The concept of a smart or future city has
been around for several years now. We have all seen the video that shows how our
journey to the airport will be transformed in the future, with transport
systems that are not only fully integrated, but intelligent enough to respond
to changing circumstances and demands.
These visions offer
a utopian view of a world that adapts to the needs of the user and
automatically and seamlessly adjusts the various systems to optimise and
prioritise the competing needs of different users. Although these visions
provide an interesting and easily accessible interpretation of what may be
possible, it isn’t yet realistic. For the first time in history, the vision and
the reality are starting to align, but they aren’t quite there yet.
The motivations are
increasing for independent organisations whether public or private to invest in smart infrastructure. But
the business models and platforms that enable collaboration across very diverse
organisation types are still elusive. There is a genuine risk that in the short
term we end up with a multitude of smart
islands in a dumb city, in other words, individual clusters that are
intelligent within their own boundary but that simply do not relate to each
other or the environment within which they sit. Consider the scenario, you have
two developments on either side of a road that are independently intelligent
but do not connect to one other, or relate to the very street that passes in
front of them. The risk of this scenario in reality is that the nirvana of a
total city infrastructure that optimises resources will remain elusive. The
benefits that are much cited will remain out of reach as these islands develop
proprietary standards and differing business models. The impact will become
evident to the people moving between these environments as the experience,
quality and level of service changes or becomes unavailable.
global technology giants are investing in the smart city concept, this is to be
encouraged but there does need to be attention paid to standards and interconnection
between these deployments. The recent announcement of Glasgow as the winner of the TSB cash to
pilot an integrated smart city is a great example of the momentum in the market
at the moment, what we can’t afford to happen however is that this substantial
investment doesn’t resolve some of the more difficult integration and business
model challenges that exist.
is whether the model being developed is purely business to business or business
to consumer. One requires a clear business plan comprised of cost analysis,
stakeholder engagement and all sorts of other elements that make business feel
comfortable. This can be done largely without the consideration or engagement
of the public and will focus on infrastructure and cost reduction, benefits that are easy to identify but may lead to poorer service for the users.
Once the needs of the individual users are placed front and centre and
engagement plans for participation are considered, the priorities and process
are very likely to change.
There needs to be a
sustained effort to develop business models that work across organisations that
have never collaborated before, let alone had a formal relationship. There will
need to be some political leadership; for instance, there is little or no
incentive for a water company and property developer to co-develop especially
where investment will be needed. Policy makers will need to decide the priorities, establish frameworks and provide
assurance and incentives for business to invest over the long term. This won’t
be easy, but if the opportunities are broken down into small steps and we don’t
allow proprietary solutions to distract and divert resources, then this can be
a very exciting opportunity to bring together systems and entire industries
that have never worked together before.
If we want to make
a smart city a reality, then we are first going to need some smart thinking on
how we can make this possible.