Women in IoT Series: Smart City Strategies, Lisa Brown Illuminates Vertical Thinking


With a background in telecom and technology, and as a natural human connector, Lisa Brown, National Senior Director, Local Government for IoT giant Johnson Controls is influencing the direction of smarter, safer cities across the US. As a true believer in the power of sensors, applications and networks to make cities, towns and entire regions better places to live, Brown meets with the most visionary architects of connected cities and helps them build their roadmaps to resiliency and sustainability, shedding light on the opportunities to expand the value of “vertical assets” municipalities and their public utility partners can experience – with a solid plan in place.

“My role is as an advisor to our customers and partners,” Brown said in a recent interview. “I’m fortunate to be able to combine my passion for what’s possible with the opportunity to meet with hundreds of brilliant city planners, engineers, heads of agencies, and leaders in the energy world, sharing ideas that are firmly rooted in problem solving.”

Problems in the largest cities in the US include unprecedented population growth, increased concerns for public safety, rising costs for energy and other natural resources, a rising carbon footprint, and the ever-present requirement to control expenses during tough economic times.

“There is no shortage of applications across connected cities,” she said, “and, in fact, part of what can slow down the roll out of projects is how daunting it may seem to elected officials and public servants to take on a city-wide roll out. We’re finding the biggest successes are coming from more modest starts, with single projects initiated by one or more divisions within a city generating immediate returns on investment. It’s time to start focusing offerings on solving one problem at a time – knowing that as the infrastructure for one solution is put in place, this same infrastructure can be leveraged in the future by plugging in new applications.”

Brown explains the “land and expand” concept with the notion of a single “light pole.”

“The notion of controlling levels of light based on environmental sensors is not new,” Brown said, “but the ability to do leverage the real estate on top of what we refer to as a city’s vertical assets is now coming into view. We can control so much more than LED units today, and as civic leaders are exposed to new business models, including how to work with utility and network service companies to turn those assets into revenue for the city, their eyes are open to a practical and still expansive way to roll out programs.” 

“You might be surprised to learn how lighting can act as the catalyst for smarter technology implementations, beyond the watt, and how they can help local governments improve resident experiences and city efficiencies, while offsetting costs of implementations,” Brown wrote in a recent blog.

“Don’t ignore existing infrastructure when making decisions on city improvements,” she explained, as more and more technology is being created that can easily adapt to assets already in place. “Interior and exterior lighting can be a starting point to achieve broader smart technology plans. A necessary asset to the city environment, existing lighting serves as a perfect beacon to incorporate smart improvements, such as networked LED lights.”

Outdoor “vertical assets” can be a landing point for everything from sensors that detect gunshots, cameras that survey the streets in real time, environmental sensors collecting data about elements in the air, counters for pedestrian and automobile traffic, and perches for radio access network equipment, including antennas for LoRaWAN service networks (extending battery life of devices those networks connect).

As far as her experience as a very successful woman in the technology world, including senior roles at AT&T, head executive at BSquared (an dot com incubator)), and leader at Johnson Controls serving in a variety of positions, Brown believes women are drawn to technologies that make life better for people.

“Women are natural connectors and multi-taskers,” Brown said, “and we have a way of imagining a more idealistic, truly illuminated world. So, when we see the power and potential of contributing to safer streets and buildings, we can’t stop thinking about how to apply software and networking to build truly connected environments.”

For Brown, it’s all in the mix – the mix of people, technologies and strategies. In her blog, she also wrote, “Integrating lighting applications with non-lighting applications creates networked controls for more advanced management and increased comfort, efficiency and safety,” and “with this overlay of systems, a historically disparate lighting system has become a crucial security asset in protecting city occupants during an emergency.”

Brown speaks with great enthusiasm about the world of lighting, including how indoor lighting in hospitals, including infusion rooms at cancer centers, can be designed with changing hues proven to help calm and comfort patients.

“There is light all around us,” Brown says, “and to be in an industry where we have an opportunity to improve the way we manage light – more elegantly, more cost-effectively, more sustainably – is extremely motivating to me, my team, our partners and customers.”

Networking not just lighting, but multiple electronic applications in a more unified manner, with centralized controls and a view of how lighting, cameras, sensors and systems can harmonize entire towns, cities and regions is a story Brown is always excited to share.

She will be presenting at the Smart City Works Infrastructure Week seminar in Washington, DC on May 15th (limited free admission and more information on the event is available here), alongside other “Women in IoT” we will be profiling as part of this series.

For more on Smart City Strategy solutions, register now for The Smart City Event

Edited by Ken Briodagh
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Contributing Writer

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