The phrase ‘smart city’ must be one of the most talked about terms for the early part of 2017.  From apps that help you find parking spots based on sensor data in city streets to sensors that report back on whether trash cans need to be emptied  municipal governments across the United States are finding ways to put IT to work to deliver more services more efficiently to their residents and visitors.

The depth and breadth of these smart initiatives was on full display at the recent Large City, Large County Fly-In event hosted in Washington D.C. and attended by chief information officers (CIOs) from the fifty largest counties and cities in the U.S.  Chip George, Senior Director of State & Local Government and Education (SLED) at NetApp attended the event and was impressed at how far IT-driven initiatives have come at the local government level in the last year. “Local governments are under pressure to deliver better services to their citizens and they’ve really embraced how to put the data they collect to work to achieve these goals,” he shared with us after the event.

While every CIO in attendance was engaged in at least one smart city initiative, George was most impressed with the extent of initiatives the City of Las Vegas has put into action. “Las Vegas has created an innovation district where they can trial initiatives; right now they’re developing an app to help locals and visitors find parking spaces based on data collected from sensors located in the district,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to create a one-stop app that will provide useful information across many different areas to citizens and tourists to improve quality of life and support the city’s major industry.”

Despite the focus on citizen-service delivery via easy to use interfaces, the foundation of smart cities lies in the sophisticated integration of information technology.  From IOT devices that are positioned around the city to report data to the data management infrastructure that facilitates the analysis and application of data to projects, cities and counties are only as ‘smart’ as the data storage and management infrastructure they are built on.

For Chip George, the most important element within a data management infrastructure for smart cities and counties is that there are no data silos so that data can flow between projects for analysis and application quickly.  “If data gets trapped in a silo, or stovepipe, it’s rendered useless; for these projects to be effective CIOs need to facilitate a data lake” said George.  What George means by a data lake is an environment where data can flow seamlessly between compute and storage environments, that storage capacity can be ramped up or down based on need, and that it also prioritizes information security and data privacy.

Though this might seem like a tall order, George noted that a hybrid cloud infrastructure can meet all of these goals.  Nearly all cities and counties are well on their way to having at least some cloud-based storage infrastructure, though data centers remain a vital part of the overall composition of the data storage environment.  However, as more data is collected from IOT devices and needs to be analyzed and applied the flexibility and the inexpensiveness of the solution will drive more data to the cloud.

“The beauty of the hybrid cloud is that it gives the CIO control over where data resides and with a data fabric data can move seamlessly between environments as needed,” said George.  For example data with personally identifiable information (PII) can be stored in the private cloud where there’s more robust information, but once it’s scrubbed it can be moved to a public cloud for analysis and application.

In summing up his thoughts on the Large City, Large County Fly-In, George concluded: “It’s a really exciting time to be supporting city and county CIOs as they put data to work to change the ways citizens live and experience their communities.  And with the right data management infrastructure the possibilities of what they can do seem limitless. ”