Hardik Bhatt is the Chicago-based managing director for global market development for Cisco Systems Inc.’s Internet of Everything for Cities practice. He works with governments, including the City of Chicago, to connect and control public services through sensors that feed data into command centers to improve operations and livability. Bhatt earlier was chief information officer for the City of Chicago and commissioner for the Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology. He explains Chicago’s progress and room for growth as a smart city.
Q. What key lesson have you learned trying to innovate government?
A. Government’s core competence is making sure that the citizens have the education, tools and awareness of leveraging what the private sector has to offer and let the private sector build access and mobile broadband. In 2007, municipalities saw WiFi as an alternative for citizens to access the Internet, nothing beyond that. Now municipalities are looking at WiFi as an outdoor way of controlling and managing their assets. A side benefit of that is citizen access to WiFi. So we're seeing that happening for different reasons than what we tried in 2007.
Q. What’s an example of how the Internet of Everything (IOE) helps cities work better?
A. There is a direct correlation of the lighting condition in a particular area to how the city is perceived. If you have better lighting, then the perception of safety drives upper-class people into that neighborhood, schools are better, and the taxes you collect are much higher than in the darker, high-crime areas.
Connected streetlights can let municipalities adjust the light on the street. If the City of Chicago has 300,000 light poles and has a way to know exactly the condition of each of these lights and for the lights to be intelligent to control the level of light below on the street, it will save administration and management time and electricity but still give the optimal amount of light.
Q. Besides Cisco’s sponsorship of the 1871 tech incubator and your board seat on the Chicago Innovation Awards, how do you work with startups?
A. We look for the complementary portions of our solutions. A company from the Bay Area called Streetline (Inc.) is our partner for parking management. We have a few programs that we focus on startups. Last year, we announced a $100 million Internet of Everything investment fund, investing into startups at the early stage that have gone through the seed-funding round.
For the Internet of Things World Forum in October in Chicago, we have an IOE grant challenge. We are going to announce the winner, who will get seed funding with no strings attached. We are also partners of the Chicago Innovation Exchange, another incubator being built out of the University of Chicago. Cisco has sponsored its entrepreneur-in-residence. We will not only provide funding for a few of those finalists to start having their ideas built, we’ll also provide them mentorship, technology and space.
Q. What’s the biggest opportunity for Chicago to tackle next?
A. The next technology challenge the city can or should do is to leverage what I call their existing fiber layout. Right now every agency has its own connectivity. Barcelona took a 500-acre area called 22@. Twenty years ago, it was an industrial warehouse area like what the far South Side of Chicago is. They completely revamped the area by building an innovation district. Chicago has a similar opportunity with the Chicago Innovation Exchange opening on 53rd Street.
There is this huge land on the South Side called Chicago Lakeside, the old U.S. Steel mill, which is (about) 600 acres of vacant land. Cisco is the technology master planner for that land. With a little incentive and push from the city, county and state governments to incentivize development of that, the South Side would completely transform if (it were) developed over the next 15 to 20 years the way Barcelona did.