Just ahead of the Internet of Things World conference taking place May 10–12 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Silicon Valley, we were lucky enough to catch up with one of the conference speakers, Ken Finnegan, Chief Technology Officer, IDA Technology Ireland. He advises and provides strategic insights into technology trends both nationally and globally for the agency and client companies. He has worked in the software, telecommunications and big data industries for 15 years before joining the IDA in 2014. The IDA is Ireland's inward investment promotion agency, it is a non-commercial, semi-state body promoting Foreign Direct Investment into Ireland through a wide range of services.
We asked Mr. Finnegan about IoT and Smart Cities, IoT implementations in Dublin, and his thoughts on making cities smarter. Here’s what we learned.
What are a few examples of IoT-based technologies that have been implemented throughout Dublin?
There are some really great projects happening in Ireland. The approach that Dublin has taken is a balanced top down - bottom up approach. What I mean by this is that the smart initiative is being driven by city leaders with support from government agencies (e.g. IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland) at the top, whilst at the same time engaging with the citizens and companies in order to identify and seek solutions to the real needs of the city.
There are five pillars to the Smart Dublin strategy. These include:
- Smart Government
- Smart Mobility
- Smart Environment
- Smart Living
- Smart People
The principles followed:
- How to use smart technologies to improve city livability and competitiveness:
- Taking a challenge based approach to procurement to deliver better quality outcomes for the city.
- Positioning Dublin as the place to pilot and scale new smart city technology opportunities.
Understanding the key areas of focus and the driving principles are vital to describing the challenges and demonstrating that top down bottom up approach.
A recently completed Smart City challenge that is a fantastic demonstration of IoT in the city was “Keeping Our City Streets Clean.“
A critical role of the city council is that of street cleaning and managing waste across busy city center areas in particular. There is a network of over 3,500 street bins that are manually emptied on a regular basis - the timing of which varies depending on the profile of the street. This street cleaning service is critical to maintaining a clean and litter free city. There has been an increasing trend of successful deployment of smart bin technologies in cities that incorporate features such as:
- Sensors that communicate back to the street cleaners when they are full
- Use of accompanying software that allow for optimization of routes for cleaning schedules
- Use of software applications that deliver real-time data information (through a web portal or smartphone) on each bin status, their inventory management and other efficiency related data
The result was self-compacting bins that send an email when they need to be emptied!
Smart Bins are solar-powered, Wi-Fi enabled bins that are being installed in towns, villages and residential areas across the country to replace traditional public litter bins.
There are currently 401 Smart Bins installed in the south county area. The project is managed by the County Council by the Environment Department with the purpose to improve the efficiency of waste management.
Other examples can be found here including this video of Croke Park Smart Stadium.
Since transitioning to a smart city, what benefits has the city of Dublin experienced? And what plans do you have to make Dublin even smarter?
Without a doubt the biggest benefit Dublin and Ireland’s other cities have seen is a demonstration of the power of collaboration to uncover value.
IDA Ireland has been successful in attracting and supporting multinationals here for a long time. With the combination of engagement with our multinational companies, a vibrant small-to-medium enterprise and start-up community, an openness for business from the cities, the youngest, digitally savvy population in Europe, a highly connected research ecosystem that is easily accessed by industry and support from the government - there is a lot happening.
For example, Dublin has what we call ‘Silicon Docks’. It’s a part of the city that has the European HQ’s for Google, Facebook, Airbnb, Twitter, LinkedIn, LogMeIn, Adroll, Accenture, Zalando, Tripadvisor and more.
Dublin City Corporation are planning to make this part of the city the most ‘densely sensored’ urban area in the world - producing lots of data that will be accessible by companies, government, academia and citizens. We anticipate that this is going to be a very powerful demonstration of Ireland’s capabilities to design and develop the sensors, connect them over multiple transmission types and finally with one of Europe’s largest data analytics research centers here, uncover, discover and predict value.
Central to the smart city goals is also to ensure that the infrastructure in place, the LORA (Low Powered Radio) transmission standards are currently being rolled out across the entire island. This is funded by Science Foundation Ireland and coordinated by the CONNECT Research center and allows companies to conduct robust due diligence into what transmission standard works for them. Companies can also access and rent the live radio spectrum, access the Sigfox network and lots more infrastructure; the building blocks are in place for technical solutions.
Ireland seems to have a head start when it comes to the innovation in the area of IoT and smart cities. What other cities have you admired in their innovation, implementations and adoption to make their cities smarter?
A city I really respect for embracing and encouraging technology is Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is my second home, I lived there after graduating university and it was where a young Ken Finnegan learned the power and beauty of innovation. That is a city that is not afraid to positively leverage emergent technologies. I have seen cities, companies, government and people look at innovation as a threat and to try and tame it. This never works, if there is a smarter way to do things, do it. When policy tries to limit adoption of innovation or when companies fail to recognize it, they are only delaying its ubiquitous arrival and ultimately lose opportunities for growth and success. Amsterdam has the right attitude. It may not know what it’s dealing with but they know there is value to be exploited somehow. I would love to see a twining of Amsterdam and Dublin. I think they are two European cities that are extremely likeminded in approach.
Ireland seems to be all in on smart cities - enlisting both the public and private sector, and educational institutions - towards creating smart cities. What’s your advice for other government entities and the many private vendors in this space?
Indeed governments, academia and the private sector all play an essential part and each entity has ideas about what value is and how it will be generated. Simply my advice is to start the conversation.
Government can facilitate conversation with all the entities. We have a strong appetite for change and growth and a characteristic in Ireland I come across every day is the idea of coopetition. The idea of cooperating together whilst possibly in competition. We all wear the green jersey in Ireland, we are very proud of this green island, but we also want to develop the industry ultimately making it stronger for all in order to grow and win. By not talking to each, you limit growth opportunities, when you sit with competitor and others you need to figure out the safe ground and see how you can work together to succeed.
Next we have to realize that government and industries have to engage with the end-users. We see that the citizen or what I term pro-citizen (professional citizen – the skilled and informed people that live, work and play in the cities, know the fabric of the city – plumbers, binmen, clubber, doctors, civil servants, sports members, teachers, social workers, bar staff, etc.), as the consumers of smart city good and services. These citizens provide the suggested personalized solutions of the problems they encounter in day-to-day life. It’s the application of a User Design approach to Smart cities.
Finally we have being listening to the narrative about the power of big data for years now. In order to harness the power it essential that data is accessible to all. For example Dublinked is a regional data sharing initiative that has previously unreleased public operational data being made available online for others to research or reuse. With the initial data coming from Dublin City (4 boroughs), public and private organizations in Dublin are linking up with Dublinked to share their data and invite research collaborations. The information is curated by Maynooth University to ensure ideas can be commercialized as easily as possible and to minimize legal or technical barriers that can be impediments for small and medium businesses (SMEs) seeking to develop and prove business ideas.
Smart cities are predicated on the advancement of IoT technologies. Do you see IoT as an opportunity for economic development and job creation? If so, how?
Yes for both cases.
In our five-year strategy launched in 2015, Wining 2020, IoT is the number one strategic technological area we are focusing on. If we didn’t believe IoT would increase economic development or create jobs there is absolutely no way it would be there. We have done our homework, we have listened to our clients and we have mobilized the organization to ensure that each person know exactly why Ireland is the global location for the Internet of Things. In addition to this, we are working with other government agencies to ensure that the environment is right for our clients to be successful. For example our sister agency Science Foundation Ireland has funded multiple research centers of scale (€50m +) so that industry can leverage the quality research coming from the academic system. They have also funded the roll out of transmission network s across the entire land that can be leveraged by industry to research, test and develop innovations. Between IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland, there are many tools we provide by which industry can leverage to test and trail their products and services before commercializing. Our client companies are trailing these, not in a confine test lab, but literally out in the field, in the cities, in our bays and on our highways because Ireland is connected.
You’ll be speaking at IoT World. What should the audience expect to hear from you?
1. Ireland is open for business. If you have a problem that needs to be solved, if you want to service the European, Middle East and African markets, if you need infrastructure for research and development, or simply looking for a location with accessible and available talent, we are ready for to have that conversation.
2. IoT has gained a lot of talk time over the past 5 years, but the conversation for IoT have been developing in Ireland more than 30 years. We are home to 10 out of the top 10 born on the internet/content companies, 9 of the top 10 information communication technology, 15 of the top 20 pharmaceutical and life science companies, fintech, engineering, food etc. companies. Many of these companies are developing their IoT solutions by working together here. It’s truly an agile and collaborative hotspot to be. Take a look at the past two years and the companies that have decided to move here, there is a very convincing track record.
3. The environment is right. With one of the youngest and tech savvy populations in Europe, the biggest names in Industry, proactive government agencies and an academic scene focused on impact for industry, IDA Ireland want to partner and support companies ready to grow and succeed in the Smart IoT arena.