The most important aspect of smart cities that no one is talking about

 In Big Data, Solutions

When we talk about smart cities, we’re usually talking about the internet of things (IoT) devices that make cities more efficient, aware, and engaging.

Smart streetlights. Wi-Fi hotspots. Traffic sensors. Devices that monitor climate and air quality. All are examples of how cities are getting smarter.

But there’s one element of smart cities that’s often left out of the conversation: user interfaces.

All the sensors in a smart city produce constant streams of real-time data. But how is it used? How can citizens access and make use of all that information? How can cities better engage people through that data?

The citizen experience of smart government isn’t explored enough, but it’s a crucial aspect for any government to think through as its city grows more intelligent. Here are four ways governments can ensure smart cities work for their citizens.

smart city

Prepare the data

One of the biggest risks when leaping into smart city frameworks is releasing information out into the world that’s unchecked, unverified, or isn’t intended to be released.

So as you begin thinking about user interfaces, think about the data citizens can access. You’ll need agreement among departments and agencies, for example, on what should be available for public consumption. In other cases, the law might prohibit the sharing of certain data in a meaningful way.

 Hiring a data officer who understands the ramifications of privacy and security, and who can act as a data champion, can ensure citizens have access to meaningful data with minimal risk.

Meet citizens where they are with conversational user interfaces (UIs)

When designing a UI for a smart city, you have to keep in mind the diversified, segmented personas of everyone who might use it. There are citizens who are highly mobile and those who aren’t, for example. There’s almost a need for individualized experiences.

Responsive web design and APIs have offered a path toward greater mobility, but while “mobile first” used to be the rallying cry, now it’s “people first, mobile ready.”

So where are people going first? Voice assistants, like Siri, Alexa, and Google Home, are one place. Citizens should be able to ask simple questions, like whether the DMV office is open, or how long the wait is, and get a real-time, accurate response.

Messaging apps and chatbots are another interface. Atlanta is testing chatbots for its 311 system. North Charleston, South Carolina uses a chatbot to answer questions and collect reports on potholes and other issues.

Chatbots require some caution, especially if people can influence its behavior, but they can also open up data to citizens like never before.

Voice search and chatbots could mean the days of pulling up a website to search out office hours and other information will be a thing of the past for smart cities.

Maintain transparency with conversational business intelligence (BI)

While there’s conversational UI, there should also be conversational BI.

The future lies in asking a question, and having a dashboard open to show the current data. Right now, if you want to know how much money is spent on roads, for example, you would have to expend a lot of effort to find the answer.

Having dashboards that could open up and immediately display the requested data would allow for more transparency between the government and its citizens, legislators, and others. Many governments have loads of unstructured data that could be used in this way.

With this little bit of conversational BI, smart cities can be more responsive to what their citizens want. That increases citizen engagement, which should be the goal of every government.

Open up data for industrious citizens

One way to figure out the best UI for data is to simply make it available to the public. There are countless examples of citizen programmers finding uses for data when available.

In one city, a citizen took data on biking trail accidents and overlaid it on a map to show where accidents are, much like an app like Waze would do. In another instance, someone put together a map of where to get a flu vaccine.

Whether it’s an app experience or a voice assistant platform or another method of interacting, the big value is that citizens are interacting.

The future of smart cities

While it’s IoT devices (and their future 5G connections) that many think of when hearing the term “smart city,” those sensors are just the beginning.

The data they gather needs a straighter path to citizens, and by thinking about how citizens interact with technology—through messaging, voice assistants, maps, and so on—smart cities can engage their citizens in ways they never have before.

How each city does this will be different. What makes sense for Kansas City, Missouri might not work for Boston, and vice versa. As cities move to implement new smart infrastructure and engage citizens, collaboration can be key in finding a path forward.

If you’re ready to get started, contact your SHI account executive today.

Lauren Baines contributed to this post.

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