City Operations Centre is about citizen satisfaction, not technology savviness

By Ganesh Ramamoorthy, Managing Vice President, Gartner India
By Ganesh Ramamoorthy, Managing Vice President, Gartner India

City Operations Centre is aimed at providing a real-time, one-view of the status and condition of the critical components of the city planners and decision makers

By Ganesh Ramamoorthy, Managing Vice President, Gartner India

India, the world’s second largest populous country with its unique environmental, demographic and economic constraints, continues to push forward its Smart City mission. Many cities have rolled out numerous projects ranging from city-wide WiFi, smart street lighting, smart transportation to smart parking and smart water and waste water management. Central to these is the City Operations Centre, aimed at providing a real-time, one-view of the status and condition of the critical components of the city to city planners and decision makers.

A city operations centre is clearly the right thing to do for a city that aspires to transform into a ‘smart’ one – there is no doubt on that. But it is important to establish the motivation and agree upon the intended purpose and benefits of the city command centre clearly before embarking on this path. Will they be the eyes and ears meant to gather and monitor critical activities of the city? Or will they also be the ‘brain’ that analyze the city activities in real-time and propose appropriate preventive and prediction actions?

Development of cities in the face of increasing global urbanization is closely linked to the emerging economic, environmental, and demographic opportunities in a society. To exploit these opportunities, cities must align support functions such as maintaining air quality, managing energy and water supply services that citizens demand or the government mandates in such a manner that they cater to the individual citizen needs and create a dynamic service experience for them. But city officials must also balance resources against environmental sustainability concerns and the cost of delivering these support functions.

A smart city initiative is therefore about sustainable outcomes, not merely a technology showcase and is aimed at achieving this delicate balance. Gartner defines a Smart City as “an urbanized area where multiple sectors cooperate to achieve sustainable outcomes through the analysis of contextual real-time information, which is shared among sector-specific information and operational technology (OT) systems.” And the city operations centre, or the city command centre, as it is more popularly known as, is the nerve centre that makes this achievable in a smart city.

A city operations centre is the technological manifestation of the alignment of the city administration and stakeholders to the vision and operating governance framework of the smart city (see Figure 1). It is a platform which delivers operational insights about the city and helps city officials manage, optimize and achieve the city operations’ efficiency and quality of citizen life targets/goals.

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Figure 1. Smart City Governance Framework
Source: Gartner

A city operations center enables smart city officers to integrate data from different sectors and agencies, manage resources, be connected with the citizens and address their concerns, realize transparency and accountability for city operations, and optimize city growth and operations.

An important aspect of the city operations centre is the ability to measure the correlations and study the effects by taking a comprehensive look at the various interconnected factors through dashboards and operate an integrated ecosystems through policy and related initiatives, from an authority and execution perspective.

In the longer term, the platform can help them evaluate operational performance and achievements against targets, with goals for further improvements in the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, across city operations.

The closer smart cities get to the operational and management-oriented phase from an infrastructure construction phase, the higher the possibility of improving the quality of citizen life – thanks to better living by, for example, reductions in traffic congestion and CO2 emissions and improvements in bus public transportation services, which are operated more on time. To do so, it becomes important for the city governments to pursue the two strategic issues of citizen centricity and revitalization of the local economy by improving city operations and management.

Many cities tailor this framework to their specific needs but they largely focus on four key issues while drawing up their smart city strategy:

  1. To solve current urban issues (Buenos Aires, Kobe, London, New York and Singapore)

  2. To revitalize the local economy (Barcelona and Malaga in Spain and Ishinomaki and seven cities in the Tohoku region in Japan, which were devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011)

  3. To build the well-advanced cities in “greenfield” sites (Masdar in the UAE)

  4. To develop new business by selling packaged smart city projects (Yokohama City and Kashiwa-no-ha in Japan)

A well-balanced approach to solving these four key issues depends on how well the city officials establish a holistic city operations management platform (see Figure 2) to help them monitor and analyze the city’s conditions in real-time.

ec-08-Opinion-Ganesh Ramamoorthy-Gartner India.qxdFigure 2. City Operations Management Platform
Source: Gartner

The platform outlines the infrastructure needs with information and data exchange between stakeholders as a fundamental pre-requisite to realize the smart city vision. In short, what this means is that in a smart city, information is shared freely and easily among city departments and citizens, used effectively to advance the city’s priorities, and to create and deliver contextualized or demographically aligned service offerings that match the aspirations of the citizens, community and society.

Data and information exchange about city issues and conditions such as traffic congestion, level of air pollution, safety and security conditions, and natural disasters between different sectors and processes is therefore a critical precondition to the success of a city command centre.

The success will further depend on the quality of the business analytics, which in turn depends on the data quality, integrity, as well as its references to citizen (taking into account privacy considerations) and city operations’ use cases and applications. Further, use of cloud and big data will challenge the perception of safety in storage and management of data, and hence trust factors need to be conveyed through active communication. The ability of the city operations center to manage and operate all this and provide high-quality information to city officials, will finally determine how well the city officials are able to take decisions to improve the quality of services to the citizens.

With the increasing volume of data and insights, the orchestration of context based on data and insights becomes a critical focus of governance methodologies. Much will hinge on collaboration techniques, data sharing and the algorithmic insights that the context-based services will need to drive citizen-empowered smart cities.

Though this city operations center is still at an early stage in smart city projects and environments, Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro has a good example of such a center. Its city operations center was built after a major flood in 2010. Today, managers of Centro de Operacoes Rio (Rio de Janeiro’s operations center) monitor data feeds for information on weather, traffic, safety, and healthcare services on a real-time basis in order to provide a better quality of life to its citizens. Rio de Janeiro’s city operations center, however, covers more than just emergency response. This city operations center integrates all of the functions in the city in a single digital command-and-control system through many municipals and state departments including private companies.

In India, various cities – Nagpur, Vizag, Jaipur, Kakinada, Bhubaneshwar, Ahmedabad, Pune, Bhopal, Rajkot, and Vadodara – have incorporated numerous smart city infrastructure components of a city operations centre. These cities must also develop a business model for city operations to ensure long-term financial viability, based on an ecosystem of strategic business partners – such as the long-term relationships between Telefonica and the Valencia city government and between SAP and the Barcelona city government in Spain.

But a successful city operation centre cannot be measured only on the basis of the ecosystem partners or business model or infrastructure performance such as traffic velocity, revenue per parking vehicle and cost savings through mobile applications. Success must be measured on the basis of the citizens’ satisfaction quotient.

It is very critical that city officials ensure that the primary motivation and the intended purpose of the city operations centre is to operate and manage city’s perception of residential and business citizens by linking citizens’ personalized contextualized data to metrics for delivering valuable services.

This means that the city officials must focus on developing the right key performance indicators to detect priorities and to measure success and impact, and on developing the right services that are measurable and that which execute on the objectives.

This will allow the city officials to augment the city operations centre with the right technology solutions that are driven by the needs of the city and that are not at the mercy of the vendor capabilities.

Remember: “Smart City” is not a technology initiative, rather, it is a sustainability initiative aimed at addressing the demographic, environmental, and economic aspirations of a growing city through digital technology capabilities.