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Beyond smart cities: Driving social change with IoT and analytics

The world is deep in the throes of a state of transformation. The adoption of IoT technology is on the rise and the promise of our smart cities of the future is beginning to come to fruition. Our governments and municipalities are evolving past manually collecting and crunching data by looking to new, automated sources of data that can make cities safer, smarter, healthier and more efficient.

Thanks to computer vision and machine learning, existing cameras are used as sensors to deliver insights on traffic, parking, pedestrian patterns and bike lane usage to improve signal patterns and road safety. Water and electricity are monitored for conservation and efficiency, and parks are improving nighttime safety with lights and specialized cameras.

Here in the United States, data driven approaches have already become commonplace in the private sector. Companies use massive data sets to better understand their retail or e-commerce customers, manufacturing plants and logistics to improve routing and eliminate waste and unnecessary costs. But there are significant challenges to deploying IoT technology for the good of the public on a large scale. Many factors come into play to halt the progress of innovative programs, including costly infrastructure already being firmly in place across most developed countries, taxpayer dollars being allocated for other initiatives, and high public scepticism or “not in my backyard” attitudes.

To this end, much can be learned by looking overseas to the possibilities of a more connected future to encourage more agile, efficient and evidence-based decision making to improve people’s well-being.

Setting an example

Andhra Pradesh, the eighth largest state in India, is home to approximately 53 million people and a leading example of how this approach can achieve social change and improve sustainability. Like many states, they are tasked with solving complex challenges such as sustainable resource management, poverty, crime and responding to natural disasters. Unlike most states, Andhra Pradesh has one of the most innovative smart city and smart state programs in the world — an achievement typically attributed to more developed nations, and one that’s making a big difference to its people.

Andhra Pradesh has undertaken a journey of digital transformation to drive economic growth and innovation while creating a safer, more sustainable lifestyle for its people. The state’s ambitious, overarching objective is to achieve the 17 United Nations’ sustainable development goals for 2030 – only Andhra Pradesh aims to achieve this by 2022.

If that weren’t already enough, this progressive, data-driven government also wants its people to be happy. It has set about using data analytics to quantify what happiness means to its citizenry, what leads to happiness and what the state can do to make happiness possible for all of its people in a measurable way. To the government of Andhra Pradesh, the “common person” is its customer.

To achieve these lofty goals, Andhra Pradesh inaugurated its Real Time Governance Center, the hub for the state’s coordinated effort to provide real-time monitoring and reporting across its entire ecosystem of 13 districts with 33 departments, including more than 300 agencies offering 745 services, each with its own data systems and analytics.

Identifying areas for improvement, the center then uses data to track those improvements with the managers of those departments, agencies and services. The center integrates massive amounts of data gathered from IoT devices, security and traffic cameras that use video analytics, department databases and citizen surveys, along with real-time data from its various functions, to enable constructive real-time governance.

Emphasizing accountability and transparency for all of its citizens, the state’s real-time governance initiative takes this approach to enhance several key areas of government:

  • Government services, such as education, ration and pension distribution, agricultural subsidies, and management of infrastructure resources such as streetlights, water reservoirs, buildings and energy.
  • Disaster relief and management, with the goal of predicting dangerous weather events and providing timely warning to citizens prior to the onset of a natural disaster to save lives and reduce the negative impacts.
  • Public safety, with the goal of making Andhra Pradesh one of the safest places to live in the world.
  • Solving human problems with data analytics

Andhra Pradesh has set admirable goals to improve life for its large population and solve social and economic challenges — many of which are shared by other, similar communities throughout the world. Having an accurate understanding of the current situation and historical trends is key to measuring and solving these issues. However, many cities in both developing and developed nations lack good data and good data management provided through smart spaces technologies. Manual observation yields only a very small snapshot of what is taking place in any given area. Without the holistic view of a society that can be gained from using an electronic or automated approach to collecting, analyzing and drawing insights from data, it’s difficult for agencies to get apples-to-apples comparisons and collaborate with each other to achieve their goals.

Data analytics is foundational to Andhra Pradesh’s success in overcoming its challenges and achieving its objectives. For example, the elimination of waste and corruption are important steps to moving toward significant positive social and environmental change. By using data analytics, Andhra Pradesh can track goods or food rations to ensure that they’re not lost or stolen and that the people they are intended for don’t go hungry.

A role model for data-driven social transformation

By ensuring the program has put the right solutions in place, Andhra Pradesh’s leaders have the insights and tools they need to improve their citizens’ lives. These aren’t just hopeful utopian visions without a plan, however — they’re based on measurable information, holistic management and results. By taking a data-driven approach to creating a better life for its citizens, Andhra Pradesh is not only setting the bar for what positive social change means, it’s also providing a model for how other communities around the world can use pragmatic approaches to solve real human and sustainability challenges — to transition our global civilization to one that will not only survive the decades to come, but will help all people thrive along the way.

Andhra Pradesh can be a role model for states, cities and nations around the world to take a data driven approach to improving the lives of their citizens, while creating thriving and sustainable economies. In order to achieve these goals, other governments can gather data to:

  • Asses the needs of their people — what are their reported and measured challenges they face and the scale of these challenges? What are the factors that create these challenges and how can they be adjusted?
  • Set measurable goals and track key performance indicators that are regularly reported on and used to evolve strategies to improve performance.
  • Create accountability by assigning clear roles, achievable expectations and which goals each person or team will seek to improve, with defined rewards for good performance and learning mechanisms to reverse poor performance.
  • Engage the public for feedback and ideas for improvement, while providing transparency into how the data is used and how the organization is performing.
  • Practice agility to change programs or approaches that aren’t working and learn from results regularly, allowing lessons learned to affect strategies, tactics and actions.
  • Share lessons and challenges with sister cities, states and nations to gain new perspectives, ideas and resources for improving life and sustainability for people today and in the future.

With these data-driven approaches to improving lives, economies and our environment, we can achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals together and create a thriving, fair and sustainable society for future generations.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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