Industry Convergence in the Intelligent City Ecosystem


    May 08, 2020

    “Intelligent cities are ecosystems. Everything working and connected – in perfect symbiosis.”

    I help our customers and partners with their digital journey, which involves innovation, business growth, and digital transformation. In this blog series of 6 posts, I look at the universal framework and the “building blocks” of smart cities in several contexts, trying to answer and interpret some of the questions that arise when thinking of digital transformation and smart city construction.

    You can find the previous posts here:

    Part 1: Visualizing the Universal Framework for Smart City Construction

    Part 2: The Role of eGovernment in Smart City Construction

    In this third post, I touch upon the intelligent city ecosystem and industry convergence. Before diving in to that, though, it’s worth clarifying the difference between smart vs intelligent for the purposes of this series. We can think of “smart” at more of a technological level – sensor, actuators, data collection, and a reactive response; for example, a smart street light that switches on and off when it senses a pedestrian. By intelligent, I mean something that’s more akin to a connected system with intelligent control – again using the example of street lights, we can think of the system that connects all the street lights in a city. In this sense, intelligence is the true value driver and the culmination of smart technologies. Hence, from now on I will speak of intelligent cities.

    Defining Industry Convergence in the Intelligent City Ecosystem

    Digital technologies are enabling industry convergence in a way that’s redefining industry boundaries and, for intelligent cities, powering new opportunities for growth in a number of ways:

    1. Industry convergence can lead to economies of scale and the better use of resources. It can reduce repeated and wasted investments, create a faster response, and ultimately deliver a better service for residents.
    2. In the smart city context, governments can help guide and coordinate stakeholders with different priorities and goals to best utilize resources and outcomes and maximize budget efficiency.
    3. Digital technologies, including 5G, IoT, and AI, can break down information silos and create a data-driven, platform + intelligence approach to collaboration. Conversely, information silos can prevent a coordinated response to smart city construction and services.
    4. Digital technologies can power industry convergence, shift response from reactive to proactive, and add the element of real time.
    5. Industry convergence operates under the universal framework of smart cities – it lets each block move independently without breaking the overall structure and it advances collaboration.

    Scenario 1: Power, Crime & Environment

    The electricity network is one of the two oldest copper-wire infrastructures in the world (the other of course being the good old telephone network). Like every company, electricity companies need to be efficient and sustainable. And they need to find ways to keep costs low and profits high.

    Conventional bulbs in streetlights have been replaced by LEDs, which have a longer lifecycle and lower maintenance costs. In some cases, electricity companies have applied motion detection sensors to streetlights. Motion in the street? Lights on. No motion, lights off. Very efficient…for the electricity company.

    Now let’s look at a residential area where these changes and modifications have been made to the streetlights. That specific neighborhood might also want to improve safety and security. So community representatives, city officials, and other stakeholders put their heads together and come up with a few initiatives.

    One choice is security cameras – smart ones, of course, with night vision, infrared, and motion detection sensors that switch the cameras on and off when there’s movement in or out of shot. Intelligent lighting can help reduce lighting and electricity costs, and at the same time add to the ambience of the neighborhood. Community Wi-Fi is another idea. And digital information panels that can provide residential information and notifications.

    At the same, the urban planning department of the city has come up with an initiative to put more green in the city. They have a plan to deploy sensors throughout the residential areas and the rest of the city to measure and monitor things like air quality and pollution, surrounding noise levels, temperature, and humidity, and use that information to determine where best to plant more trees, create extra green spaces, and parks. They will also determine where and how to implement charging stations for electric vehicles.

    Repeated Disruptions

    To upgrade its streetlights, the electricity company applies for a permit to close-off sections of the affected streets. The neighborhood is informed and everyone hopes that the disruption and disturbance to residents can be kept to a minimum. A few months later, the same streets and junctions are closed to install security cameras.

    The neighborhood is informed and everyone hopes that the disruption and disturbance to residents can be kept to a minimum.

    Next, plans are in motion to deploy sensors for monitoring the environment, which would be followed by tree planting and other green initiatives. Then later in the year, charging stations for electronic vehicles are to be installed throughout the area. The neighborhood is informed and everyone hopes…you get the idea where I’m going with this.

    A smart city mostly goes forward on a project-by-project basis. Smart projects are mostly ‘one off’ and they may not always be sustainable.

    An “intelligent city”, though, has to have a baseline – the universal structure that determines how and where all these separate and ostensibly non-related items are linked and combined. They then in turn create a sustainable city infrastructure and a proactive response in daily operations and city management. This universal structure is carried by a platform – a horizontal layer of converged technology in which each piece can move independently without breaking that structure.  

    In an intelligent city, investments are combined and resources are shared.

    The security cameras can be mounted on some of the streetlights. As they have motion detection sensors, there’s no need for the electricity company to separately invest in its own sensors via lengthy tender processes and complex RFPs. Some streetlights can have charging panels installed for charging electronic vehicles, without having to close-off a road later to install them as part of a new project. And Wi-Fi access points and information panels can be mounted on all of these street lights to provide community connectivity and residential information and notification services.

    New Partnerships

    So combining these initiatives can create new opportunities and establish new forms of partnerships. The electricity company, now partnering with public services and urban planning teams, can co-create greener areas, jointly living up to social responsibility and contributing to each other’s sustainable development goals.

    Suppose each party in the previous scenario reserves 10% of its annual budget for collaborative investments. Each party receives a proposal that applies to them only, whereby costs are assumed for roadworks, infrastructure modifications, and repairs. When initiatives as well as investments are combined, the actual cost becomes significantly lower for all parties involved, thus leaving more investment space for each party and vastly increasing budget efficiency.

    Scenario 2: Traffic Police and Road Maintenance

    Traffic police monitor and control traffic while the traffic department manages and maintains roads and highways. Both are largely funded by road tax, tolls, and government money. And let’s not forget the electricity company, which lights the roads and highways.

    To monitor and control traffic, traffic police patrols are supported by technologies like speed detectors and camera technologies, such as facial recognition and video cloud, to catch and fine violators.

    To manage and maintain our roads and highways, the traffic department has tooling available to block lanes and signaling systems to notify and guide traffic, including cameras that provide visual control over road construction workers and work.

    The lighting system has sensor technology that monitors motion and daily changes and can adapt in poor visibility, poor weather, or in night scenarios with hardly any traffic

    But all of these stakeholders apply for their annual budgets separately and submit annual spending on replacements and proposals for maintenance and repairs.

    Again, I think you get where I’m going with this.

    The traffic department depends on routine, manual checks on road surfaces and infrastructure for annual maintenance planning. Imagine the situation where wear and tear damages the road slightly faster than anticipated. A car hits a pothole on a rainy night. But maintenance isn’t scheduled until the next quarter. If only we had real-time monitoring…

    And one of the lights is faulty, so a section of the highway isn’t lit up at a critical time, such as on our rainy night, but no one has yet notified the electricity company. If only we had intelligent lighting…

    Imagine a speedometer in a car signaling to a command control room that a vehicle is speeding. By logging onto the CCTV camera, details are captured and the officer on duty reaches out to a patrol car further along the highway for further action. If only we had real-time monitoring and ticketing…

    Digital information panels above each lane throughout the highway sections provide alarms and information and notification services for traffic early in the process of early warning and control. There’s no need to manually block lanes, place traffic cones, and other such measures.

    Industry Enablement: From Reactive to Proactive

    In previous scenarios, the traffic department needs to wait for the scheduled maintenance date to align work tasks and assign resources. In worst case scenarios, a major accident may result from faster than anticipated wear and tear of a road surface. But cameras on the route can generate clear images of the tarmac every hour. And these images can be stored and archived based on time and location.

    In previous posts and interviews I’ve talked about our Platform – Ecosystem strategy. One of the key factors within this approach is industry enablement and the transition from reactive to proactive – where smart becomes intelligent.

    The principle of whitelists can map and compare these images against the day-1 picture of a specific section of the highway and analyze wear and tear over a certain period of time. The system can then predict a better maintenance schedule than the periodical offline visual checks conducted by road workers. And AI can be of valuable support tool here.

    Partners could then work together and create a proactive ecosystem in which knowledge, experience, best practices, resources, and maybe even budgets are shared. The link between these stakeholders adheres to the principle of a platform.

    Instead of individual agreements with government departments, the platform now evolves into an ICT and AI-enabled facilitator that provides “a single pane of glass” for programs and initiatives governed by rules and regulations. Industries can then make their daily operations more efficient, effective, real-time, and proactive. And in principle, the city has a brain and nervous system in place: an intelligent city.

    Tying It All Together

    Technology allows us to do better what we already do best. ICT-powered industry convergence can benefit and help build an efficient and sustainable intelligent city ecosystem carried by the universal structure and eGovernance that underpins this ecosystem and enables our industries. In part 4, I will look at the broader implications that industry convergence has on the private sector – why the enterprise of the future cannot go it alone, the kind of partnerships we can expect to see, and how this feeds into the broader intelligent city ecosystem.


    Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.


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