Gartner and IBM are at odds over a potential collision between the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart cities.

Gartner researchers think a large number of IoT related devices will be tied into smart cities by the end of this year. But Katharine Frase, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of IBM Public Sector claim the two are close but will remain separate for the time being.

Gartner estimates that 1.1 billion connected things will be used by smart cities in 2015, rising to 9.7 billion by 2020. The predictions are included in a new report that curiously overstates the case by 300 million entitled Smart Cities Will Include 10 Billion Things by 2020.

Say What?

Gartner defines a smart city as an urbanized area where multiple sectors cooperate to achieve sustainable outcomes through the analysis of contextual, real-time information shared among sector-specific information and operational technology systems.

The Smarter Cities initiative in IBM started in late 2008 as part of the firm's Smarter Planet initiative: its vision is of a planet that is more instrumented, interconnected and intelligent. For IBM, a smart city is "an interconnected system of systems. A dynamic work in progress, with progress as its watchword."

IBM expects smarter cities of the future to drive sustainable economic growth. In addition, "their leaders will have the tools to analyze data for better decisions, anticipate problems to resolve them proactively and coordinate resources to operate effectively."

Why is any of this important? Current estimates indicate that by 2050, more than 75 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities.

In fact, according to Gartner, one of the drivers behind the IoT and the development of smart cities is the strain this migration to the cities will create. To relieve some of the toll on infrastructure, technology and service providers are building partner ecosystems to enable the development of smart businesses.

The result, according to research carried out by Gartner in November, endpoints of the IoT will grow at 35 percent year-over- year between now and 2020, reaching an installed base of 25 billion units with more than half of them consumer-citizen applications.

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IBM’s Smarter Cities

Frase stressed that we just shouldn't think of the IoT and smart cities as one and the same. While the IoT will accelerate the availability of data and real time responsive devices in support of Smarter City objectives, there are two reasons why they are not dovetailing or even converging.

"The first is that much of the IoT phenomenon is being driven by the private sector. This is good for many reasons, including speed and availability of investment, but may lead towards fragmented "one device at a time" methodology (your washing machine versus your TV in your home or street lights versus traffic sensors in the city)," she told us.

She added that this kind of fragmentation would hinder rather than help the kind of shared decision making and transparent information flow that is central to a Smarter City.

The second part of it is that IoT and Smarter Cities, despite appearances, do not address identical concerns. She explained:

Much of the current IoT dialogue concerns individual citizen actions, and/or automated responses by the devices. These are of course positive trends. However, within Smarter Cities there is also an emphasis on serving insights to the human decision makers (police officers, social workers, the water department) and that requires analytics and insights across data sets that may come from devices or may come from departmental files."

In other words, the IoT combines not just the information that is coming from a range of devices, but also from the physical data sets that exist in a city too. This means that Smarter Cities are using what at least on the surface appear to be wide sets of data.

With Smarter Cities, Frase said, IBM aims to ensure that city decision makers are armed with actionable insights based on a whole range of insights from all available information sources.

If this is the pay-off for investing in Smarter Cities or IoT technology, the payoff for vendors is going to be substantial, too. From IBM’s perspective, she added, the IoT value creation will be led by the vendors that are focused on inventing new capabilities.

Those capabilities are going to be based on instrumentation and intelligence through a complex of interconnected systems that will depend on their success for cloud, mobile and security applications, all of which tie in with a portfolio of products that IBM has been building out for years.