smart cities smart people Rome wasn’t built in a day. And nobody had to worry about running fiber or installing spycams in Rome, either.

Developing a new city is no mean feat. Redeveloping an existing city presents its own unique challenges. Factor in the advent of smart technology to either of these scenarios and the complexity increases exponentially.

Should this be part of your master plan, phasing in smart tech for communications, water and wastewater, transportation and traffic, parking, gas, electricity, solar, environmental and water resource management, emergency response, civic guides and entertainment? Or should you opt for integration as you go? The sheer cost can appear insurmountable for cities of all sizes depending on the state of their current infrastructure and resources. Fortunately, there are some interesting options for those cities deeply interested in developing as a “Smart City”.

Many cities are opting for an incremental phased approach on a project by project basis. This can range from intelligent transportation systems (ITS) to increase efficiencies, safety, and traffic management; smart water technology to address leaks, water loss, other system failures, manage capital cost and conservation; to smart lighting tech for streets and neighborhoods that increase energy efficiency and the sense of safety citizens feel in lit areas.

Other cities are scrutinizing options that will allow total redevelopment of large areas of their jurisdictions via master planning and/or developing new communities that boast smart technology at inception. Obviously there are many more options available to city, county, state and federal agencies.

Yet there remains the problem of the evolution of technology. Smart City solutions need to perform many computations in parallel, support many simultaneous and interconnected services, need to move and store massive amounts of data, and need to be secure, resilient, and scale on demand. Sophisticated cloud computing ‘stacks,’ combining virtualization and container technologies, software-defined networks and storage, are the answer — letting cities build and integrate solutions rapidly, and automate data center operations. But running container-centric clouds is complicated and technically challenging: requiring specialized expertise few cities can call upon today.

About 20 years ago I was involved in the development of a proposal for the privatization of SR 522 in Washington State. At the time, I had mixed feelings about having a private company responsible for the management of the maintenance, the collection and distribution of tolls and frankly, having a private entity be responsible for a public transportation system. As I learned the benefits I turned into a believer of public/private partnerships and the resulting benefits for citizens and government alike.

What really piqued my interest when exploring the technology evolution problem for smart cities was a conversation I recently had with Christian Renaud of 451 Research regarding the movement by technology companies to offer “Smart City as a Service” (SCaaS) similar to SaaS or “Software as a Service” which many of you are already familiar with. Sounds interesting, but what about the hardware that delivers all this capability? The cost alone to continue to upgrade it could be prohibitive.

Cisco, IBM and others have developed or are developing Smart City Operations platforms. These appear to be viable options going forward and may solve a number of issues in regard to funding as well as relevance. Is a Public/Private Partnership an option? How will cities finance the ever evolving skill set and technology changes that continuously require ongoing education and implementation?