“Ask the Expert” Q&A with CTIA’s Michelle James on their New Smart Cities Playbook

Tuesday 9/1/20 09:00am
Posted By Christine Jorgensen
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In our blog, Developers Helping Smart Cities Be Smarter, we looked at some of the technology challenges cities are facing, and strategies on how developers could get involved. Recently, the CTIA Smart Cities Business & Technology Working Groups collaborated to create an industry Smart Cities Playbook. In this blog, we talk directly with CTIA’s Michelle James, Vice President, Strategic Industry Programs, in our “Ask the Expert” interview to explore her views and experiences with the technologies being introduced by cities who want to become smarter.

CTIA’s Michelle James, Vice President, Strategic Industry Programs

QC: Can you first explain the role of CTIA’s Smart Cities Working Groups, and why this Playbook is a valuable resource for cities that are trying to be smarter?

MJ: In 2017, CTIA formed a series of Smart Cities Business & Technology Working Groups with the purpose of developing educational tools and resources focused on wireless smart city technologies. We came together as an industry to collaborate, explore live use cases, and share lessons learned. We also visited communities of varying sizes to hear their unique challenges and see their smart deployments. In 2019, we pulled those learnings together and created our first Smart Cities Playbook to share with local officials and municipal decision makers. The Playbook explores use cases and provides helpful tips on how to get started in your community, today! Cities can use the Playbook as a resource to learn more about these findings and the role wireless technology plays in making communities better and safer, and (certainly) smarter.

QC: Where do cities struggle in implementing technology?

MJ: In my discussions with cities, the most common struggle is lack of precedence for similar deployments. Often times, we are talking about new technologies that require new processes or connectivity requirements. We live in exciting times! Our connectivity is evolving and with that comes more possibilities; higher bandwidth and lower latency offers new use cases for cities that haven’t been digitally connected before. Cities only know what they know! They know they have certain challenges, and now they have new solutions with promises to streamline efficiencies and make their communities safer, and smarter. One of the themes in our working groups is how, as an industry, we can listen more and sell less as cities identify their challenges and ask for help addressing them. A new initiative this year has been launching an online smart cities platform called Town Square for both city leaders and wireless industry experts, to share use cases, deployment challenges, and educate each other.

QC: How could developers of smart city solutions ensure they are building what cities really need to become smarter?

MJ: We need to stop trying to build the newest, shiniest thing and remember to listen. To become smarter, cities are asking for help to first understand their problem. To be successful in today’s smart city marketplace, learn as much as possible about the specific challenges facing individual communities today. Understanding that smart cities solutions are not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ exercise, is a good place to start.

QC: What are some examples of smart technologies that you have seen that impressed you and why?

MJ: It’s amazing how technology with a specific purpose can influence behavior. In our Smart Cities Business and Technology Working Groups, we look for use cases that effect behavioral change on a grand scale. Specifically, how the right connected, wireless technology can maximize efficiencies to make communities safer and smarter. Right now, we are seeing a lot of innovation in response to COVID-19. From facial scanning technologies to determine whether or not individuals entering building are wearing mask, to shared mobility best practices for keeping spaces sterilized, to how mass transit hubs plan to accommodate high volumes with contactless solutions. There are many opportunities for wireless technologies to make communities even better than before.

If there is a silver lining to the global disruption, perhaps some cities will begin to advance their initiatives around health and safety of their citizens in historic ways as we move toward whatever the ‘new normal’ might resemble. As a person that was accustomed to getting on a plane for work a couple times a month, I welcome the increased hygiene effort! These technologies promise to keep us safe while away from our homes and families, and I am proud of our industry for the ‘all hands-on deck’ kind of collaboration and innovation that is taking place to help rebuild that sense of trust for travelers near (and far!).

QC: What are the top consideration points for cities that should be addressed in any Request for Proposal (RFP) response?

MJ: As part of our Smart Cities Playbook, our group of wireless experts compiled an RFP checklist with a goal of gathering the top consideration points in mind. Whether you are a city trying to write an RFP, or a vendor seeking the best response, this checklist can be used as a reference to make sure you are looking beyond the listed requirements and into areas that should be considered as part of any smart city deployment. Some top consideration points include looking beyond the deployment phase of the project and into the lifecycle management of technologies such as data analytics, metrics, and operations. Vendors have the unique ability to help educate cities as part of their RFP response and this checklist is an industry-wide effort to compile those top consideration points.

QC: What are the key problems/needs that cities are working to address with technology, and has this changed in any way with COVID-19?

MJ: As you can imagine, every community has unique needs and challenges reflective of the residents and businesses that call those communities home. Regardless of where you live, one type of technology we’ve seen gain mass adoption as a result of COVID-19 has been telehealth services. While telehealth is not a new concept, the need to check in remotely with your doctor was a nice to have option, not a need to have. In these unprecedented times, technology has enabled us to rethink how we interact with doctors, and even our colleagues, families, teachers and schools. As an industry, we understand working remotely, sharing life events remotely, and learning remotely has been a new normal for many as COVID-19 transformed our everyday routines into one restricted by quarantine. We know that the wireless industry has to remain innovative and look for even more ways to keep communities connected and safe. As a group, our smart city experts are exploring use cases that will help do just that as cities look to reopen their businesses and our lives continue to adapt to the technologies that are shaping our new normal.

QC: Can you tell us a little bit more about CTIA’s collaboration with the Qualcomm Smart Cities Accelerator Program?

MJ: I am thrilled that Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. has been part of our smart cities journey from the very beginning. It began with Dr. Jeffrey Torrance, Vice President, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., whose incredible engineering mind and critical thinking brought to light the need for wireless industry collaboration with a focus on educating city stakeholders. Jeff also helped craft our vision for how we could bring that education to life. While Jeff primarily focuses on the technologies that enable solutions, he asked the right questions and lit a fire among other industry members who saw the opportunity to increase adoption of smart technologies through educational tools. Jeff then nominated Sanjeet Pandit, Global Head of Smart Cities, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., as a chair to our Smart Cities Business & Technology Working Groups and the rest is history! We are a proud partner of QTI’s work in the smart cities space and couldn’t be happier with the friendships we’ve made along the way. Sanjeet has truly been a smart cities leader, and the Qualcomm® Smart Cities Accelerator Program is a direct result of Sanjeet’s hard work and dedication to making smart cities a reality for communities in North America!

Do you have a solution for Smart Cities? The Qualcomm Smart Cities Accelerator Program is designed to connect cities, municipalities, government agencies, and enterprises with an ecosystem of providers offering solutions from Qualcomm Technologies. Learn more about it here.

Qualcomm Smart Cities Accelerator program is a program of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.