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Integrated management of public services: the basis for a real smart city

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  • Integrated management of public services: the basis for real smart city
  • As cities all over the world are quickly becoming digitalised, there is an urgent need to address the new challenges of smart cities: water is one of them.

  • Article written by Salvador Herrando Hervás. 

About the entity

Global Omnium
Company specialized in the integral management of water. It currently covers 5.5 million people in more than 300 Spanish cities, in addition to having a presence in other foreign countries.
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The global rate of urbanization is unprecedented. According to some studies, the global population living in urban areas increases by 150,000 people each day, due to migration and new births. It is expected that by 2050, it will have increased by 60% compared to current numbers.

The ability to manage such rapid growth effectively and efficiently is thus essential for public authorities in charge of urban settlements. Cities need to achieve and maintain crucial economic, social, environmental and financial objectives. And they must do it in a sustainable manner.

Therefore, the efficiency in terms of managing new and existing infrastructure has to reach levels previously unseen. This requires the integration of all infrastructure, both public and private, with regard to operation and maintenance. The purpose is to have a sensible impact and improve the quality of life of citizens, by putting in place smart solutions at an affordable cost that, ultimately, will be paid by citizens themselves.

Three points in common in the path towards a smart city

Although cities (big and small) differ widely concerning their approach and priorities to improve citizen services, they all have three points in common.

The first one is economic sustainability. Cities have to provide residents the capacity to develop their economic potential, attracting business and investments. After years of crisis, the weaknesses of the funding models of different municipalities have come to light, as well as the weaknesses of many strategic lines related to the evolution of municipal management. The latter have to refocus on the integrated management of services and infrastructure to ensure they are feasible.

On the other hand, social sustainability will contribute to the appeal of the city for residents in terms of quality of life. All services must be socially accepted because of the value they add and because they contribute to improving daily life; also, they have to be inclusive and reach all residents.

Last, but not least, there is environmental sustainability. The solutions for integrated service management have to consider ecological variables as a core theme, reducing the impact on the environment, as well as the impact of the environment on the life of citizens. In this regard, efficiency is an obvious issue, not only energy efficiency but efficiency in general terms.

Cities have to provide residents the capacity to develop their economic potential, attracting business and investments

Technology as the core theme to achieve management efficiency

Although it is often considered an expenditure, investing in technology is the only way to create added value in smart cities. At this point it is obvious that technological integration helps cities improve their efficiency, increase their economic potential, reduce operating costs, generate new business opportunities and, ultimately, improve the quality of life of residents.

However, a key condition is technological compatibility, and having a technical architecture that can support integrated management of public services. Otherwise, the new solutions may not be able to operate at a large scale, or else the maintenance costs may rise and become unsustainable, due to poor strategic planning.

We are already seeing this in some pioneering cases, where technology has been adopted to manage some isolated public services. Vertical integration aims to provide a quick solution to a specific problem; it has led to transportation, lighting or smart building management projects that had to be replaced because, from their inception, they became information silos lacking interoperability.

A real smart city must have a horizontal integration infrastructure, common to all vertical solutions, that provides a cross-cutting base and prevents reinventing the wheel when specific solutions are considered to deal with energy, transportation, water or health.

GO AIgua. Experience counts

The issues that come up when you manage public services are similar to those in an organizations with hundreds of different types of assets. As said earlier, a 'central data' approach is crucial to standardise the different technologies and data sources that form the basis of systems. From this point on, we would generate specific solutions.

This is the path that Global Omnium chose more than ten years ago, when it embarked upon a digital transformation process. And that is precisely the concept behind the architecture of the GO AIgua software suite for integrated water management.

The basis of the suite is an IoT and big data integration platform (Nexus Integra), that provides the required horizontal integration to support different vertical services. The latter include detection of leakages in the water distribution network, energy efficiency, remote reading management of more than 800,000 smart meters or specific algorithms for the massive data set available.

GO AIgua is a leading vertical water management platform for any type of smart city, contributing, as a standard, the expertise and knowledge that Global Omnium has been generating for almost 130 years. It has been successfully integrated with other IoT platforms in different scenarios, integrating data from citizen services with ease thanks to the open characteristics and interoperability of the software suite.

The value added in this case is obvious: you can make use of consumption patterns immediately, cross-check GIS data on water infrastructure in the municipality, and generate results such as integrated plans to update hydraulic infrastructure or a precise control of drinking water quality.

Although it is considered an expenditure, investing in technology is the only way to create added value in smart cities

However, the value of GO AIgua goes beyond managing infrastructure or water services in the municipality. The power of the middleware that supports the suite (Nexus Integra) makes it clearly different from other IoT infrastructure or platforms: not only does it allow massive data integration, but also data management in an integrated operating environment that can be shared by the different public services.

It includes functions such as the exploitation of data in real time to monitor and control the infrastructure of different public services, to generate reports and balance scorecards, for global warning management, advanced analyses or centralised administration of all integrated services. Similarly, it is possible to include third-party systems in all operating environments, while ensuring quick access to data from specific vertical platforms already developed.

This way, we provide significantly broader horizontal standardisation: the central layer will not only include data input or movement, but also data exploitation to a great extent. This allows easy and joint management of water, lighting, public buildings or traffic, for example.

The goal of integration in a smart city is the same one that the GO AIgua suite seeks: enabling comprehensive management of all resources, infrastructure or assets, simplifying dependence on third parties for the evolution and maintenance of operating environments, and offering simple solutions that offer great value added to the end users, the citizens.

This reality would address the three pillars described at the start, ensuring the cost-effectiveness of a global management solution for the municipality, enabling quick generation of specific verticals and solutions for citizens with the least possible effort. This is done with a broad layer of standardisation, and maximising efficiency and synergies between the information from public services, thanks to their integration into a single data and operating environment.