THE BLOG
11/20/2013 12:43 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

The Road to Smart City: It Starts Here, It Starts Now

Cities today face unprecedented pressures. From the continued impact of a sluggish economy to budget shortfalls to rising sustainability challenges, they are competing more than ever before in a global market for business investment and talent.

Cities that do improve their livability and attract investment face a tidal wave of demand. McKinsey estimates that by 2030, 60 percent of the world's population, or 5 billion people, will migrate to urban centers. This is a staggering notion, particularly given that many metropolises are already struggling to provide adequate services to the 3.6 billion people who live in cities today.

For decades, the industry has praised innovation under the 'Smart City' banner as the answer to helping cities overcome these challenges. Now, we have reached a watershed moment when a Smart City is no longer a science project or simply a vision for some future reality. Two founding principles of Silicon Valley are colliding with tectonic force.

Everyone's heard of Moore's Law, made famous by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, which blazes the path for ever denser and more powerful computing. Fewer people have heard of Metcalfe's Law. The "Father of Ethernet" Robert Metcalfe argued that the value of a network increases exponentially as more devices are connected. In 2013, as the cost of computing continues to plummet, these two laws intersect. Billions of devices with unprecedented computing capability are coming onto networks with ferocious speed.

Cities realize that with this convergence of Moore's and Metcalfe's Laws, they can now connect both people and devices to deliver a new level of value to their citizens. The question is, how to practically get started?

In my discussions with city and government leaders around the world, they all agree that Smart City technology is something that will help increase their livability indexes, foster talent and accelerate job creation. But for many, the complex vision of the Smart City is intimidating and recalls the ghosts of projects past that failed to deliver.

Where they need help is in understanding how to practically begin their journey of transforming into a true Smart City. Top-down visions requiring massive, simultaneous implementation have shown to be too expensive and operationally impractical. Conversely a marginal, uncoordinated project approach will add costs in the long-run, increase the risks of integration and generally fail to deliver any real value.

There is a better, easier approach. Cities should develop a comprehensive vision and architecture up front, then implement specific applications on a pay-as-you-go basis leveraging the network economics and proven technology available to them today. This will allow them to implement at the 'pace of value' -- choosing the highest ROI projects first, later expanding to encompass additional applications as needed.

Cities can 'self-fund' these Smart City networks by tackling a specific challenge and then re-investing proven operational and cost savings into more services for their citizens. Let's look at street lighting as an example. Street lights can eat up to as much as 40 percent of a city's energy budget. By replacing existing street lights with networked LED lamps, cities can enjoy up to 65 percent in energy savings and improve operational efficiency by more than 40 percent.

Cities can then utilize the same network canopy installed to modernize public lighting for a vast array of innovative services such as smart parking, traffic control, pollution sensors, electric vehicle charging, citizen Internet access, health and safety applications, and more. Iconic cities such as Copenhagen and Paris are underway on this type of journey today.

By installing these self-funded Smart City networks, cities can open up a new world of environmental sustainability, health and safety, traffic and transportation management, and economic growth opportunities, all without breaking the bank. It also establishes an innovation flywheel attracting new entrepreneurs, new business investment, new types of talent, and new opportunities for the future.

So let's get started. The technology is here. The benefits are proven. And the time is now.