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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

Build a city without setting up a garden

Dmitry Gokov

Head of the Department of Smart City of the Siberian State University of Telecommunications and Informatics
Today only lazy does not speak about smart cities. Smart city became “new black”: according to my personal observations, for the last year in Russia there was probably no major ICT conference where one way or another would not affect this area. Take, for example, the annual seaside forum "Dalinfokom", where the topic of the smart city has become an unchanged 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 in building a comfortable and efficient living environment in the context of growing urbanization. Compliance with it means Russia's compliance with the global agenda of socio-economic development. For the Far East, this is, in my opinion, a question of reputation, since it is our APR neighbors — Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore — that act as carriers of the most advanced smart city technologies and set the bar for development in this area. A decent look on their background is a prerequisite for our competitiveness in the strategically important Asian-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 situation that is dreadful for any IT professional when there is a bunch of assorted information systems within an organization. Each of them can be useful and functional in its own way, only they are in no way connected with each other and cannot even be in perspective as different species. What is bad? First, the economy suffers - it is necessary to spend resources on support of each system separately, instead of solving a question "wholesale". Secondly, the "zoo" does not give the desired result, only certain parties are ordered, but there was no general order, and no.

If everything is left, as it is, then smart cities expect such chaos, only a more consonant epithet in this case will not be a "zoo", but a "garden", excuse me for the pun. They will not be able to lead to anything else uncoordinated and multidirectional activities. And in the case of the Japanese project, the business also acquires some political ambiguity. Against the backdrop of 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 main ally of the West 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 term, than in a hurry to “pile up a vegetable garden” with disastrous consequences for years and decades. By the way, the importance of common platform technologies was much discussed at the recent conference 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.
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