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  • Mike J. Walker

Episode 29: Smart City Innovations

In this episode I'm speaking with Doug McCollough, the CIO for the City of Dublin. We dive into everything from defining smart cities, the technologies that enable them, COVID-19 impacts on them, and a peek into the future of smart cities. As a BIG bonus, we talk diversity and inclusion where Doug shares a wealth of knowledge from his community work and advocacy for minorities. I learned a ton from Doug in this episode and I hope you do too!

Watch on the V-Next YouTube Channel

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In this Episode

Show Notes

Welcome to the podcast Doug!

Tell us a little bit about you. How did you get here? What’s your current role? Projects you’re currently working on?

CIO of the City of Dublin Ohio.

I’ve worked for 4 State of Ohio Agencies and two municipalities - Richmond VA and Dublin Ohio.

Working on Connected Dublin, The 33 Smart Mobility Corridor, the Mid Ohio Regional Planning Association Data Privacy Working Group, The Dublin Digital Identity Project, a City of Dublin Chatbot, Dublin Broadband Expansion and Fiber to the Home Pilot, more.

Since we are talking about smart cities, you’re the CIO of a near by Smart City award winner, Columbus, OH. What has your interaction or role in that project been?

Smart Columbus includes support from all of the surrounding Central Ohio Communities. I personally have served on the working group that developed the Data Privacy Plan and Data Management Plan, as well as having an advisory relationship with members of the Smart Columbus organization.

Before winning the Smart Cities challenge to become Smart Columbus, Columbus Ohio was also named the Most Intelligent Community in the world by the Intelligent Community Forum. This work helped Columbus develop capacity for later competitions.

Tell us something interesting about you either professionally or personally that people may not know about you.

I majored in Jazz Composition at Berklee College of music before pivoting and embracing a technology career.

In your mind, what is a smart city? Also, what ISN’T a smart city?

To me, a definition of Smart Cities must include:

  • Infrastructure - Network, Communications

  • Devices - sensors, IOT, data collection devices that measure.

  • Data Analysis

  • Insights, Decisions

  • Influencing Objectives and Outcomes

A Smart City uses data gathered from a set of technologies to generate insights to make decisions that impact desired outcomes for the city / community.

A smart city is not the presence of the technologies without the direction, focus, prioritization, or objectives/outcomes. Technology for technology’s sake is not SMART.

What do you see as the benefits of Smart Cities? Why should citizens care and what’s in it for them?

● Opportunity to improve decision making

● Reduce administrative and operations costs

● Achieve innovation and automation

● Empowerment, customization, enhanced democratization.

● Potential for equity in experiences. Identification of gaps in service.

● Digital service delivery. Self service.

● Greater transparency and accountability.

● Potential for agents, enhanced data privacy

What are the core technologies used to power Smart Cities?

● Broadband, fiber, wireless.

● Sensors, cameras,

● Mobile devices, wearables.

● Data Analytics

● Alternative interfaces - speakers, ambient

● Automation, bots.

● Personal Digital Identity, Asset identity

How do you define all the various capabilities and functions of a smart building?

● Sensing

● Human Machine Interface

● Environmental control

● Ubiquitous, ambient information visibility and access

● Custom security, Access control

● Local data collection and processing (Edge compute)

● Flexible spaces for the use of the moment

What technology, automation or innovation trends do you see impacting cities the most?

● Autonomous vehicles

● Mobility trends

● Concerns over privacy. Privacy in public concerns

● Transparency, accountability, especially in light of public health crises, criminal justice.

● HMI - Human machine Interfaces communicating with drivers or people experiencing cities. Providing info to inform, influence, or assist.

● Zero touch experiences. Ability to interact with a City with a completely virtual experience.

Now that many workers are homebound, what smart city innovations are available to virtual worker home offices?

● I have fewer answers on this one, but I would note that cities need to deliver new digital services that add value to peoples work experiences in their home. I picture some sort of network services or data services people can use to be productive with their companies.

● Potentially interacting with tax rules differently. Enabling people to clock in what city they are working in for tax reporting.

Often times, consumer trends leads commercial trends. What’s your view on consumer home trends and developments like: Apple, Google, and Amazon are teaming up to develop an open-source smart home standard

● Generally think standards are a good idea. Open source standards are an even better idea.

● I am cautious and interested in monitoring results so the smallest, youngest, weakest innovators are able to contribute and benefit as much as the big companies.

● I’d also like to see the standard help nontraditional tech contributors engage in the standard. Cities, Nonprofits, healthcare providers, transportation, public safety, police (911?)

Tell us more about the smart city work that you are doing at the City of Dublin?

● Connected Dublin

● Smart Mobility projects involving sensors at intersections.

● Beginning our automation journey with a chatbot

● Personal Digital Identity is key

● Working on a Smart Parking pilot

● Investigating municipal broadband

What were some of the drivers?

● A vision of a Smart, automated, data driven future

● A vision of digital, delightful experiences for residents, visitors, commuters, businesses.

● Justice, Democracy, Equity

● People need their voice heard. Administration needs to be able to demonstrate activity, impact, efficacy, accountability.

● Local government is likely to be completely disrupted/transformed

Were there any surprises as you discovered which experiences were important to people?

● Yes. People’s real desires seems to always be surprising.

● There is some resistance or fear of asking everybody what they prefer.

● Transparency works. People do like constant or highly available information.

● People prefer pictures.

● There is still much we haven’t seen reactions to because of limitations on things like wearables that have not matured or become widespread yet.

What are you most excited about these projects?

● I’m most excited about making everything programmable, “automat-able”.

● Tagging or identifying every asset, every person, every household, every vehicle, every road, every parking spot, every police car, every traffic light, everything, allows everything to be analyzed, and in many senses programmed against.

● This leads the way to citizens being able to automate things on their own, without staff direction. This brings the potential for far lower costs with very high levels of service.

With COVID-19, has there been a slow down in smart city work?

● Not at all. A lot of this stuff lends itself well to working from home.

● Covid unveiled a new urgency for Smart City priorities.

● We learned we have a broadband access problem.

● We learned we need to deliver services without social interaction. We need touchless experiences. We needed to run government facilities without being present in the buildings. We needed to manage staff over devices and not face to face.

● A lot of people have learned a lot about technology very quickly - getting comfortable with remote conferencing, interacting with data more than people, and realizing automation would help a lot.

● The pandemic has increased risk and reduced budgets, so we may not be executing on a lot of projects, but the planning continues with urgency.

I discussed in a previous episode about “The Future of Work” where I find that more and more people will choose to work remotely instead of going into the office. How does that impact or change your plans?

● There are changes in how businesses use office space.

● Delivery has become more intense.

● Traffic congestion has changed as a priority.

● Working from home turns the payroll tax assumptions upside down.

● Businesses are freed from Cities. They can source and sell globally from their homes if they have stable broadband. Cities must thus compete on completely different quality of life characteristics.

● Cities with great, safe, outside - socially distant - spaces may have an advantage.

● Being cooped up has placed mosre importance on opportunities for community engagement.

● We need to place access to government/cities in front of people, not require them to travel to city facilities.

Given this trends, will smart cities technologies extend past cities to state or federal levels?

● I am dubious that States and larger public bodies will engage in the same ways. I do think Counties are likely to deliver services in a more data driven, custom way. I don’t think this is as valuable for State agencies.

● The best bang for the buck with States is a different way of coordination with Cities thanks to data sharing and joint decision making.

● An example is community resilience, emergency coordination, coordinating service delivery.

● I believe cities are best positioned to innovate and deliver to individuals. States are best positioned to monitor, fund, administer, procure, budget, coordinate. So instead of Smart cities within States, States should focus on Smart administration, operations, and coordination.

One of the key focus points of COVID-19 and the workplace is “touch-less interfaces” how will smart cities tech help here?

● We see ambient interfaces as key to engage in city services, data.

● Dublin has built it’s first chatbot. We have an Amazon skill. We expect to integrate with our website, our app, our speaker skills. We want people to engage the city over their watch.

● I believe we will need to outfit facilities with touchless interfaces. Speakers and wall monitors. Video conferencing with City staff.

● We like A/R as an interface for city information, so a person can view property lines, utility installations, emergency alerts, parking availability, traffic recommendations, tourism guides, over goggles or heads up displays.

● You should be able to ask to speak to a city engineer and have them appear in your goggles.

Another trend that I’ve been seeing is the temperature scanning of employees. This starts to get into privacy and civil liberties issues. How are you handling these aspects?

● Well, we are scanning employees and are aware of other questions around contact tracing and other potential privacy issues. Most public employees are used to far lower levels of personal privacy while at work, but these issues are right on the edge of “ok”.

● I actually think more monitoring might be the way to go here. Let me explain.

● Our digital identity concept will allow individuals to allow a lot of personal information about themselves to be collected but not shared. When it needs to be shared, the technology will allow for an extraordinary amount of control and anonymity to reside with the individual.

● People can share very granular data, know who they have shared it with, monitor how it is used, and stop sharing it at will.

● This is a far more complex scenario than anything we do today, but in our future, we will need to have a far more intimate and aware relationship with our personal information. Having a personal system that allows you control over specific data points may help us live in a privacy insecure environment.

How do you balance the convince of technical services with the“big brother” affect?

● Again, I believe we need to equip every citizen with a personal privacy toolset. The local government should deploy a complex use permission mesh that eventually allows people (or their agents) to constantly grant, monitor, revoke permission to use data - keeping a record of every decision. This is why we have a blockchain based infrastructure to our identity system. This will need to be a trustless platform.

● People are willing to give up some privacy for value. My thinking is that they can minimize what they have to give up by using extreme granularity.

● As an example, we monitor vehicles with cameras now, but we do not identify them or their drivers. We might offer people a service that would allow them to grant permission for their vehicle to be identified. In exchange they would be routed to lower traffic detours, have a parking space reserved, lower their insurance premiums, inform loved ones of their location in any of a number of predetermined scenarios (accident, civil unrest, police stop).

● You could push an “I feel unsafe” button.

● The technology could monitor a nameless numeric identity, only revealing details if you were injured. You could turn it off, and you could audit when you granted or removed permission.

● You could do this for a vehicle, but also for yourself personally, through an RFID or QR code.

● There is potential for reservation, preferential treatment.

● The classic example is showing you are old enough to drink alcohol. You are willing to identify yourself if you can receive a privilege. All the better if you could identify your authorization to drink alcohol, or enter a building, or hold a construction permit, or park in a reserved spot, or receive a discount, if you do not have to identify yourself. You only reveal that single data point.

● With such an identity, you should be able to audit a government system for all instances of when you were monitored, for what purpose, and by whom. You should be able to remove or redact some of that information, and explicitly disallow an entity from collecting some of it.

Is this directly dependent on users sharing their own data?

● Yes it is dependent on us having a deeper relationship with the concept of permission.

● It also places ownership with individuals. We need a more clear definition and community understanding of who is generating, measuring, observice, collecting, and owning data. A Smart City will have this capability.

How do you manage privacy concerns of governments and individuals?

● We need deep communication. We need to include orientation of civil liberty, privacy, and responsibility into community conversations.

● Governments need to discuss, describe what they collect, why, and how individuals can interact with it. What are their rights and responsibilities

● Managing your privacy needs to be as ubiquitous as managing your driving, with road signs, warnings, flashing lights, license renewal, affidavits, and full time staff.

● It’s traditional in America for kids to visit a firehouse, or an 8th grade Washington DC trip. We need kids to visit data centers, and we need Cyber experts to do class visits.

Rising Environmental Concerns

As we talked about, there are significant advantages of smart cities, as it leverages sensors, cloud technology, and IoT connectivity to manage, monitor remotely, and control a range of city infrastructure systems.

What are some tangible ways in which smart cities will aid in the fight of climate change?

● With greater identification of things and their condition or status, we can automate incentives to impact sustainability outcomes for things that affect our environment.

● Lets give Dublin points to volunteers who participate in Clean Streams day.

● Let’s give economic development incentives to businesses that install energy efficient printers or office equipment.

● With points, identity, goals, we can influence decisions of businesses and individuals. This is the definition of Smart.

● Lets build food delivery stations into corporate parking lots, or food truck spaces, or create group transportation circulators from corporate parking lots to lunchtime centers. Each of these things can reduce fuel/energy usage in a community.

● Lets monitor our government fueling stations to optimize fleet energy usage and justify electric vehicles with usage data.

What are the top three lessons you’ve learned through your work on smart cities?

1. It’s not about the technology or the data. Its about the decisions and the outcomes.

2. For every one company working on technology, there seem to be three companies working on Smart Cities technologies.

3. Local government is more significant in the daily lives of people than Federal government, but Federal government makes policies that tie the hands of local government.

If you had these projects to do over again, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?

● I would prioritize on Blockchain.

● I would focus on policy development.

● I would insist on a standing non-project based budget.

About Doug McCollough

Doug McCollough serves as the Chief Information Officer for the City of Dublin, Ohio, where he works on Smart and Connected Cities and Intelligent Communities. He is passionate about applying technological innovation to social and community challenges, which is one reason he has worked in the Public Sector for over 15 years, in both State agencies and municipalities. As aco-founder of Black Tech Columbus, Doug advocates for diversity in the tech talent pipeline and is on the boards of Per Scholas, TECH CORPS, and Jewish Family Services. His technical interests include Connected Vehicles, Data Privacy, Blockchain, and Automation.

If you want to contact Doug, you can in the following ways:

Twitter @dougITpro

Instagram @dougitpro


To meet me in person, come to one of the Black Tech Columbus social networking events.

Follow me on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn and Twitter are where I have most of my public conversations about this stuff.

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