Monitoring and Managing the Smart Cities of the Future

Singapore: Striving to be the world’s first true Smart City

$1.135 trillion dollars. That’s how much developing Smart Cities projects will cost worldwide in 2019. In 2014 the figure was only $411 billion dollars. That’s how fast these projects are developing and that’s why the systems that manage and monitor the growing mass of information must develop too.

Smart City projects bring a lot of benefits to city management teams. Things that used to require a field inspection can now be done remotely from a comfortable office. Many tasks are being done automatically without requiring a specialist’s attention and time. All this contributes to better time and city infrastructure management.

A 2015 “Securing Smart Cities” report projects that Smart Cities development costs will triple in the next 5 years, up to $1.135 trillion dollars in 2019, compared to the previously mentioned $311 billion dollars in 2014. Such a rapid pace of development puts a lot of pressure on the software tools used to manage and monitor these cities. Software developers must push their limits to bring the best, most intuitive, capable and reliable software as a result.

Integrated monitoring and alert notification systems

Automated municipal bike rental in Dublin

Right now, there’s no versatile and complete Smart City system on the market. Every city has its own unique requirements and nobody can offer a universal product that would fit every city’s needs. Cities are living organisms that are constantly growing and whose needs are always changing. Because of that, monitoring and management software must be constantly developed and updated. Future cities will end up using as-yet undeveloped products and standards, which will have to be compatible and able to share information with each other. Shared data will include traffic lights, streetlights, CCTV systems, pollution and noise sensors, etc.

The real challenge will be providing effective management software for all the innovative systems that will be found in the Smart City of the future. This is because every device requires its own software installation and configuration. Disabled traffic lights or a hacked CCTV system is a potentially serious threat to the city. That’s why the process has already started, taking the necessary steps to run a permanent monitoring system for all the elements of a Smart City. At the present day however, most cities monitor their various systems and elements separately. In order to reach maximum reliability and efficiency, with as little downtime as possible, it’ll be necessary to implement systems that can share information between each other and analyze data from various sources.

City administrators are facing a new and daunting reality: they’ll have to handle similar challenges that IT systems administrators have been facing for years. They must realize that the most important task is not simply gathering data but analyzing, prioritizing and responding to it. The city administrator of the future will be less a desk jockey shuffling documents, and more akin to a systems administrator running a large and multi-faceted network of users and devices.

The infrastructure of a Smart City must be monitored 24/7. Should any abnormality occur, it must be quickly recognized and fixed, avoiding any possible downtime. While we have come a long way in developing powerful and more and more automated and intelligent technology, we still have to remember that the more responsibility we put on technology, the more carefully we must watch it.

Development planning on the basis of measured trends

Interior of a Dubai metro station

Nowadays, Smart Cities’ IT departments are struggling to supervise all their implemented solutions as well as the software that monitors and manages them. They must collect data from a plethora of endpoints and carefully follow and analyze their varied performance parameters. The number of elements that need to be watched is ever-growing, and it’s likely they’re not integrated together and probably won’t be for a long time. This means that even if individual elements are being monitored, they cannot share any information with one another. This can be a huge impediment for IT administrators who would thrive with a single supervising system that can collect data from different sources, in different formats, and visualize it in a meaningful way. With a solution like this, IT departments could receive performance analysis, trends, and alerts that occurred anywhere in the Smart City network, at all times, and even set up automation to fix common or recurring problems.

What should prove to be the most helpful solution for IT departments in the Smart Cities of the future are network monitoring systems that have been developed for traditional companies and their IT networks. With the ability to collect and analyze data from multiple sources, they prove useful in various fields of management and provide much needed visualization. Years of experience means that monitoring systems are mature and ready to be implemented by authorities.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of modern network monitoring software is in data visualization. As an example, every monitored device can be placed on a geographical map. This way, if a breakdown occurs you can easily see which traffic lights or CCTV cameras are down. This speeds up the response time, or time to resolution, which is a common performance indicator in the monitoring and management field. You can very quickly get to the location where a problem occurred, or send a field unit to address the issue. An even greater advantage of this sort of solution is an ability to set up a central command unit for monitoring Smart City infrastructure. A single modern monitoring system can oversee all the elements connected to it and display their status in one place. What’s also important is that the gathered data can be visualized on multiple monitors and in real-time, giving authorities immediate information.

Challenges for cities’ authorities

The NetCrunch network monitoring system in a modern Network Operations Control room

Even a short downtime can be devastating for a Smart City’s infrastructure, as systems administrators are already familiar with. Downtime can easily create chaos and disorganization, or at the very least a decrease in productivity. Smart City authorities must realize that the most important task facing them is not just gathering data but analyzing, prioritizing and responding to it.

The expectations for IT monitoring systems are expanding each year. It is their task to collect and process what’s now called Big Data. A modern solution must analyze and visualize data in a meaningful way, and enable administrators to automatically react to situations. Thanks to task automation and the ability of solving simple problems automatically, city administrators have more time to focus on deeper and more significant malfunctions that require human attention. On the other hand, automation of current activities allows authorities to focus on developing long-term plans what will affect our quality of life in cities in the next 10, 20 years and beyond.

Written by Elżbieta Mistachowicz of AdRem Software, a software developer whose flagship NetCrunch network monitoring system offers powerful and innovative solutions for ever-changing network environments.

AdRem Software makes award-winning commercial and freeware network monitoring & management software trusted by thousands of admins worldwide

AdRem Software makes award-winning commercial and freeware network monitoring & management software trusted by thousands of admins worldwide