Chicago has ambitions of being the most digitally connected city in the world, and the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) will be a huge driver of the city's connectivity. To keep the Midwest at the forefront of the growth, the Illinois Technology Association (ITA) has formed an IoT Council made up of academia and public and private companies that want to play a role.
The ITA IoT Council is being led by co-chairs Don DeLoach, CEO of analytics vendor Infobright, and Chicago Chief Information Officer Brenna Berman. The founding advisory board also includes representatives from AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Motorola Solutions Inc. (NYSE: MSI), Accenture , the Department of Energy, Exelon, PhysIQ, Smart Signal, Zebra Technologies, Authentify and NYU's Rudin Center for Transportation.
The board has formed three working groups to get started: inventory to catalog the council's assets; branding and communications to create a cohesive picture of the IoT; and capital to identify funding sources for the group. The overarching goal of the council is to form public-private partnerships to fuel future IoT activities.
"The government here is very committed to leveraging public-private partnerships to really take advantage of and support advancement of private development by focusing on strong policies that foster innovation and showcasing the technological innovations by providing Chicago as an urban lab for piloting new technology," Berman says, adding that the ITA Council is also unique in that it brings citizen points of view to the table. That, she says, puts public concerns like privacy and security at the forefront.
The more lofty goal of the ITA is to give Chicago some real street cred when it comes to the IoT, which Infobright's DeLoach calls the "biggest wave of technology since the Internet itself." Silicon Valley may be top of mind when it comes to startups and innovations, but Chicago has the resources, startup incubators devoted to the IoT and the directive coming from Mayor Rahm Emanuel to make the city more data and analytics driven. Public-private initiatives like this have been undertaken in the Netherlands and Barcelona, but Berman and DeLoach say this IoT-focused one is unique in North America.
"This is very much the next step in using technology to drive better service delivery in the city and stronger economic development across our region," Berman adds.
Chicago: Microsoft's tech testbed, too
The ITA isn't the only one that wants to keep Chicago ahead of the curve. On Tuesday, Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) announced it will be a founding partner with UI Labs, a Chicago-based research and commercialization collaborative, for CityWorks, a Chicago-based initiative focused on "urban infrastructure innovation," including how IoT, cloud, data analytics and machine learning and mobile devices can help "enable governments and businesses to understand and manage resource limitations, while still driving economic growth."
CityWorks is directly complementary with the ITA, Chicago CIO Berman says. In fact, she is also serving as the executive representative for the city on the project and plans to identify projects the two groups can work together on. While the ITA is focusing squarely on IoT, CityWorks will be a way for Chicago to update out-of-date transportation, energy and water systems.
Microsoft sees Chicago as the perfect test bed given its varied and diverse neighborhoods and reliance on transportation, which is also in the process of being upgraded with 4G LTE connectivity in the city's subway system from the four major US wireless operators. (See US Ops Spend $32.5M to Bring 4G to Chicago's Subways.)
Like the ITA's IoT Council, CityWorks is relying on public-private partnerships to fund and execute its vision. It is initially a tie-up between UI Labs, Microsoft, Accenture, Commonwealth Edison and Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE) and is privately funded, but overseen by city officials. This is UI Lab's second program, the first of which was the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute, made possible by a $70 million grant from the US Department of Defense.
For Microsoft, this is a program it hopes to replicate in other cities as a way to encourage uptake of its enterprise Azure IoT Suite for big data analysis.
"The ultimate outcome will be taking creative new approaches developed here and deploying them at scale in entire cities across the globe," Microsoft's Corporate Vice President, Technology & Civic Engagement Dan'l Lewin wrote in a blog post on CityWorks.
— Sarah Thomas, , Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading