Cisco Systems, makers of networking gear, software and solutions, has recognized, as a company, that it is in a great position to capitalize on the coming trend to connect everything, whether it’s people or processes or machines.
That trend is estimated to be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 trillion over the next decade. Whether it’s the industrial Internet, big data or smart cities, the company is reinventing itself as the purveyor of the Internet of Everything (IoE), also known as the Internet of Things (IoT). Last year they acquired building efficiency solution provider Joulex, which offers enhanced opportunities to reduce IT-related energy consumption in buildings through their expanded EnergyWise suite.
Cisco has been working in the smart cities space for seven years now — providing services including traffic management, parking assistance, waste management, pollution reduction, virtualized learning, security and health care.
This week they took another major step, announcing a strategic partnership with AGT International – a solutions provider that works specifically in the smart cities space, where they have fielded an impressive array of solutions ranging from law enforcement, to environmental monitoring to citizen services.
I spoke with Wim Elfrink, Cisco’s executive vice president and chief globalization officer, and Geoff Baird, president of AGT’s Product & Technology Group, about the announcement.
Triple Pundit: What is the rationale behind this strategic partnership?
Wim Elfrink: Take a look at the demographic shifts that are occurring, with so many people moving into cities. There will be competition between cities for labor , innovation — and young people. So they will need to address the sustainability agenda of environmental concerns, climate change, rising water levels and so on.
AGT will be providing software solutions supported by our infrastructure, data centers, video management systems, intelligent cameras, etc. AGT has specialized in connecting people, processes, data, and things and have unleashed the potential of services that are already available in the cities to create flood warning systems, energy management [and] traffic congestion reduction.
At Cisco, we say that only 1 percent of what can be connected has been connected, so there is a great deal of untapped potential. Over the past 12 to 18 months, we’ve been working on an integration of our solutions that will be coming out this summer, that will be evolving from premise-based to cloud-based, and eventually to pay-as-you-go. They will span across infrastructure, services and operations.
Geoffrey Baird: AGT is a privately held technology company, focused on the smart city space for the past seven years. As Wim said, given the urbanization trend, where 50 percent of population is already in cities, 3.5 billion, a number that is expected to double in a few decades, cities can no longer manage using the approach they’ve used in the past.
Our solutions will help to manage cities—safety level, traffic level, pollution. The IoE creates the digital footprint of the city, the connection, the ability to understand what is happening across the whole city. And it allows us to integrate a wide variety of services, using things like cameras, license plate readers, smart meters, building controls, and smartphones which are enabling citizen-as-sensor.
3p: It almost sounds like cities are becoming more self-aware. Can technology make a city great, or are we just looking and hoping to increase capacity in order to manage the enormous urban influx, which is estimated today at 10,000 people per hour?
WE: We can improve quality of life. Problem sets vary by region and as you move up the economic pyramid, but many of these can be addressed with these kinds of services. In the developed world there [are issues like] aging population, assisted living, getting cars off the roads. In the developing world, you have rapid population growth driving needs. Cities like Bangalore now need new a hospital every six months–and a new school every three months. That’s never going to happen.
Look for virtualization of education and health care. But it’s not going to happen overnight in a world where 2 billion people live on a dollar a day, and are not connected, but it’s coming. Technology has become a new essential infrastructure, and also a key enabler for sustainability.
GB: We think we can make cities great and we can do it through the engagement of citizens. Innovation happens through integration of people. We are creating a platform that allows citizens to engage with the city. Cisco research in Germany has concluded that consumer engagement will drive the Internet of things. We are currently building a system in Germany that enables citizen control over local power–integration with the grid, while managing privacy at the same time.
3p: Sounds like empowerment (no pun intended), using technology to bring individual voices into the conversation. Could this be a template for future applications?
GB: Absolutely. For example, we have a smartphone app that links directly into the city control room. It’s based on a fusion engine (running a Cisco UCS technology) that takes in all data in an automated way [and] correlates and authenticates it before dispatching the appropriate response. It could be anything from uncollected trash, to an open pothole to a crime report . Once received it becomes an active alert. It’s a complete (closed loop) circle, though it’s not been publicly announced yet.
3p: How do you interface with the non-technical world? How do you ensure that you are not creating solutions that are looking for problems?
WE: We have a case study in Barcelona. City architects are working together with utilities. We asked them: What are your most pressing problems? We heard everything from energy management, walkability, traffic congestion, crime, equality, education, health care, and so on. They began looking at the problems and issues holistically. Not a silo approach but multidisciplinary. Now, they have a master plan that can leverage technology to solve these problems in an innovative type of way. Then we can easily see, five-year plans that can be tied to aspirational goals: Energy efficiency increased by 30 percent, water usage decreased by 50 percent, traffic goes down, crime goes down–as people are happier and get more involved.
GB: One of the key things we talk about is the concept of operations. We create a digitization and work-process flow of expertise and skills. We capture the workflow expertise of a waste management worker, or a police officer. The conversion of that knowledge into a set of algorithms and rules is a core focus of this alliance. In so doing, we are creating a knowledge cloud that helps you run a city.
3p: This sounds like it could be very helpful on one hand, but also a bit Orwellian on the other. How do you avoid that?
GB: Isolation of content and privacy are extremely important. We might look at the movement of a crowd, but not at individuals within that crowd. It’s best to keep it anonymous, done in a way that protects individual citizens.
3P: Well, I think individual citizens would prefer it that way, the NSA notwithstanding. It reminds me of a story I heard on NPR about researchers in Seattle tracking drug abuse trends in the city by measuring the concentration of certain drugs at the waste-water treatment plants.
GB: That’s an excellent example.
3P: I know we’re just about out of time. What are each of you most excited about regarding this new partnership?
WE: From Cisco’s perspective, this work really makes our network infrastructure relevant. The fact that it allows cities to move from reactive to proactive planning. This will substantially contribute to the sustainability of cities.
GB: As a much smaller and younger company, this endorsement by Cisco is a great validation of the investments we’ve made and the work we’ve done.
RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He writes for a number of sustainability sites including Triple Pundit and Justmeans. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.
Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.