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How a Business IT Mindset Can Help Smart Cities Maintain Cleaner Air

By Sascha Giese, Head Geek at SolarWinds

As our cities continue to grow in population density, the need for positive environmental action on a domestic and global scale grows more urgent. However, the sheer complexity of contemporary urban living means city planners need more actionable insight into the factors affecting issues such as air quality and emission levels. They need to understand—with precision and in real time—what’s changing about their local environment, where the risks and dangers lie, and what steps they can take to mitigate them.

The collective lockdown experiences of the past 12 months illustrate the potential for significant change. As reported recently in Chemistry World, the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a 7% drop in global carbon emissions, a trend not seen “since World War II.” Granted, these have been exceptional circumstances, but they do offer a real-world benchmark and increase the urgency behind more permanent methods of environmental improvement, such as investment in smart cities.

The Rapid Rise in Smart Cities

Smart cities are built around interconnected networks of fixed and mobile remote sensors designed to record and exchange data 24/7. From an environmental perspective, this data is used for a wide variety of purposes, including identifying underlying patterns and trends across the city ecosystem. Take the movement of traffic, for instance, where real time information about the number and location of vehicles can help authorities make accurate predictions about key issues such as air quality.

Momentum is growing—in London, the mayor recently announced an air quality monitoring investment of almost £1.5 million to fund 195 sensors, which will generate real-time data shared publicly via the Breathe London website.

Armed with this kind of data-driven insight, authorities can take proactive steps to maintain air quality. For example, public transportation vehicles can be switched to an all-electric mode when they’re entering areas of higher pollution. Indeed, some cities are using the data in public information messages to encourage people in vehicles or on foot to find alternative routes when air quality decreases.

Complexity on an Enterprise Scale

This isn’t without its challenges, however. The sheer volume of data—plus the complexity of the many interconnected networks involved—gives UK government IT system administrators the monumental task of managing not just the sensors but their underlying systems.

Think of it this way: a highly connected smart city is like a large enterprise—it generates huge quantities of data needing to be stored and analysed. As such, this data has the potential to become an extremely valuable asset, but the sheer level of complexity involved means artificial intelligence technologies are now essential tools for city administrators, who need to extract and cross-reference insights from the different data sets involved. Addressing these challenges already generates huge levels of investment across a range of business sectors and will become increasingly important as smart cities grow further in scale.

The parallels between smart city technology management and business infrastructure don’t end there. Smart city administrators can apply the same expertise, tools, and processes to manage these requirements as those used by their commercial counterparts. By prioritising real-time monitoring for network performance, security, and data privacy, they can keep smart cities connected, safe, and in a position to deliver better environmental performance to their citizens.

With greater data volumes and complexity comes the issue of compliance. Businesses everywhere are increasingly aware of their regulatory obligations, and the impact of rules such as UK-GDPR means it’s increasingly the administrators who shoulder the responsibility for data integrity and protection. Admins working in smart cities not only have a responsibility to secure the growing amounts of data but must also ensure they and their third-party partners don’t misuse it.

With the world facing extreme environmental challenges, governments are beginning to set more ambitious targets, and their ability to meet the huge range of challenges head-on will be helped considerably if smart cities can fulfill their green potential and curb the damage they cause. Technology teams have a huge role to play, and their expertise will be in high demand as smart cities continue to develop in the years to come.

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