1. Media Coverage from Meeting of the Minds 2013 - October 18, 2013

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