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Smart city tech needs a strong data architecture

Before city CIOs begin to introduce smart city technology to city employees and to their constituents, they should make sure they’ve got the right data foundation in place. Jennifer Belissent, an analyst with Forrester Research, recommends city CIOs get their IT infrastructure in order before making any investments in smart city tech.

“Once I started to talk to cities, I realized that some cities aren’t necessarily ready for all of this advanced technology,” said Belissent, who has been researching and writing about smart cities since 2009. So she took a step back and began advising city CIOs start with the basics.

She suggests city CIOs begin by taking stock of their current infrastructure, rationalizing multiple versions of the same software (asset management, for example, can be a culprit for city CIOs), and even upgrading legacy applications, which may have been installed 30 years ago and written in coding languages nobody uses anymore, she said.

“Sometimes people will say, ‘That’s not really smart cities,'” Belissent said. “But it absolutely is. It’s a much more rational use of a city budget, and it’s a foundation on which you can build a smart city.”

She also suggests that CIOs take a close look at how they treat data. “A lot of quote-unquote smart city solutions are based on embedding sensors in city infrastructure. And the whole idea of the sensor is to capture data from that piece of infrastructure,” Belissent said.

But if cities don’t have the data management capabilities, the data governance capabilities or the analytics maturity to use the data that’s captured, smart city tech investments will be wasted.

“You’ve got to be able to collect, store, secure, manage, govern access to that data, and, ultimately, to be able to use it,” she said. Cities should take into account the entire data cycle and ensure the proper processes are in place before pulling the trigger on a smart city project.