Waterfront Toronto laying intelligent ICT foundations

Smart cities have emerged from urban design as technology marvels offering residents new levels of sustainable public and private services. Green transport, resource recycling, civic engagement and improved management of urban infrastructure are all within reach of enlightened administrators who can now look for inspiration to demo projects in flagship locations such as Amsterdam, Barcelona and Songdo. But where do smart cities begin, what are the key elements, and how do they evolve? To answer these questions, it’s now possible to look at a local example–Waterfront Toronto–which has recently taken significant steps towards implementation of the technology foundations needed to support the development of intelligent communities.

Begin with a vision

Waterfront Toronto was created by the federal and provincial governments and the City of Toronto in 2001 to lead efforts to revitalize the city’s waterfront. One of the largest waterfront redevelopment initiatives ever undertaken (2,000 acres), the project calls for the creation of 40,000 residential units, one million square metres of employment space and 300 hectares of parks and public spaces. Each level of government has contributed seed capital ($500 million) in addition to land, and through public/private agreements, work has begun on the Bayside and Parkside developments, River City and the George Brown Health Sciences campus. But Waterfront Toronto is about more than real estate development. The corporation also boasts a commitment to deliver social and economic benefits that will boost Toronto’s global competitiveness by bringing “together the most innovative approaches to sustainable development, excellence in urban design, real estate development, and advanced technology infrastructure.”

Lay the connectivity foundations

In building smart cities, the implementation of advanced ICT infrastructure has become table stakes. Based on principles of collaboration, communication and resource efficiency, intelligent communities rely on broadband connectivity and social and management systems that enable policy makers, knowledge workers and citizens to participate in the design and execution of sustainable urban plans, and in the development of new, more efficient public and other services. ICT as a foundational component appears to be a lesson that Waterfront Toronto has taken to heart. This past September, for example, the organization announced plans to implement a robust WiFi network capable of supporting the communication and data collection needs of public service administrations, businesses, buildings, residents and visitors, which will connect into the community’s ultra high speed broadband network.

Provided by Cisco, the new WiFi solution has been built on a three-layer logical architecture consisting of outdoor access point at the street layer, a city network layer to connect hardware to the data center and a data network layer to power city WiFi applications and services. A Cisco WiFi outdoor mesh, ruggedized routing and switching equipment and Cisco’s Mobility Services Engine (MSE) technologies will be implemented. According to Cisco chief globalization officer Wim Elfrink, this WiFi platform is differentiated from other simple Internet access networks through reliability and security capabilities that are needed to support the access needs of various groups, including city services administrators, businesses and residents.

Waterfront Toronto’s WiFi implementation highlights one of the key characteristics of smart city deployments– the participation of multiple constituencies, including the Waterfront corporation, Cisco Systems, and Toronto-based service provider, Beanfield Metroconnect, which is providing discounted high-speed bandwidth through a fibre optic network capable of speeds that are up to 500 times faster than typical North American networks (100 mbps). In the view of John Campbell, president and CEO, Waterfront Toronto:

“Ubiquitous WiFi access will help transform Toronto’s waterfront neighborhoods into connected and intelligent communities. Cisco’s WiFi solution adds a vital layer of connectivity to our ultra-high-speed community network. The new services it enables– including personal, community, business, education and health care– will make it easy for residents to empower themselves and achieve new levels of collaboration.”

Introduce management backbone

 If connectivity serves as a foundational technology for smart cities, analytics capabilities act as the nerve centre for the processing of data gathered from different sensor, transport, utility and city management systems. It is through the integration and analysis of data from various sources that smart cities work to optimize systems, to develop the context needed to pose new questions of information sources and to create actionable insight.  As its nerve centre, Toronto Waterfront has opted to implement an a collective set of IBM capabilities, consisting of the Connections social business software, services and technologies and the Intelligent Operations Center (IOC) for Smarter Cities, a platform that can integrate multiple data sets and provide real-time visualizations of information. In addition to Waterfront Toronto, the IOC is currently deployed in 100 locations across the globe.

John Longbottom - IBM
John Longbottom, Canadian smarter cities strategy leader, IBM Canada

According to John Longbottom, Canadian smarter cities strategy leader at IBM Canada, the IOC is “a manifestation of requirements that have come to us over the last several years suggesting that there really is a layer of infrastructure that is required for cities to be smarter. You need to be able to pull data from all kinds of data sources, including operational systems that are in place today, and put the data analytics results through some filters to drive visualization of what’s happening in the city.” Data connection, analytics, filtering and visualization are critical in the identification and mapping of issues or challenges, he noted, from which flow a standardized set of operating procedures that can be invoked and managed through the IOC’s visualization capabilities and broadcast through IBM’s social platform. “The components that make up the IOC are the most powerful technologies that we have on the market today, including WebSphere, DB2, Maximo, ILOG and Cognos” Longbottom explained, “it’s really a collection of those capabilities (over 35) that have been wired for this particular purpose.”

 Integration is also a key piece of the IOC platform as it relates to user data.  “We are very interested in fundamental data, and that means being able to pull it in, transform it, correlate it, than then slap on the advanced analytics,” Longbottom explained, “what this whole smarter cities thing is about, is turning data into insight.” As with any data driven project, smarter cities can expect to encounter Big Data challenges where issues around data velocity, volume and variety must be addressed. As Longbottom explained, IBM has extensive experience in data design and architecture, and though this is “still hard work,” the company has made efforts to simplify this effort through the development of data management technologies that are application or use case specific–in networked vehicles, for example.

Conjure new services

While the IOC represents the core smarter city technology, it has been integrated at Waterfront Toronto with IBM’s Connections technology which acts as an application server and as a mechanism to connect people. To showcase the potential of this integration, IBM, Element Blue, an IBM reseller focused on using IBM technology to create smarter business and city solutions, along with Waterfront Toronto announced the launch this September of New Blue Edge, a community portal and platform that allows residents to connect with neighbours, businesses and service providers in the area. Designed as a content management provider and collaboration tool, at launch the interface served up traffic congestion reports, public transit information, weather, and a map with information about community business services that can be filtered by type. The portal also provides a My City page with news feeds, which Element Blue believes will offer most opportunity for growth and integration with the larger Toronto city proper. New Blue also features user profiles, personalized activity and social feeds including Facebook, Twitter, New Blue Edge and Connections community pages, in addition to collaboration capability and mobile web delivery needed for engagement of the Waterfront community.

Steven Gerhardt, CEO Element Blue
Steven Gerhardt, CEO, Element Blue

According to Element Blue CEO Steven Gerhardt, this project involves “marrying the consumer aspect, the citizen aspect of the digital portal experience to the Intelligent Operations Smarter Cities software stack from IBM. We call this Community Hub, and it is something we are emphasizing this in our business model as we bring this integration to a smaller city or community level.”

Through the portal, the user sees the front page of a content delivery portal and a community engagement system delivered through IBM’s Connections technology, which is integrated on the back end with the IOC, which in turn resides on IBM’s SmartCloud. Beyond integration and implementation of this solution on behalf of IBM (Element Blue functions as the integration and reseller partner), Element Blue will continue to support and maintain the solution as it scales on SmartCloud. Gerhardt expects in future to move to projects involving the integration of water and energy data, areas in which the company has extensive global experience. In Gerhardt’s view, the community portal is critical to expansion to conservation activity as it serves as a means of connecting the consumer to information: “so first, if we can just get their [electricity and water] meter feeds in there, and start building aggregate models that compare users’ consumption with that of their neighbours… we will see a consumer-facing consumption-feedback, behavioural change model rather than an operator dialing switches to make changes to the system.” For solutions like this to work, however, the integration of data from many systems is required–SCADA data from the utility service provider, for example–that is brokered in the IOC.

 Prepare for scale out

Waterfront Toronto’s IOC will be delivered as a service on the IBM SmartCloud. Powered by Beanfield’s high speed broadband connectivity, the corporation’s cloud deployment will support changing data and application requirements, and help Waterfront Toronto save on IT infrastructure costs while allowing the non-IT centric organization to focus resources on other activities. As Kristina Verner, director, intelligent communities for Waterfront Toronto, explained, with the IOC deployed on cloud, the platform and IT foundation are in place for the roll out of additional services.

Kristina Verner - Waterfront Toronto
Kristina Verner, director, intelligent communities, Waterfront Toronto

 To encourage community input into the creation of new services, Waterfront Toronto began by creating a vehicle that can accommodate this consultative approach– the community portal–however, Verner envisions the layering of additional sustainability services, such as energy management apps that may be used by building tenants, or connected healthcare services since one of the buildings in planning will be a senior’s residence. Other services that may evolve from the platform include video surveillance for better public safety, or analytics solutions that can optimize water consumption, transport, traffic and parking management. With access to cloud infrastructure, the scale of data and applications is limited only to app budgets, business value assessments (which IBM consults on) and the imagination of developers.

Smart cities thrive on this type of innovation, which is driven in turn by the integration of data and systems that break down information silos. While the Waterfront Toronto infrastructure is in some ways an islanded ICT cluster in the larger GTA jurisdiction, as John Campbell noted “it is a start, and may serve as a model for the larger urban structure.”

Campbell’s view was recently reaffirmed by an outside source: on October 21st, Toronto was named by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) as one of its Smart21 and will compete for recognition as one of the Top 7 Intelligent Communities for 2014. Waterfront Toronto intelligent community initiatives, including Canada’s first open-access, ultra-high speed broadband network offering fast Internet connection for a capped fee and neighborhood-wide Wi-Fi access, and the New Blue Edge cloud-based community platform, designed to support smarter, data-enabled decision making for residents and businesses, have led this campaign.




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