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Introduction: Welcome to the BBB National Programs podcast, The Bistro, where we will discuss today’s hottest consumer trends, predict the future with consumer experts, and learn how elite businesses and entrepreneurs continue to push the envelope to meet and shape the consumers’ needs in the marketplace.
Elaine: Hello, and welcome to The Bistro. I’m your host, Elaine Espinola. Smart city initiatives are popping up all over the world, revolutionizing systems in the communities we live, work, and play to help improve our lives, make them safer, more efficient, and more technologically advanced and more connected than ever before. Well, how does it all work? What challenges exist in planning the development of smart cities, and how can we ensure that our data is safe and protected while we enjoy the enhanced services that smart city technology provides?
Elaine: This is a topic of discussion on The Bistro today with insights from our guests, Daniele Loffreda, a Market and Development Consultant with Ciena, a networking systems, services and software company that builds adaptive networks for smart cities. Daniele, thank you so much for joining us.
Daniele: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here, Elaine, and this is, well, it’s an exciting topic and quite apropos in timing that we’re having this discussion.
Elaine: Absolutely. Can you tell us more about Ciena and the network your company builds for smart cities?
Daniele: Sure. Well, you had given us that great intro. We are really a recognized market leader for the networking systems, services, and software that really powers the world’s communication networks. From a smart community, smart city perspective, our solutions provide that real critical underlying foundation that enables smart communities to connect our constituents to the data, the content, and the applications and improves the lives of the smart city citizens.
Elaine: Yeah. Well, you started out by saying this is a very, very exciting topic. It’s all over magazines, all over the news. It’s very exciting to hear about. Take us back to when smart cities were first starting to be implemented and taking off. Has there been a shift in the focus on how the technology was built for smart cities kind of now versus when they first started taking off?
Daniele: That’s a great question. It really has seen a shift over probably the last two years. Probably over the last, since smart cities came into being around like 10, 15 years ago, the technology was really out on the edge, the end devices, the sensors, the meters, the video cameras, that generate it and capture the data. So most of the investment and focus was on deploying all those devices throughout the city. It generated tons and tons of data.
Daniele: But what we’ve seen over the last couple of years is that the technology investments have really been in those types of technology that analyzes that data and really helps derive that timely insights from those, and really petabytes of data, that’s being generated by those devices. But in order to really understand what the needs of the citizens are and to prioritize them in their smart city initiative projects and really with the goal of providing a higher level of citizen experience.
Daniele: So some examples of that, the recent technology is in artificial intelligence, machine learning, analytics, robots, blockchain, and some of those others. The emphasis is on deriving insights from the data that was generated by all those devices that had previously been put in place.
Elaine: Sure. Can you share some examples of that? So, I mean, what I’m hearing you say is that we were collecting all this data, but what were we doing with the data? Right? We’re analyzing it, but how are they actually working to improve things? Can you share just some examples of that?
Daniele: Yeah, so if you look at some examples, probably the most common example, is cities that have deployed what are called chatbots. So what they do is take probably like their top 300 to 500 most common inquiries or complaints that they get from their citizens. In the past, those had been answered by a human being. You would call, you would email, and someone would get back to you in a couple of days.
Daniele: But right now, they’ve deployed, sort of either the form of a physical robot or a system that is powered by an algorithm, an artificial intelligence, machine learning algorithm that takes the answers to those most common questions and automates them. More importantly, the algorithm actually learns from the interactions with the citizens, the follow-up questions, the follow-up comments to actually improve the accuracy or appropriateness of the response.
Daniele: We’ve seen, I think Los Angeles, city of Los Angeles was a good example where their chatbot, I can’t remember the name of it, but it can answer up to, I think, 500 different types of queries. There’s a couple of cities in China that have deployed these actual physical robots that have voice capabilities and are powered by machine learning that actually enabled them to reduce the time that people spend in line in the tax agency.
Daniele: It frees up the humans that are staffing to actually answer the sort of higher-level, more nuanced types of questions. Those are a couple of examples of this new deployment that combines the generation of the data with the higher-level analytics and artificial intelligence.
Elaine: Very interesting. So would you say then smart city projects are innovating to create this more adaptable technology, then as you mentioned, is now prioritizing the needs of the citizens. Can you share some ways that smart cities are innovating their strategy? [6:15]
Daniele: Yes. Again, if you look at the history of smart cities, in the early days, it was all about sort of top-down information technology, department driven focus on putting infrastructure, technological infrastructure out there. They really didn’t look to see whether the citizens really needed that type of application, wanted that type of application or would embrace that type of application.
Daniele: Now we’ve seen this evolution over the last five years from that top down technology-driven emphasis to a more citizen-centric design. A focus where they’re actually engaging citizens at the start design phase of the project and even into the deployment and evaluation phase of the project near some innovative cities, like the city of Bristol in the UK. They’re doing some things in Singapore where again, they’re taking community leaders and other activists within the community and involving them with the designers, with the deployers, and the actual evaluation of the application to make sure that it is meeting the needs of the citizens.
Daniele: So I think that is going to be the focus over the next several years is continuously engaging citizens after the fact and towards the evolution of the application to ensure that it is adaptable to the citizens’ needs.
Elaine: Sure. You mentioned the word evolution. Let’s talk about smart cities, smart communities. Daniele, are they more of a destination or a journey? Is there a single point at which a city earns that label smart, or is it this just sort of evolution?
Daniele: Well, really a good question. I think there’s a debate going on in the industry right now. Our perspective is it’s really a journey. It’s not a static destination, and I think the only point at which you would recognize that it is smart is that it recognizes that it has to continually evolve. So let’s take an example of why that is important.
Daniele: We’ve seen references usually associated with smart cities about the influx of people and population into the cities over the next decade or so. But what they’re failing to realize is that the demographics of that population growth is going to be different. There’s going to be different ages, different cultures, different countries. So you can’t put out a homogenous smart application that is going to meet the needs of that very vastly differing demographics.
Elaine: There’s no one size fits all. Right.
Daniele: Exactly. Exactly. So the challenge is the cities are trying to make decisions on applications and infrastructure now, they’re going to have to carry it into the next decade or so. Unless they take into consideration the differences in the demographics of the population forecasts, they’re going to end up with an application that supports a segment of the population but not all of the population.
Daniele: I think that’s the key driving factor now is how do you make decisions now that can encompass the wide variety of change in demographics that are going to come, but not break the bank because everybody is operating on a fixed budget. [9:58]
Elaine: Sure. Absolutely. Yeah. Well, you mentioned that one challenge and I’m curious, what are some other major obstacles facing cities as they consider planning a smart initiative?
Daniele: I really put those challenges into three categories. The people, process, and technology. With the people, we already hit one of the major ones with that difference in demographics. But at the same time, you have to add city staff as we move towards, as we talked about before, where the technology is more focused on data analytics and artificial intelligence and data sharing. A lot of the current staff is really not trained in applications of data analysis and data sharing and data compliance. So that’s one issue.
Daniele: Leadership, as well. There’s maybe some expectations on the part of leadership without really understanding the nuances of what’s involved. So we need to bring all three of those on board into the capabilities, the objectives, and the challenges that need to be overcome to really reach that evolution of the smart community. The second is related to processes.
Daniele: Really the key success of a smart city initiative, and there’s several studies that have been put out recently that really drive to the point of the need for integrated technology and integrated processes that allow the generation and the sharing of data across different agencies within the municipality and even across nearby communities and jurisdictions. That is really needed to drive the full potential of a smart community. So processes have to be in place to enable that, but at the same time, they’re showing the data to ensure the privacy and security of the data.
Daniele: Finally, the third challenge is in technology, right? Again, we talked about the artificial intelligence machine learning. Cities have to really understand the algorithms that are being built to drive those applications and ensure that there’s no inherent bias or assumptions in there that can skew the results. Then the other technology pieces are, where are they going to store all that data? Where are they going to put the analytics and the computing, is it going to be all in one central data center? Or is it going to be pushed closer to the edge?
Daniele: Then finally, really where we come into play is how is the connectivity that ensures that all that data that is generated and all the applications that are sitting in different data centers and silos, that they’re all able to come to play in real-time to really drive that full benefit of the application. That’s where we’re talking more about the adaptive network, the old static networks that were in place before can’t really support the real-time applications that we’re looking at in this new smart community environment. [13:12]
Daniele: So that’s where we’re really kind of pushing the notion of an adaptive network. Hopefully, you got a feel for the three areas of challenges that smart communities are trying to address.
Elaine: Sure, sure. I want to talk a little bit more about that. Again, the world is becoming more connected. These smart cities are connecting us all. We’re more nuanced, and again, as networks become more connected and smart, we’re wondering how do networks like the ones Ciena builds adapt exactly to meet the needs of the digital environment? Also, you mentioned our data and being protected. Tell us about that too. How are they able to do that at the same time?
Daniele: Sure. Well, let’s kind of start at the notion of our vision of the adaptive network. Really the drivers of that, from a smart community perspective, is that you’ve got many different types of constituents trying to access content and data at the same time. You’ve got residents, you’ve got students, you’ve got businesses, you’ve got other agencies. They’re all trying to access content that is increasingly becoming more video that requires a real-time type of connectivity that supports really low latency and high-performance transmission.
Daniele: More importantly, we need the analytics and the sort of AI machine learning types of platforms that are able to look at the types of traffic that is being generated and transmitted across the network and through the different pieces of network equipment. And really take all that traffic and run it through algorithms that will be able to predict very accurately any type of congestion or outage condition that might arise tomorrow, next week, weeks from now.
Daniele: From a software control and automation perspective, help the network take action based upon those predictions. When the network traffic reaches a certain threshold, they can be able to take that action in real-time from an automated perspective and take out a lot of the manual types of processes that are too slow to support the real-time applications that are involved in a smart community type of application.
Elaine: Sure. You mentioned that kind of all of this information on one thing. We’ve heard a lot about 5G being a major catalyst for smart cities. As we wrap up here, Daniele, what are your thoughts about that? What’s the hype and what’s reality when it comes to that?
Daniele: So I think the hype in 5G is it’s going to be ubiquitous next year, and it’s going to fix everyone’s problems. In reality, we’re going to find a patchwork of 5G in some areas and some applications that it really supports like video and body cameras and dash cams. But it’s going to coexist with 4G, and you get some 3G that can support the types of applications that don’t need such a heavy type of bandwidth.
Daniele: Then we have to overlay, and as part of your last question, is the security and privacy that has to ensure the safety of that data and that, along with 5G, 4G, and the fiber networks that have to support that, we need to ensure there’s network-level encryption. So that in the case of some hackers able to get into a fiber, they’re unable to read the data that’s being sent across the network and the adaptive network because that’s encrypted at the optical level. [17:04]
Daniele: I think 5G is going to exist with lots of other technologies, but regardless of which technology from a wireless perspective, they all have to go into some sort of fiber at some point.
Elaine: Sure, sure. Well, certainly, a lot of that goes into making a smart city the way that it is, enhancing our lives, protecting us as well. We really appreciate you being on The Bistro today, Daniele. Can you share your website with us?
Daniele: Sure. That is www.ciena.com.
Elaine: Okay. Well, we hope people check it out, and we really appreciate your time today. Thank you so much for sharing this great information.
Daniele: Thank you, Elaine.
Elaine: You’re welcome. We want to thank our listeners. Again, I’m Elaine Espinola, host of The Bistro podcast. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to The Bistro on iTunes. Go ahead and give us a rating, give us a review, and share our episodes with others to help inform and inspire. Until next time, it has been my pleasure discussing better business and the future of smart cities with you.
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