San Jose, Calif., wants to be America’s most innovative city by 2020, and it’s hoping that a recent $200,000 investment will help get it there. In an interview with 21st Century State & Local, San Jose CIO Shireen Santosham discussed how the city used the investment to  support IoT strategic planning, as well as its technology plans for the future.

“Like many cities, San Jose is assessing how best to deploy IoT technology,” said Santosham. “IoT is still in early days–with shifting standards and heterogeneous applications. Developing a framework that helps San Jose to assess costs and benefits, and to take calculated risks when investing in these technologies, is essential.”

Shireen Santosham is the CIO for San Jose, Calif. (Photo: The City of San Jose)

The investment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will fund research to help develop resources that city employees can use when evaluating new technologies. The city’s research goals emphasize the cross-agency nature of IoT. Testing and deploying new IoT technology in a city is rarely siloed in one department; rather, multiple agencies have to come together and work collaboratively.

“IoT can provide immediate benefits, but is also currently in its infancy with substantive questions still remaining around how standards will develop and implications for privacy for our residents,” Santosham said. “Therefore we are trying to develop frameworks to help us strategically think through our investment in the IoT space.”

With those concerns in mind, San Jose wants to develop four resources out of its research investment.

  • A framework to optimally price city infrastructure assets (i.e., streetlights and poles for IOT and small-cell technology) to maximize benefits to the public.
  • A playbook for effective governance and management of smart city assets that cut across departments.
  • A valuation and prioritization framework for IOT applications, projects, networks, and hardware investments.
  • A playbook to help the city tackle the ongoing concern of citizen privacy by providing insights into data privacy, usage, and monetization best practices for IoT applications.

“The approach we can develop here in San Jose can then be used as a model for other cities across the country,” Santosham said.

San Jose is investing in new technologies for the same reason many cities are–to save time and money.

“Our hope is that IoT will help us save time and money and deploy our limited resources more effectively,” Santosham said. “For example, energy savings from remotely dimming streetlights can offer significant savings. Unfortunately, San Jose has the most thinly staffed big city hall in the country. Therefore, analyzing sensor data to more effectively manage workflow and deploy our crews efficiently frees up time for our staff and helps us be more efficient.”

With how quickly technology moves, Santosham stresses the importance of considering and planning for the future. Cities are forced to adapt quickly and deploy new technologies rapidly to keep residents happy. However, to deploy new technology responsibly, cities have to set plans and policies early on.

“We are actually thinking about the entire ecosystem of digital infrastructure, not just IoT, to ‘future-proof’ the city,” Santosham said. “In the future, broadband access at gigabit speeds will be essential for many sectors–including connected and autonomous vehicles, 21st-century learning, health care, and for our residents and businesses who will be consuming large amounts of data through things like virtual reality applications. We are beginning to plan for this ‘digital infrastructure’ today.”

For smaller cities, dipping their toes into IoT can be scary. Santosham said that while investing in IoT can be expensive, risks can be mitigated and the benefits frequently justify the costs.

“IoTs hold tremendous potential for all cities,” Santosham  said. “But, it must be recognized that investments required in infrastructure are large; impact of decisions are long term; there are significant policy implications. So, choose your IoT projects carefully and resource those adequately for success; draw from the experience of other sister cities.”

Santosham also stressed the importance of testing new technologies to learn and develop best practices. “Find ways to test and learn early,” Santosham said. “In San Jose, we developed a ‘demonstration policy’ that allows us to work with pre-commercial applications to test and learn alongside corporate partners to prove out technology solutions that will benefit our residents. More cities should consider these models to learn how best to both leverage and deploy new technologies.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs