Smart cities have been on the horizon for several years now, but with the COVID-19 pandemic as the disruptor, state, and local governments are now investing more in turning a concept into reality. What’s readily apparent is that healthcare is a top priority for smart cities spending. Our colleagues at Government Technology Insider had the opportunity to catch up with SolarWinds’ Brandon Shopp about the factors driving smart city spending and how to avoid pitfalls, particularly in the areas of security and IoT device deployment. Keep reading to find out what Shopp has to say.
This year, it’s estimated over 31 billion Internet of Things (IoT) devices will be employed. By 2021, this number is projected to grow to 35 billion. These devices are used for a variety of purposes. From smartwatches to connected utilities, IoT is revolutionizing the way we live and work—especially in smart cities. Smart city spending is on the rise and the current pandemic is likely to fuel that growth, according to Brandon Shopp, SolarWinds VP of Product Strategy. To learn more, we spoke with Shopp about how smart city funds are being used, what changes we can expect to see influenced by COVID-19, and how security plays into smart city functionality. Here’s what he had to say.
Government Technology Insider (GTI): How is smart city spending changing this year?
Brandon Shopp (Shopp): While smart city spending is steadily increasing, it’s still a little hard to tell what the new normal is going to look like moving forward. It may change what some cities do for pandemic–related issues, but it won’t change how smart city spending is growing.
GTI: What uses does smart city technology have in today’s new normal? Do you see smart city spend moving towards broadband and healthcare?
Shopp: Cities are making great use of smart city tech during the pandemic. Regarding broadband, IT spending has already changed in the short-term to support the sudden need for remote work. As the pandemic continues, cities are going to use IoT sensors to look at how they can make sure broadband is functional as students and their parents vie for the broadband capacity to get their schoolwork and jobs done. Because broadband is an essential service in today’s world, I expect to see smarty city spending focused on this area.
When it comes to healthcare, the biggest areas of need are in healthcare and data reporting for hospitals and ICU availability. By leveraging things like contract tracing, cities have visibility into their infrastructure and can determine stability and longevity. I think there will be budget dollars diverted to these two uses.
GTI: What about security concerns with smart city technology? How can governments neutralize these threats?
Shopp: Relying on multiple vendors to provide this technology is the first major security issue. With multiple vendor security, the biggest challenge is ensuring someone is monitoring the applications and usage of these technologies. Smart city utilitieslike energy metering, for example, are ultimately dealing with a lot of different vendors and some will be better than others when it comes to security awareness. It’s important to understand at the very least if they’re patching and how often patches are scheduled.
As a customer, you need to know who is responsible for these updates and if different vendors have different user flows and settings; sometimes it’s up to the end-user to do those updates. People and organizations struggle with patching software and systems in a timely manner, and you’re only as strong as your weakest link. Agencies should focus on neutralization and containment by segmenting IoT and smart devices, so they don’t have access to certain information. Attack surfaces are continuing to grow, and bad actors are looking for soft spots, but segmentation slows the spread and minimizes damage. Making sure agencies and vendors have the proper security and event monitoring is paramount.
GTI: Any advice for agencies as they implement smart devices?
Shopp: Make sure you employ best practices with segmentation both internal and external by restricting who has access to what. Finding and implementing one tool that can do it all, monitor, and neutralize, is better for staff and long-term security. And remember, more technology doesn’t mean more staff. For agencies to be successful, they need to focus on standardizing and centralizing vendors, employee training, and ensuring security based on recommendations from vendors. Don’t assume you can do it—every technology is a little different and needs specialized care.