Building resilient Smart Cities

To build a secure and sustainable society, it is vital that we accelerate the move towards smarter cities, says Martin Yates, CTO, Injazat.

The urgency to move towards smart cities has been fuelled by the rapid urbanisation we have witnessed across the globe in the recent past. It is estimated today that 50% of the world’s population reside in cities. By 2050 this figure is expected to rise to 70%.

City leaders and urban planners, therefore, face a difficult balancing act: how do they continue to provide liveable cities which mitigate and manage the risks of climate change, whilst they witness a near-permanent expansion? In addition, finances which are already strained around the world, add an additional dilemma.

Those who fail to embrace the challenge, who shirk the bold initiatives which are needed and necessary, risk slipping into a dystopian future.

Technology is increasingly providing many of the solutions we need. Smart solutions in pollution management, renewables, transportation, healthcare, energy, and infrastructure are already available. But delivering these services – with a number of different vendors – and integrating them can be costly and complex, and also requires bringing multiple city service agencies together on shared data governance, infrastructure, and assurance of data protection.

Understanding the barriers

In my own national and city development experience, some of the common barriers to entry include how to fund the design, and share common interest investments, deployment costs, and ongoing operations.

We must also be mindful that technological advances are unrelenting. The requirements for city planners to stay resilient and ahead of demand whilst building agility into the core city system architectures and at all times remaining secure is an unenviable task.

Data, and our focus on ensuring that our operational outcomes are data driven, will be vital to effective smart cities. And this too is evolving at pace. The traditional approach of sending data collected from IOT sensors and applications to core cloud data centres for decision-making has now morphed into a new architecture approach. The sheer volume of data generating points, data size and real-time nature of device endpoints has rapidly scaled up in recent years and continues to accelerate to a point where larger or real-time data sets are best processed near their origin.

Data processing closer to its source origin is often referred to as Edge Computing and is now a familiar term. In the future, most data will be generated at this computing edge where data gravity will be at its peak.

This presents its own challenges: infrastructure and services residing at the edge will now require the same level of security controls as afforded to the well-protected cloud data centres. It is clear therefore that Edge Computing will force a significant rethink on the security architecture and its operations.

Seeking solutions

Smart City architects thankfully have a rich diversity of solutions available, though this choice can seem daunting. To my mind, the following principles should be front and centre in any edge-to-core design.

Firstly, after a clear view of the use cases is understood, look to see if centralised sensor management can be achieved by the technology provider. Special focus should be given to asset discovery, authorised device onboarding and maintenance, as without this functionality any number of security risks could occur.

Secondly, selecting and deploying an easy, highly secure platform to manage and monitor device life cycle services will be essential to manage scale from the current thousands to the future millions of edge devices.

Many service organisations and telecommunications companies offer device provisioning, lifecycle, and deployment, as an IOT-as-a-Service which can reduce the extensive investment in developing and deploying your own services. The benefits of IOT-as-a-Service are attractive, however, a deep understanding of the security architecture should be engaged to ensure the service is meeting your organisation’s security policy. The city sensor architecture strategy should also support a plan for seamless sharing and distribution over your stakeholder community to maximise the return on investment as a shared sensor service network.

Security-first approach

In our desire to deliver the rapid demand for smart city outcomes for citizens and meaningful efficiency gains, we must ensure we adopt a security-first approach.

The strategy and planning for IOT devices, Edge Computing and the data managed is just one component of smart city planning. Considering inter-agency collaboration processes, data sharing, use of AI for analytics, decision support, command and control systems, and advanced automation are all equally essential functions to deliver a world-class smart city.

It is therefore vital that cities build their own distributed intelligent smart edge, to ensure that they are not only smarter but also resilient. 

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