gordon feller photo (1)“One of the main challenges facing cities is shaping an effective transition strategy which will accelerate the process of becoming a smart city. This requies, first and foremost, harnessing the power of the networks and technologies which are already in place and available.”– Gordon Feller: Director, Cisco Systems

Gordon Feller is Director of Cisco Systems, where he works from the global headquarters with leaders from around the world. In this interview, Feller told us how information and communications technology can help solve complex urban environmental problems such as reducing carbon emissions, while developing practical and forward-looking solutions that intersect economics, technology, and sustainability.

  • Prime: How would you define the “smart city”?  What issues facing cities are you focused on? How does the “Internet of Everything” impact urban design and the day-to-day operation of cities?

Gordon Feller: The smart city is, in essence, the future that we all hope to realize one day, in the not-so-distant future. At this moment in history most cities do not have the tools in place to access critical information in real-time. Why is that relevant? In the end, real-time data helps citizens, visitors, operators and everybody in the city to do the things they want to do (such as get from point A to point B). Each of the components of any city’s core “grid” – lighting, buses and trains, water pipes, power systems, etc – can provide actionable data for a more efficient use of resources (to achieve key goals, such as reducing total energy consumption and reducing carbon emissions). This means being able to harness the power of all of the leading-edge technologies that are currently available. For instance, the technologies that stand behind social networks can – if engineerined correctly – offer insights that enhance the city’s overall productivity, reduce pollution and increase economic opportunities.

  • Prime: Smart city ecosystems, when they work well, unite multinational companies, start-ups, neighborhoods, national governments. How best can they work together? What is the role of a networking company like CISCO?

 Gordon Feller:  In some cities — such as Barcelona, Nice, Amsterdam — we’re starting to see those partners collaborating with each other because the challenge is too big to be faced by any single actor.  Each city is going to have a different story to tell about how various actors gather around a common agenda. Some cities will fail to convene the key actors, partly because they don’t have a strong culture of collaboration. Cisco tries to be the catalyst, bringing partners together, focusing them on strategic decisions that respond to big challenges by make everything intelligent and connected. This is going to be a long and complex process with a lot of different standards. As a result, we want to facilitate the emergence of common standards that help accelerate the transiton from normal city to smart city.

      • Prime: From your vantage point, what are the most promising technologies which help to enable a smarter city? Why is ‘open innovation’ a better way to innovate in this field?

Gordon Feller: Whether you talk about transportation or about energy, large corporations are making real R&D investments – while, at the same time, smaller innovative entrepreneurial companies are also creating unique solutions. One good example is Waze, a start-up that Google just acquired for $1 billion. It’s a crowd-sourcing solution available in the App Store; it provides reliable and up-to-date information from users along those traffic routes. Crowd-sourced platforms, like Waze, are reducing congestion by digitally connecting drivers to each other, to the network, and to critical driving data.

      • Prime: In the smart city area, do you see interesting initiatives and companies coming from France?

Gordon Feller: We do have projects in various cities in France. Nice is the first “Internet of Everything” deployment developed for a city. We have other projects in France. We are partners with Schneider Electric, with French government agencies and with international institutions – most notably at the European Commission. We’re trying to find those places who have leaders that are truly ready to adopt open innovation models and are highly receptive to radically new ways of doing things.

NB: Gordon convenes the annual leadership summit, “Meeting of the Minds“. This year’s program gathers 350 leaders from 20 countries (including France) with a powerful list of sponsors, led by Toyota, including IBM, HOK, Cisco, Itron, Schneider, Ford Fdn, Casey Fdn, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy — and many more.