Qualcomm and Why it May Be Time for Cities to Get a CTO

This week, Qualcomm has their big Smart Cities event in San Diego.  Qualcomm is one of the vendors driving the concept of Smart Cities into the market.  The promise of this effort to modernize and automate cities is the ability to do more with less.  Using security cameras to make up for police staffing shortages, sensors to ensure that water isn’t wasted, identifying fires early enough to stop them, reducing traffic and global warming due to inefficient streetlights, and eliminating most forms of waste.  

The difficulty, as Qualcomm’s CEO Cristiano Amon pointed out, is that while mayors may have operational skills, they typically are not technology experts. Cities often make massive errors regarding the technology they purchase by relying too much on the vendor who pitched the idea.  Cristiano argued that while Qualcomm is often pinch-hitting as a virtual CTO for the cities it is working with, having a dedicated person in this role could better assure independence and better assure things like continuity and interoperability between the technologies that are deployed.  

Given we are moving into an age of autonomous machines (cars, robots, and drones), Quantum AIs that can handle complex problems that current computers aren’t capable of handling, and even personal flying vehicles, the need for Smart Cities has never been greater.  But a lack of competence at the top in the form of a qualified CTO could lead to massive technological disasters that not only don’t help but could make things worse.  

The case for a Smart City CTO

The CTO position is relatively new in corporate governance.  It was created as a CEO resource so that the related company could have a technology vision consistent with the CEO’s operational vision.  The CEO figures out what strategy the company should follow, and the CTO then assesses how technology could best assist in the successful execution of that strategy.   

Care should be taken to assure the CTO is competent; having either worked for or been a CTO in the past in private industry would be a massive advantage because the CTO job in cities is relatively rare.  Once hired, the CTO would look at the short- and long-term goals for the city and then draft a proposal for the kind of technology needed for the city to meet those goals successfully.  

Qualcomm would be one of the safer vendor partners for an effort like this, given they work in the area but don’t provide complete solutions to it, instead of supplying technology to partners who, in turn, provide that complete solution.  They would be in an excellent position to discuss what other cities are doing, best practices, and even identify candidates for the CTO position.  

Two areas they’ll need to develop quickly are implementing an IoT sensor network best and preparing for quantum tools.  The first is a critical aspect of any Smart City, but if you don’t approach this problem correctly, you’ll overspend for a sensor network that may be obsolete when you complete it.  Quantum tools stand out as superior for managing complex problems like water management, stop light sequencing, and the most effective way to deploy your police force.  

Quantum AIs are expected to revolutionize logistics, allow cities to operate with far fewer people offsetting today’s staff shortages, and be instrumental in assuring the best response possible to a natural or artificial disaster.  

One exciting implementation is for trash pickup, where the trucks are only sent to homes that need their trash picked up and aren’t just making the rounds regardless of the need.  If this were coupled with an effort to reduce or eliminate waste and increase recycling, this would not only lower cost; it would reduce the cities’ waste footprint and be better for the planet.  

Wrapping up:

We are moving to a period where cities will be deploying technology at an increasing pace to serve their citizens better and make up for endemic staff shortages.   A qualified CTO could substantially reduce the waste, missteps, and failed efforts that often surround Smart City programs.  While companies one step removed from complete solutions like Qualcomm can step in and pinch-hit, they won’t know the unique needs of the city as well as a dedicated and qualified CTO.   

Given these systems cost millions and can be very damaging to the image of the city and its governing body, if they fail, the cost of CTO to assure that doesn’t happen seems trivial.  I expect cities without CTOs will have multiple expensive mistakes, much like companies, before establishing that same role.  Learn from those companies, and if you are planning on moving to a Smart City concept, get a qualified CTO to determine the lowest-cost, most effective path.