Yodit Stanton: How cities can learn from a start-up

Yodit Stanton’s “How cities can learn from a start-up” article was published July 25, 2017 on the “The Network” Cisco’s online news site.

Smart CityHow cities can learn from a start-up

“Offices and cities are changing and are adopting new smart solutions to better manage resources, improve the quality of life and reduce operating expenses in a sustainable way. The next-generation of office buildings is more connected than ever with the means to measure a variety of different data ranging from desk utilization, footfall, noise, light to air quality sensors. Cities are also changing and being increasingly better connected with smart parking and community air quality networks increasingly being deployed.”
Yodit Stanton in “How cities can learn from a start-up

The primary advantage that sensors networks provide organizations, including cities, is to lower the cost of coordination and enable a shift from command and control to markets and self-organizing behavior. There is a risk that increasing surveillance may also increase the desire and ability to micromanage employee or citizen behavior, but to the extent that organizational or municipal values aspire to freedom and enabling individual choice we are less likely to build panopticons and more likely to build more responsive and adaptive infrastructure.

Leaner and Greener

Driven to reduce office space cost, companies are leveraging ‘work from home flexibility’ and moving to flexible and open desk seating. Desk occupancy sensors, meeting room utilization sensors, footfall, and environmental sensors (noise, lighting, air quality) are removing the guesswork from space planning and allow for data-driven decisions and comprehensive streamlined planning.

Cities as well as offices, are changing. By leveraging community-based air quality monitor networks and smart parking systems cities are trying to offer improved services to their residents.

OpenSensors operates the world’s largest repository of air quality data. Additionally, this air quality data is being used internationally by companies to help create and maintain healthier buildings as companies adopt the WELL building standard. Air quality data is combined with data from existing building management systems and occupancy data for a full view of what is happening.

Yodit Stanton in “How cities can learn from a start-up

The desire to reduce costs and increase energy efficiency has resulted in many cases in building environments that are more crowded, noisier, and less comfortable–in some cases even less healthy. As a rule of thumb your energy cost is 1%, your real estate and infrastructure cost is 9%, and your people cost is 90% of the total cost of a corporate office. To the extent that less comfortable noisier environments reduce productivity companies have focused on optimized 10% (energy and real estate) of their costs at the expense of 90% (their people). Sensor networks can provide more accurate information both to facilities managers and workspace designers to create healthier office environments and a more productive workforce.

Lessons Learned

  • Phased approach to adding sensors: Successful projects use a phased approach, from proof of concept to full-scale deployment, to reduce the time to go live and minimize risk. We start small and slowly build up after going through a total of four phases, before undergoing a full deployment. This idea can also work with cities that are using new technologies.
  • Visualization key to understanding: Data is most useful when overlaid with a visualization layer like a map, floorplan or historical trend lines. Domain experts such as interior designers and facilities managers in buildings take action on these recommendations. In cities, we see data from air quality, parking and other sensors enabling city designers to do the same.
  • Operational dashboards: Critical to deployment and maintenance are the operational dashboards that monitor the network health and installation process. The OpenSensors team works closely with facilities managers, training them to install as well as manage the sensor networks.
  • Multi-disciplinary team: Much of our deployment success is due to our multi-disciplinary team of domain experts: facilities managers, interior designers, city designers, network engineers, installers, hardware engineers, data analysts, software engineers and project managers. The multi-disciplinary team is responsible for the project management implementation process, developing the detailed project plan, and developing widespread support. Much of the project happens in phases. For example, get a floor working before focusing on an entire building. The same concept can work in a city, working on specific streets or neighborhoods, before a full citywide deployment.

Yodit Stanton in “How cities can learn from a start-up

There is a lot to unpack here but I first want to offer some context, a Cisco survey of 1200 business and IT managers announced May-23-2017 that revealed “Close to Three-Fourths of IoT Projects Are Failing.” That’s the good news. A closer reading of the survey results (see slide 5 of the presentation “Journey to IoT Value“) shows that if you just ask the business people only 15% consider their projects a success, so the real failure rate is closer to 85%. These projects are complex and require the active collaboration of hardware, software, firmware, networking, supply chain, visualization, and facilities management experts.

Designing, installing, and managing a sensor network that enables better business decisions–whether by individual employees, managers, or executives–is clearly being fumbled by many organizations. Here are just aspects to getting useful data out of a sensor network and keeping it operational:

  • Sensor hardware selection, qualification, installation, and turn on.
  • Gateway hardware selection, qualification, installation, and turn on
  • Establishing gateway network connectivity to Internet/cloud, actually getting accurate and useful data to cloud.
  • Developing useful analytics for use by business decision makers, e.g. dashboards and reports.
  • Managing the network and keeping it operational; troubleshooting when one or more pieces stop working.
To achieve their 100% success rate on IoT projects, OpenSensors takes a phased approach to minimize the complications of determining root causes of failure. In addition to codifying and continuing to refine their design and deployment methodology they have had to develop a number of specialized software tools to make the process not only reliable but cost effective in the following areas:
  • Site qualification and inspection, which can include a related pre-install staging.
  • On premises hardware installation and bring up (including inventory management and troubleshooting infant mortality issues).
  • Delivery useful analytics and visualizations for different categories of customer needs (e.g. desk/meeting room occupancy, noise, air quality, temperature)
  • Tools for a network operations center to manage the network.

Visualization is key in each phase: interactive visual representations of data amplify the acquisition and use of knowledge. As Richard Hamming observed, “The purpose of computation is insight, not numbers.” Sensor networks provide data but their purpose is to enable better decisions by employees, managers, and executives. OpenSensors is guided by Ben Shneiderman‘s insight that, “The purpose of visualization is insight, not pictures. The main goals of this insight are discovery, decision-making and explanation. Information visualization is useful to the extent that it increases our ability to perform these and other cognitive activities.” Their goal is to provide basic visualizations of the data and integrate with existing systems that facility managers, workplace designers, and employees are comfortable with and already using: for example, CAFM systems, CAD and animation tools, and desk/meeting room reservation systems.

Cities and Workplaces Are Incorporating IoT to Evolve Nervous Systems

“Cities are using new technologies like environmental sensors (noise, lighting, air quality) and parking sensors to better service residents, ensure a healthy living area and reduce cost. Office building are using occupancy sensors, meeting room utilization sensors, footfall, and environmental sensors to better manage their resources. The new technologies are being blended with existing infrastructure requiring a new set of best practices to leverage the real-time insights.”
Yodit Stanton in “How cities can learn from a start-up

Workplaces have had thermostats controlling heating for more than a century and motion sensors controlling lighting for more than two decades. Cities started to use four-way three-color traffic lights in the 1920’s but simpler designs are decades older with more responsive systems for turn lanes and side streets introduced in the 1950’s. Newer sensor systems to detect unused desk or parking places for example or to monitor how office or city infrastructure are being used simply build on these earlier trends. Workplaces and industrial settings are likely to adopt new technologies and evolve them faster but both are cities and our offices will continue to be transformed by sensor networks that monitor and react to Nature and human behavior.

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1 thought on “Yodit Stanton: How cities can learn from a start-up”

  1. Pingback: Yodit Stanton on "The Internet of Things: a New Evolution for Business" - SKMurphy, Inc.

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