Sunday, January 14, 2018
Blake Hansen, Civil Engineer
Lately, it seems it’s all about being “smart.” Smart phones, smart homes, smart cars, and even entire smart cities. But what does it really mean to be “smart”? The smart movement was sparked by the rapid advancement and convergence of three key elements:
What does it mean to be Smart?
While the definition of “smart” seems to vary based on the gizmo being sold, there is a better, more generalized definition we can use.
Smart: Using technology to improve effectiveness and make better decisions
By this definition, we humans have been smart for a long time. For me, the keywords to take from the definition are “improve” and “better.” To truly be smart, we need to continually look for ways to improve our effectiveness by using technology to gather better information, increase our efficiency, and achieve better results. In truth, our customers and our organizations have always demanded this of us.
In terms of infrastructure, smart technology can be broken down into the following four levels:
Computing – Sensor data is analyzed and stored. Some sophisticated systems can also recommend specific actions to help optimize operations.
Control – In many cases, automatic or manual control systems allow changes to be made that improve system operations.
Decision Support – The data gathered from the system can be further analyzed and used to identify and prioritize higher level actions, such as identifying needed system changes.
Don’t Wait It Out
If we’re not careful, the siren song of new technology “just around the corner” can make us think it is a good idea to wait. Technology is constantly evolving, and with every new system or new device that is released, the next big thing will always be just over the horizon. But, the newest is not always the best, and there is a fine and painful line between the “leading edge” and the “bleeding edge.” Because of this, we recommend starting now to improve your current system with current technology.
Choosing and Prioritizing Smart Technology Projects
Sometimes, we pursue technology because it is exciting and new. However, technology acquired in this way may not line up well with our goals, and the benefits can make a small or even a negative impact. When this happens, an organization can become overly conservative and hesitant to make needed technology investments.
A better way is to approach each technology decision strategically is by looking at the organization’s overall vision and goals, and layering in customer needs and expectations.Some logical questions should then be asked: How will this new technology move us toward our goals? Will this help us satisfy our customers? Are there other technologies that would have a bigger impact? What are the risks?
A technology roadmap, or strategic technology plan can help answer these questions and provide the information you need to make solid technology decisions. The plan should begin by refocusing on the organization’s goals, and by determining specific technology initiatives and projects. These initiatives should then be prioritized by their relative impact. Typically, some variation on the following criteria are used to identify the highest impact initiatives:
Look for Collaboration Opportunities
With smart infrastructure projects, organizations can often benefit from collaborative partnerships. There are many examples, but a primary one is when public
One great example of this is a project Olsson Associates recently completed for the City of Kansas City, Missouri. Kansas City combined their own infrastructure with a local telecommunications company, and in partnership they will develop three large fiber optic rings. This new infrastructure will provide reliable, high-bandwidth communications to more than 60 city facilities along with many other public works assets such as traffic signals and pump stations. Once implemented, this project will save the city several hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in leased communications costs.
The Future is Bright
Blake Hansen, PE, PTOE, PMP
Blake is an industry expert for Olsson’s Transportation group. He is a seasoned engineering professional, business manager, and project manager. His experience includes: design, planning construction, maintenance, operations, integration, and software deployment.