Maybe you’re a bit slow to jump on the “Internet of Things” (IoT) bandwagon. You don’t have a smart-watch, you feel no need for smart appliances in your home, and until your old car dies, you see no need for a smart-car. But regardless of your lack of participation or knowledge of such technology, all it takes is a stroll through a city and a phone with WiFi for cities to be collecting data about you. Smart cities are here, and Chicago is taking the leading role in modeling one.

December 3, 2014

4 Min Read
How MSPs Can Capitalize on the Smart Cities Movement

By Michael Brown 1

Maybe you’re a bit slow to jump on the Internet of Things (IoT) bandwagon, even if you do already provide cloud-based file sharing services. You don’t have a smart-watch, you feel no need for smart appliances in your home, and until your old car dies, you see no need for a smart-car. But regardless of your lack of participation or knowledge of such technology, all it takes is a stroll through a city and a phone with WiFi for cities to be collecting data about you. Smart cities are here, and Chicago is taking the leading role in modeling one.

Over 500 sensor nodes are to be planted cumulatively around the city over the next three years, and when connected to WiFi, your smart phone is already divulging raw data that is collected and processed to make data-driven decisions for smarter city management, public works, public safety, energy maintenance and traffic. They are calling it the “Array of Things” (AoT).

Questions and concerns over privacy, security and infringement of civil liberties are rising as other major cities like New York, San Francisco and Boston are adopting SmartData Platforms and analytics into their city infrastructure.

Here’s a look at 3 important questions and how MSPs might provide control over such a growing phenomena.

What are Smart Cities tracking and why?

Traffic patterns, foot traffic, parking, GPS coordinates of public transportation, fuel usage over time, air quality—it’s all being tracked in real-time by sensors nodes and cell phones to make the city more efficient on a number of different fronts.

By analyzing million of lines of data, decisions related to city planning, utility distribution, public works, and social trends can be made to minimize waste and make decisions.  But often where there’s opportunity for good change, there’s usually opportunity for exploitation as well.

During a trial project in London by energy company Renew, smart trashcans were used to track passerby’s smartphones to display public transit information, schedules, updates, news and of course, they were used to advance advertising techniques as well. When someone walked by with WiFi enabled smartphone, the bins captured the user’s unique identification number (MAC addresses) and collected information about that user.

Although these devices are said to not reveal the owner’s “personal information” (ie. credit card info), these trackers could potentially be installed anywhere from bathroom signs to cash registers – and can determine everything from your gender to the speed at which you’re walking.

Are big changes happening too fast? Can policies keep up?

As data-driven analytics will inevitably cut down the time used to make decisions, it is imperative we give public policies a chance to catch up with all this innovation.

There is a high demand for well-articulated roles for data management and understanding the benefit of certain data generation. Citizens should also be well informed on the nature of data sharing, the volume of data, and security threats. There should be a law that covers all three concepts.

Since all cities have different needs, there will be no one-size-fits-all model for everyone. But standards must be created so that citizens’ rights are not being infringed upon.  Opening datasets to the public also means opening data sets to hackers, so making platforms as impenetrable as possible will be imperative to preventing a citywide mess.

Although the benefits of smart cities are exciting and competition and opportunity for innovation is growing, ensuring that the proper measures are taken beforehand is extremely important.

How can MSPs help?

Perhaps the greatest way MSPs will assist is by becoming experts on and providing education on how data should be collected, shared and analyzed.

Ensuring that their clients are complaint, not violating privacy laws, and making sure personal data is encrypted and anonymous will be an important step in making smart cities secure. Because smart cities are using open platforms where the average person could potentially develop their own devices and utilize data from AoT for personal use, this is a good opportunity for MSPs to step in and mitigate security concerns for personal usage as well.

Just through using our smartphones we divulge information about ourselves whether we know it or not. But as data travels from network to network, so long as it is accompanied by robust policies and oversight, mitigating security threat might be possible and the benefits of being able to find a parking spot or knowing when there’s a short line at the RMV just might outweigh any cons.

How do you feel about Chicago’s new smart city model? What are your predictions for smart cities in the future? Leave a comment in the section below. 

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