Achieving greater sustainability – in the economic, social and environmental realms– is possible when we connect people, process, data and things in new and amazing ways.

Amazing things happen when you connect the unconnected. A more seamless world is possible when the data streaming through and around our communities, our cities and our countries is connected. It means that we are making it possible to manage and organize our cities in more relevant and valuable ways.

Together with key customers and ecosystem partners we’re proving that utilizing the very best technologies and incorporating new business models does improve the way our cities are designed, built and run.

City planners and metropolitan officials are gathering new data and discovering new insights by deploying location-based services, together with geo-spatial capabilities. Such analysis is leading to improved long-term planning decisions. City officials get a comprehensive view of the city and are thus able to use the information to improve city planning.

Emerging technologies enable cities to address critical problems. For example, innovative solutions are now being used for parking and traffic management, lighting and street safety as well as water and waste management.

In each of these cases a shared and intelligent network infrastructure is being used by multiple agencies, citizens and contractors. At the same time, these technologies are enabling cities to provide citizens with access to a broad range of citywide services.

New and more advanced networks, wherever they meet the pressing needs, enable anytime, anywhere access for citizens. These networks increase citizen participation, stimulate local commerce, and provide an enabling framework within which innovations are plugged in, especially those that enable advanced management of city infrastructure.

Consider just a few of the lessons learned to date from numerous energy sector projects- smart grid projects are helping more than just utilities. They assist both city governments and city residents to decrease their levels of energy use and associated costs. From a consumer perspective, smart meters connected to a smart grid network create a two-way communication platform with utility providers, giving them insight into their energy usage and peak price times. This ultimately allows them to take advantage of the highest possible energy-cost savings. In the same vein, utilities are provided granular insight into regional energy demand and peak load through the network. This information allows utilities to deploy demand response to manage load quickly, thus preventing brown outs, increasing the reliability of power delivery and avoiding the need to purchase or generate additional power at a higher cost per kwh.

Energy management deployments for commercial and industrial customers have shown energy and operational cost savings. One relevant example is the deployment on Cisco¹s San Jose headquarters. The goal was to manage IT-related energy load in labs across 11 buildings. The operations team was able to reduce electricity consumption by 33%, resulting in savings of $1 million annually and achieving payback one and a half years from deployment.

The good news is that it’s now possible to create end-to-end, resilient, and secure communication infrastructure for smart grid deployments. Such deployments utilize the network as the platform to intelligently bring together disparate sources of utility information.

Leveraging a broad set of technologies, solutions, services and partners, utilities are empowering smart grid initiatives with advanced IP communications to create new business and operational models, enhance physical and cyber security and provide energy consumers the widest set of benefits.

Energy independence and clean economic policies are, long-term, the right direction. In the near term they are creating new demands on the electric grid and operations while increasing costs to customers. Some customers’ ability to pay for costs of electric infrastructure modernization and clean energy policy choices is stretched – due, in some places, to increasing population on fixed income and low income.

Transformation of the physical grid and business models means changes are required to 80 year old regulatory paradigms ­we need new approaches to enable industry transformation at an affordable cost to consumers.

Gordon Feller is a director at Cisco Systems. He is Founder of Meeting of the Minds, which this year will focus a spotlight on these themes. Itron is a lead sponsor with Cisco and DTE/Detroit energy, among others.