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What Smart Cities Can Learn from Palm Trees as They Consider the Art of the Possible

Digital transformation opens a world of possibilities, but government agencies need tools and infrastructure that can handle the flow of data now and in the future.


When I talk to customers about their initiatives, I hear most often about the Internet of Things and connected cities. Customers are enthusiastic about connected initiatives because they understand the value of efficient communication. If first responders share information, help will get where it needs to go faster, more accurately and with more intent than if they weren’t sharing. Data is the key to enabling improved communication.

Many customers face a threefold challenge in using data to enhance communication. First, data sits in disparate silos. Information is stored in apps such as Waze, in files such as Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, in databases on an agency’s storage area network or in private organizations.

The second challenge is knowing what to ask. What queries should they be running? Who should own the data and run the queries? What would a centralized repository of clean data look like?

The third challenge is to create an infrastructure for today that will ingest data now and be flexible enough to be useful tomorrow. It must change and grow as a city’s data does, remaining aligned with the influx of new data types.

Lessons from Nature on Data Management

In Florida, where I live, the weather is unpredictable. Hurricanes and storms batter the state each year. Emergency messages are passed from weather stations to citizens over social media channels, via text messaging platforms and on radio stations — and all of this information is critical.

A form of plant life that’s native to Florida can offer us lessons about how to use data effectively. The palm trees that line our state and give the highways their picturesque view are made of thick, fibrous material. They reach as high as 50 feet, and their roots dig deep into the sandy Florida soil.

Palm trees sway in the winds of a storm. Their thick trunks flex and bend but do not break. The reason they bend has something to do with their trunks, the way their leaves can fall away and still leave their hearts intact. But the foundation of palm trees’ resilience lies in their roots, deep beneath the ground, wrapped around the roots of other palm trees to survive the tumult of a storm.

To create a lasting infrastructure that can handle a flood of data, we can follow the example of palm trees and their roots. The elements that make up this infrastructure can protect each other from the storms of data as new and emergent types of information flood the organization.

A Platform Built for Growth

One data analytics vendor that provides this kind of capability with its applications is Splunk. The apps tie into the Splunk platform seamlessly (and cost-effectively). Splunk’s applications can create dashboards that showcase information from anywhere inside an organization. The apps provide visibility, reporting and predictive alerts, so no one has to monitor the logs to know when something is going to break. Organizations can receive notifications when something needs maintenance, so personnel can fix the problem before users and constituents ever know anything is wrong.

I’m always excited to hear about the challenges that government agencies face. Splunk delivers a simple solution to a complicated set of questions. As cities consider IoT, building a universal data platform or deploying predictive analytics, they need to solve the riddle of how to establish a system that can ingest data today and make sure it will flex as data continues to grow in the future.

When discussing analytics, organizations put a lot of thought into the data and data-driven decision-making, but I spend a lot of time thinking about the art of the possible. The potential use cases are numerous, and I’ve listed several below, but IT leaders should understand that anything is possible when you use the data at hand to make the world better.

Connected Traffic Technologies Improve Public Safety

Leveraging tools such as Splunk, we can ingest data from sources like cars, traffic lights, traffic cameras, drones, safety vehicles and social media. With this information housed in a central repository, we can create dashboards, alerts and reporting for various organizations in the city to analyze factors such as:

  • Near accidents
  • Road maintenance
  • Types of cars that may be more dangerous than others
  • School crossings that need more patrols

Advanced use of this analysis can achieve:

  • Correlation between social media posts and accidents for faster response times
  • Correlation between social media posts, police radios and video surveillance to uncover where to send additional support

Connected Lighting and Parking Meters Support Law Enforcement

Cities can leverage connected lighting and metered parking technologies with reports from police, emergency medical teams and firefighters to spot trends, such as whether crime increases during daylight saving time.

With their analysis of this data, government users can:

  • Show differences in crime trends and rates in areas with metered parking versus those without it
  • Correlate social media with police radio and connected lighting data to be proactive in police reporting

Tech Corridors Promote Further Innovation

Many cities are implementing tech corridors and offering free Wi-Fi service to city workers and visitors on public transportation, such as trolleys and buses. The service enables these cities to capture application information from riders who use the free Wi-Fi. By correlating this data with social media and other local information, cities can:

  • Leverage applications and social media data to encourage visitors to spend money at local establishments and visit areas of interest
  • Monitor Wi-Fi use and uptime to increase viability and promote sponsorship of the city
  • Correlate logs of bus service to enable predictive maintenance

By collecting data in a flexible, robust infrastructure and using an analysis tool such as Splunk, connected cities can create a solid, flexible platform that will bend, but not break, over time. It’s an exciting time to work in technology. Data is everywhere. It is up to us, the technologists, to determine if that power — the data coming from everyone, everywhere — will be used for good.

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