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Build a city without setting up a garden
Head of SibSUTI Dmitry Gokov on the prospects of creating Smart city in the Far East
Head of the Department of Smart City of the Siberian State University of Telecommunications and Informatics
Today, only the lazy is not talking about smart cities. Smart cities have become the "new black": according to my personal observations, over the past year in Russia there has not been, perhaps, a single major conference in the field of ICT, where one way or another would not touch upon this area. Take, for example, the annual seaside forum Dalinfocom, where the topic of the smart city has become an invariable part of the program over the past years. And this is not unreasonable. Smart cities are truly a global trend, the meaning of which is to build a comfortable and efficient living environment in the context of growing urbanization. Compliance with it means Russia's compliance with the world agenda of socio-economic development. For the Far East, this is, in my opinion, a matter of reputation, because it is our neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region - Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore - that are carriers of the most advanced smart city technologies and set the bar for development in this area. To look worthy against their background is a condition of our competitiveness in the strategically important Asia-Pacific arena.
Long-term discussions flow, albeit slowly, into the plane of practical actions, and these actions unfold from different sides, both at the federal and regional levels. First of all, these are major federal initiatives like the Safe City program, coordinated by the Russian Emergencies Ministry. Secondly, there are regional and municipal projects. For example, in the same Primorye last year, an information system for monitoring public transport was introduced. And now, right before our eyes, another development vector is ripening - the international one. This is a Russian-Japanese project for the development of a comfortable urban environment, which is gaining momentum under the auspices of the Ministry of Construction of the Russian Federation and designed to make the most different components of our cities “smart” - from traffic lights to water pipes. And here it is worth making a stop to, so to speak, look around.
On the one hand, the growing activity in the sphere of smart cities should be welcomed, especially when it affects the regions of the Far Eastern Federal District (I recall that Vladivostok was chosen as one of the pilot cities within the framework of the Russian-Japanese project). New smart projects are a flow of investment, new opportunities for business and society, a change in the quality of life. Socio-economic benefits are obvious, but I would like to consider the technological side and identify the risks, the ignoring of which may in the long term nullify the entire positive effect of smart cities.
In IT there is such a slang term - "zoo". It means a nightmarish situation for any IT specialist, when within the organization there are a bunch of different information systems. Each of them can be useful and functional in its own way, but they are not connected with each other in any way and cannot even in the long run - as different biological species. Why is that bad? First, the economy suffers - you have to spend resources on supporting each system separately, instead of solving the issue "in bulk". Secondly, the “zoo” does not give the desired result, only certain aspects are being ordered, but there was no general order, and there is no.
If you leave everything as it is, then smart cities will face a similar chaos, only a more consonant epithet in this case will not be “zoo”, but “vegetable garden”, forgive the pun. Scattered and multidirectional activities cannot lead to anything else. And in the case of the Japanese project, the case also acquires some political ambiguity. Against the background of the rhetoric about import substitution, digital sovereignty and sanctions risks, the project creates a situation in which access to critical infrastructure can be obtained from the state, which is the West's main ally in the APR, while being de jure at war with Russia.
But the purely technological risks are much more threatening. In my opinion, the authorities responsible for developing smart cities at different levels should realize one simple thing. In the smart city project, we approached, or just about to come to a point that requires the development and adoption of fundamental technological solutions. This is, first of all, the creation and normative approval of unified technical standards (protocols, data models, etc.) for systems that automate certain areas of the urban environment. In addition, it is the choice of software platforms that would become the basis for various application solutions, integrating them into a single whole at different levels. This is extremely important. Only under such conditions, it is possible to effectively implement specific sectoral projects, achieving a comprehensive synergetic effect.
Of course, all of the above requires a certain political will and time. But it is better to make a justified pause, make the right decisions and win in the long run, than to hasten to "build a garden" with disastrous consequences for years and decades. By the way, a lot was said about the importance of common platform technologies at the conference recently held in Innopolis. CYPR-2017 with the participation of key executives of the Ministry of Communications, the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation. And although there was no agreement among the speakers in understanding specific ways of implementing the platform approach, the very fact of discussion of the issue is already revealing. I want to believe that the right words in the near future will be embodied in the right actions.