If states are considered “the laboratories of democracy,” perhaps cities should be considered the laboratories of data-driven decision making.

At the AWS Public Sector Summit, held in June in Washington, D.C., a panel spoke on the importance of data, analytics, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

The Global City Teams Challenge (GCTC) is a global program, with about 120 cities and 300 companies participating, started by the National Institute of Standards and Technology to help communities benefit from each other’s experiences to improve service efficiencies and lower costs.

Sokwoo Rhee, associate director of NIST’s Cyber-Physical Systems Program and organizer of GCTC, said the event is about identifying projects that are replicable from one city to 100,000.

“It’s improving the quality of life using advanced technology,” Rhee said. “[IoT] is probably the central factor of enabling smart cities. [Even] rural towns, population 5,000, are also working to be smart cities.”

Michael Mattmiller, CTO for the city of Seattle, agreed. “We have a mayor, Ed Murray, and he presented a vision of how our city should be safe, affordable and vibrant,” he said. “That’s no small task in Seattle, we’re a rapidly growing city.”

Ben Levine, executive director of MetroLab Network, a group of 40 city and university pairs, partnered together to focus on two areas, wants cities to focus on how data analytics help cities deliver services to citizens and how technology can help cities manage their natural environments. “I think it’s more about how we use data to make smarter decisions … To me a smart city is loosely a system of systems that’s highly data driven, that understands how many people are moving through the streets, how much water is in the sewer system, how many are living in housing.”

The city of Plano, Texas, has been working with Amazon for about five years to realize some cost efficiencies by using its data, said Chris Chiancone, the city’s CIO.

“I see [IoT] devices as more input for data, with the flip side a lot of opportunity for agencies to do more with these devices,” Chiancone said. To really maximize the insights provided by this wealth of data, “we have to get to the point where communities erase those boundaries and start talking to each other – independent school districts, neighboring cities, counties, even states.”

While there’s no shortage of data being generated by cities and being held by local government agencies, Kirk Kern, at NetApp, shared that the real challenge is being able to manage the data so that it can be put to work to drive better decision making. “The biggest challenges that all agencies – not just local governments – face is to be able to manage their data in order to make it informational and operational,” he said.

“To put data to work, CIOs and CTOs need to ensure that it can move seamlessly not just between storage and compute environments but can be accessed by different parts of the organization, or perhaps even shared with other cities to help their data-driven initiatives succeed,” Kern continued.  “If data is simply aggregated and siloed then its decision-making power and value is eliminated; it must be accessible to drive the types of innovation and growth that local governments need.”

A hybrid cloud infrastructure is quickly becoming the go-to solution to facilitate this kind of data movement and accessibility.  “A hybrid cloud environment gives CIOs control over where the data resides, while a data fabric enables the seamless movement of data between public and private clouds, as well as cloud-adjacent storage,” said Kern.

With the Smart Cities movement gaining momentum in every region of the country, those just beginning the process will be able to learn a great deal from pioneers like Seattle and Plano.  From what was shared at the AWS Public Sector Summit by both local government IT leaders and data management experts, while the vision of a data-driven city that delivers more services, more efficiently to its citizens is important, having the right data management infrastructure behind the scenes is just as important.

Interested in learning more about data management for Smart Cities?  You can find out a hybrid cloud infrastructure here.