Columbus Focuses on Economic Development, Partnerships and Wins Smart City Challenge

Create: 07/06/2016 - 13:00

The city will count on IoT, data analytics and smart shuttles to improve transportation systems and healthcare access for those in disadvantaged neighborhoods.  

The U.S. Department of Transportation chose Columbus, OH, over 77 other cities—including tech hotbeds San Francisco and Austin, TX—as the big $40 million winner in this year’s Smart City Challenge. A grant competition with a focus on transportation, The Smart City Challenge is designed to help the winner become the first city to fully integrate new technologies and become a model for other municipalities. While development of infrastructure and transportation solutions are at the core of the program, the Smart City Challenge encompasses all types of IoT technology from bridge sensors to data analytics to self-driving cars.

Columbus is expected to bring in as much as $140 million of technology development funding with this Smart City win. Specifically, the city will receive $40 million from the federal government, and another $10 million from Vulcan, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s company. The city will get an additional $90 million in matching funds from local companies, governments and non-profits.

Never Underestimate the Underdog

Unlike other entrants, Columbus doesn’t offer its residents commuter rail or other high-capacity transportation solutions (beyond buses) that are typically available in cities of similar size. So it didn’t focus its entry on improving existing transportation systems. Columbus earned the grant from the government in two ways: It lined up matching local funding along with donated technology and expertise, and it focused on ways to use smart technology to help its most underserved populations.

A major part of Columbus' winning pitch was increasing transportation options to its economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. The city will use autonomous vehicles to link its Linden area neighborhood—where unemployment is three times the city average—to a nearby jobs center. Plans include connecting populations to opportunity by solving public transportation’s first-and-last-mile gap, getting residents to transit centers and back home. City planners hope the new service will also help disadvantaged families get better access to health care and essential city services.

Columbus intends to serve its low-income population by creating transit cards for using ride-hailing or car-sharing services, even if they don't have a smartphone or bank account. Passengers may be able to use those cards to schedule doctor appointments. Columbus also plans to use data analytics to improve health care access in a neighborhood that currently has an infant mortality rate four times that of the national average, allowing them to provide improved transportation options to those most in need of prenatal care.

Car2Go in Action

Photo credit: Car2Go,

“The thing that distinguished Columbus was that they were able to connect the problems they identified with specific technology solutions that are measureable,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in Governing Magazine. Foxx had the final say in picking the winner. “We feel they have a very good chance of success.”

Technology Drives the Smart City

During the competition and bidding, Columbus city officials masterfully worked with local stakeholders to gain matching funds that would leverage the impact of the federal grant, if the city were to win.

It also lined up several companies to donate technologies to the city, including Google Alphabet’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs. Sidewalk Labs offered data-gathering kiosks and access to its new transportation analytics platform, Flow. Amazon promised to provide cloud services, awarding $1 million in credits for AWS Cloud Services and AWS Professional Services. Mobileye volunteered to equip buses with pedestrian and cyclist detection and avoidance systems. Local Motors will deploy talking, self-driving electric shuttles.

Photo credit: US Department of Transportation

The Smart City Challenge rewards actually extend beyond the winner. Private companies and nonprofits have signed up to help not only Columbus, but also the cities that entered but didn't win. These participating companies specialize in fields such as urban innovation, cloud computing, telecommunications, solar-powered charging stations for electric vehicles, engineering design software, wireless transmitters for vehicles and infrastructure, and pedestrian- and cyclist-detection for buses. According to the Department of Transportation, 150 companies and nonprofit groups have pledged as much as $500 million in support.

Solution providers interested in seeing the presentation from Columbus to the U.S. Department of Transportation or contacting the Columbus Smart City development team can find information at

Curbing Congestion: Smart Parking Solutions

Create: 05/25/2016 - 13:00

As drivers in major cities continue to grapple with traffic congestion, urban planners are turning to IoT solution providers for help with intelligent transportation management tools.   

The urban population explosion is going at full force, as experts project that another 2.5 billion people will live in major urban areas by 2050. With that in mind, city and metropolitan planners are on the hunt for automated IoT technology solutions that will make city dwellers happy, healthy and safe.

One of the greatest challenges for administrators—and residents—is the general absence of a strategic approach to parking and routing traffic. Almost 30 percent of all traffic congestion in urban areas is caused by drivers looking for a parking space, ITS America reports. The constant circling for spaces wastes time, is inconvenient and increases toxic carbon dioxide emissions.

To reduce downtown pressure points, city planners are turning to solution providers and IoT device manufacturers for help in building smart parking and traffic management systems. Some early systems in development include the installation of sensors embedded in pavement (or on top of the pavement) to collect data on open spaces and make it available to drivers and parking facility operators. The real-time parking availability data is transmitted to digital signs located outside a parking garage or accessible from a driver’s smartphone app. The driver knows the location of the available parking spot and, as a bonus, knows immediately the cost of parking.

The data collected from these sensors is also useful for area traffic management solutions, where urban city planners analyze the information to manage rush hour congestion, determine the occupancy rate of available parking spaces, calculate peak parking times and rates by city block and optimize traffic signals for better flow.

Photo credit: Milwaukee Airport, Signal-Tech

IoT Drives Benefits and Opportunities

Automated parking systems with sensors have an added benefit for retailers. The data from the smart parking application can be used by retailers in a mall or at a large retail outlet to better predict the store’s peak shopping rush. This means the retailer can manage the store workforce accordingly and adjust the number of employees on duty by time of day.

For solution providers, the opportunities to innovate in parking and transportation solutions in urban areas are numerous. Value-added elements include:

  • Sensing applications: Parking space utilization, traffic lane utilization, traffic lane speed measurements, environmental sensing, including temperature and light as well as extended sensing such as gas, fine dust, radioactivity and seismic activity.
  • Controlling applications: Street lights, traffic lights, traffic management, car-park routing.

Europe Paves the Way in Intelligent Parking

Some European cities are already ahead of the curve in adoption of smart parking solutions. In the larger European cities, an estimated one-third of traffic is composed of drivers searching for parking, according to Bloomberg. In fact, a study by Apcoa Parking Holdings showed drivers in Germany city centers need an average of 10 minutes and cover three miles while driving around searching for a parking spot. Congestion is such a problem that many European cities are under enormous pressure to find immediate working solutions that reduce traffic and pollution. For example, currently in Berlin only low-emission vehicles can enter its downtown area.  

In response to these problems, Siemens developed the Siemens Intelligent Parking Solution with the goal to mitigate key parking-related issues. This solution simplifies city and driver decision-making with information on parking availability that ultimately frees up roads.

In use in Berlin, this solution has helped city leaders reduce congestion, improve the use of available parking resources, efficiently enforce illegal parking and optimize revenue by making real-time parking violations accessible to law enforcement officials. The system also automates billing-to-the-minute payment and allows a convenient, cashless payment system for Berlin drivers.

The modular sensor system from Siemens uses Intel IoT Gateways with Wind River Intelligent Device Platform software and Intel Security technologies. The system constantly gathers data with a combination of ground and overhead sensors (installed in street lights) and collects real-time parking space availability information, while taking vehicle size requirements into account. The data is securely aggregated and sent to the cloud via Intel IoT Gateway, then made available via APIs, so it can be leveraged for traffic-reducing and revenue-building applications by solution providers and developers.

For more about this solution and other options for building smart cities, efficient transportation systems, and controlling traffic flow, visit and


IoT Technology Going Full Speed Ahead in Automotive Solutions

Create: 05/16/2016 - 13:00

Gartner predicts that there will be 250 million connected vehicles on the road by 2020, as solution providers in the automotive industry continue to speed along with IoT development. One initiative gaining traction is IBM’s Watson IoT, an area that IBM is investing $3 billion into over the course of the next four years. More than 500 partners including Intel and 80,000 developers are currently working on IoT solutions in the IBM Watson ecosystem, according to IBM CEO Ginni Rometty.

Specific to automotive applications, IBM’s Watson IoT for Automotive aims to leverage the wealth of data generated by vehicle sensors, vehicle applications, and driver applications and help manufacturers make insight-driven improvements to marketing, sales, service, and product development functions. A key goal of IoT solution providers in the transportation industry is to link drivers and vehicles to their surrounding environment and improve the experience.

Some compelling stats released from IBM Watson for IoT: By 2020, the car will be the No. 1 connected application, and connected vehicles will produce 350 MB of data per second. However, studies have shown that 88 percent of IoT data is ignored. So IBM is using this initiative to try and change that, counting on “cognitive IoT” to address the challenges of capturing—and using—IoT data in real time.

Watson IoT enables vehicle-to-cloud communications, which transmits data to and from vehicles and couples it with an analytics portfolio, delivering information that can help the driver and the vehicle operate more efficiently. The vehicle can also communicate with other IoT autos and the surrounding infrastructure. IoT devices can collect information on traffic congestion, geolocation, weather and road conditions. Data gathered from embedded sensors could help improve passenger safety, vehicle efficiency, and overall effectiveness of the transportation system.

A New Formula for Performance

IBM’s Watson IoT tech is already being put to test at the racetrack. IBM is working with Honda R&D to monitor and analyze data from more than 160 sensors in Formula One cars using IoT technology. Drivers and crew can apply data and analytics in real-time to help streamline performance and improve fuel efficiency. This allows Formula One drivers racing in this high-stress, quick-decision environment to make competitive decisions--such as speed adjustments and the timing of pit stops—based on actual car data.

Photo credit: Twitter @HondaRacingF1

Before IoT, engineers would pull data such as timing and fuel flow from the power unit after the race, allowing them to adjust before the next event. Now, that can happen during the race. "By applying advanced IoT technologies, we can ensure our drivers and teams are constantly connected," said Satoru Nada, chief engineer and manager, Power Unit Development Division, Honda R&D Co. Ltd. HRD Sakura,  in a statement. “We are bringing excitement to fans worldwide around the performance of our power unit and drivers, with the power of data and real-time analytics becoming a critical factor in winning races."

Honda's F1 racing power unit can also save energy to use later during the race, for more power when the race is on the line. For example, anytime the driver uses the brakes, the heat given off from friction can be captured and saved to the battery, similar to what happens in a Honda hybrid consumer vehicle. The system will also capture heat from the exhaust and save it as more energy in the battery, allowing the car to give the racer more power when she needs it, such as when passing.

During the race, data is streamed to the cloud and shared with the pit crew teams equipped with tablets and mobile technology. The data is then analyzed in real-time by researchers at HRD Sakura, Honda’s R&D facility in Japan and Honda's trackside members. Transmitting this analysis with the IBM Streams analytics platform as the race is taking place allows for adjustments to basic metrics such as temperature, pressure, and power levels that help improve the power unit performance.

With uses from the track to the freeway, automotive IoT has earned the green flag. If IoT developers, partners, and solution providers can continue with the current momentum and put the data to use, the race will be an exciting one to watch. 

Better Security On Track for Automotive IoT

Create: 04/24/2016 - 13:00

A weak foundation makes for a poor building — and the same can be said for security solutions in the Internet of Things landscape. Unless engineers design with security in mind, IoT systems will not be able to build the toughest, strongest systems available. The connected car is one of the most vivid examples of how the IoT can change everyday living. 

In the automotive space, system security is particularly important, as hackers could place a running vehicle in harm's way, by remotely controlling internal systems. That was detailed in Wired's article, "Hackers Remotely Kill a Jeep on the Highway" last summer. 

Last week, at the at Society of Automotive Engineers 2016 World Congress in Detroit, Assistant Attorney General John Carlin said that three-quarters of new cars will feature online connectivity by 2020. That means they will also be vulnerable to hackers. 

The auto industry has been busily addressing IoT security. For instance, last fall, at the Derbycon hacker conference in Louisville, KY, security consultant Craig Smith discussed how to find security vulnerabilities in equipment used by mechanics and dealerships to update car software and run vehicle diagnostics. (See the video, "Latest Tools in Automotive Hacking," here.) Smith's tool allows engineers to determine where weaknesses are, and address those potential hacker access points. 

Indeed, automotive engineers are taking up the mantle, David Barzilai, chairman and co-founder of Karamba Security, a pioneer in ECU endpoint security, told me in an email exchange.

“The automotive industry has been stepping up to the challenge of hardening cars against cyberattacks. All major car companies and every major system provider (tier-1) have created cyber teams that direct a more secure development of the cars and car controller,” said Barzilai, “Karamba Security believes that the best method is to block hackers before they hack into the car. This mission is achieved by hardening cars' externally connected controllers according to factory settings. All foreign codes are then blocked from penetrating the car's safety-related systems and risking drivers' lives.”

Most security vulnerabilities result from coding errors that are undetected during development. For example, Carnegie Mellon's Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) found that 64% of vulnerabilities in the CERT National Vulnerability Database were the result of programming errors.

Hackers know that many of today's security procedures and applications are aimed at defending against attacks on personal computers, rather than at mobile and embedded systems. For automotive engineers, an ounce of prevention is most definitely worth a pound of cure.

How To Get Customers On-Board the Cloud

Create: 04/18/2016 - 13:00

As IT consultants and integrators transition toward becoming strategic service providers (SSPs) for their customers, the importance of cloud computing is becoming increasingly evident. Still, some businesses are struggling to embrace cloud computing, unwilling to go from have data stored off-premise, rather than down the hall, or "on-prem."

As the digital industry has grown, such businesses are struggling with scaling, flexibility and customer visibility. Cloud computing provides economies of scale, which leads to improved cash flow — vital for any size company, but a perennial issue for small ones in particular. 

How to convince your reluctant customer it's time to climb onto the cloud? 

Flexibility. The cloud lets businesses scale up or down by drawing on remote servers when needed. That is especially important for those that are dependent on seasonal sales. 

Cost savings. While your customers might think they'll miss being able to walk "down the hall" to their data center, moving to the cloud means not only extra room at the main facility, but also a team of people that will roll out software updates and do other system maintenance. In addition, customers pay as they go, using a subscription-based model that is budget-friendly to cash flow. Plus, it creates a recurring revenue stream for SSPs.

Disaster Recovery. If all the sales data — including backups — is on-premise, in the event of a fire, flood or other disaster, everything is lost. Many small businesses cannot recover from the physical damage compounded by the data loss. The cloud provides safe, off-prem storage and services.  Aberdeen has reported that, ironically, small businesses that use the cloud for DR use it more wisely than their larger counterparts — but small companies are more likely than others to have no DR plan at all. 

More sales. Moving to the cloud can help retailers reap more revenue. A recent study by CloudCraze and Salesforce found that cloud-based eCommerce systems realize higher sales over shorter periods of time than their legacy system counterparts: "More than 40% of cloud-based system users reported over half of their total sales are happening online, compared to only 13% of on-premise system users. Of those on-premise users, almost 60% had been selling goods online for more than five years, while only 30% of cloud-based users had been online for that long, proving that working on the cloud better allows businesses to foster growth in digital sales."

Clearly, there is a middle sector of companies who understand why the cloud is critical, but do not employ it because they do not have the time, money or expertise to invest in it. Those reasons are also the key  benefits of engaging strategic service providers specializing in cloud solutions. 


Want Recurring Revenue? Look To IoT Solutions

Create: 04/13/2016 - 13:00

The Internet of things market is growing by leaps and bounds, providing excellent revenue opportunity for strategic solution providers -- an opportunity that stretches far out from the first sale, and incorporates a total solution that spreads out among dozens, if not hundreds, of connected devices.

Building a recurring revenue stream provides a solid foundation for a successful strategic solution provider business. With a predicted 200 million connected objects on the scene in 2020, according to Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, there's quite a bit of potential for services, maintenance and implementations. 

Underscoring those rosy predictions are various research reports, including one this week from Markets and Markets. The researcher published its findings that the IoT market will grow from $157.5 billion this year to $661.74 billion dollars by 2021.

The report notes that sensors are coming down in price, networking technologies are evolving and more companies are adopting cloud computing. All of that is creating a "perfect storm" for IoT to increase in popularity and therefore become a staple of the SSP offering. Coupled with IoT technologies becoming mainstream is the ability of the IT partner to create regular income, i.e., a dependable revenue stream.

Masanari Arai (pictured, right) spoke to that point at this week's Smart IoT London event: "Monetizing IoT is the next key discussion point in any conversation around IoT," Arai told attendees. "IoT is not just a device or hardware sell, which tends to generate one-off revenues and typically very low-profit margins, but an opportunity for organizations to generate regular monthly recurring revenue. We need to see a fundamental business model shift in the industry, away from these one-off hardware costs and towards a long-term service-driven revenue model."

Arai founded Kii, an IoT platform provider, some nine years ago. His company is involved with  software solutions — one of the segments Markets and Markets recognizes as playing a significant role in the IT market. Kiii is one of a number of companies that uses the cloud for flexible deployment and cost containment. SaaS cloud-based systems are growing at incredible rates; for example, Salesforce revenue increased 46% last year, and the company reported 259 billion transactions in one quarter alone this year. Such growth is likely to continue to be buoyed by the increasing number of connected devices in different application areas, as well as the improved connectivity and speeds by which the devices will communicate.

Companies will need to manage their data as well as protect it; therefore, business intelligence and security will represent other huge market opportunities. Security solutions could actually see the highest rate of growth during that forecasted period. With all the recent talk about the vulnerability of IoT solutions, solution providers with security skills will be in demand.

And those segments aren't without controversy. For example, recently, the UL's IoT standard has come under considerable fire for a number of reasons, including that it's not available at no charge. However, rather than the UL's "pass/fail" strategy, some industry insiders would prefer a "Monroney sticker" approach. That's the paper sticker detailing the features of any new automobile sold in the United States. (You know, the one that's virtually permanently adhered to the passenger-side window.) With such a sticker, consumers would know how exactly a particular product was equipped in terms of features such as security.

Simon Dudley, CEO of Excession Events, told XChange Solution Provider 2016 attendees that the very nature of the solution provider job has changed. Indeed, the question to the customer is not, "What do I have to sell you?" but rather, "What are you trying to accomplish?" Twenty years ago, solution providers embraced virtualization, managed services and remote data centers as they embarked on customer-centric solutions. Today, the evolution continues, as next-generation partners look to refine and build upon their skills, now focused on connected devices and managed services delivered through a recurring sales model. 



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