Everyone has heard the term ‘smart city’ – it’s been around for more than a decade. But where are they?
More than that – who understands what the term ‘smart city’ really means? How many people have actually come into contact with any work in the area (given how many providers tout their ‘smart city’ credentials!)? How many people (if any) are actually being served by smart cities?
It is easy to put a facile definition to the term, for example: ‘a city with integrated processes best supporting its citizens and improving their environment to live, work, and play’.
However, as good as this definition is (or isn’t), it does not actually tell us anything about what a smart city is (and by extension fails to articulate why, based on the benefits, we should all want to live in one!).
If we use the above definition as an aspirational end-point, we can begin to fill in the gaps between the way cities function today and our hopes for the future based upon new technology being harnessed to provide new services.
For example, if you move house, how many government services do you have to inform and how do you let others know your new address? Facebook will go a long way towards letting friends know you have moved (provided they are on Facebook themselves); while local and central government ‘silos’ all need to be advised individually – there is currently very little capacity for sharing data, to remove the need to inform multiple government services (a shocking concept, we know!).
This capability may be easy to achieve technically but is enormous politically – which is the overriding reason why we have not progressed very far to date, and that the progress made isn’t especially visible (or impressive).
The current regulatory framework is also a contributing factor; for example, planners wishing to create a greener and friendlier environment are not able to move offices nearer to homes in order to reduce commuting due to zoning restrictions – yet planning and urban design are a critical element of creating a smart city.
It is apparent that regardless of any central entity being empowered to manage the development of a smart city (including providing governance and ensuring open standards), progress will have to come piecemeal on a service‑by‑service basis.
Some examples may be cited:
- Public transport: many regional/urban areas already have a large captive audience using digital ticketing services which already provides inter-model integration and coordination – this would probably make it the prime candidate for moving forward with linking-up other services to begin the process of developing a smart city environment
- Road transport: almost all modern road vehicles are equipment with intelligent, integrated, interactive route guidance systems; leveraging the old Traffic Management Systems and/or new Intelligent Transport Systems, coupled with the new service provided by Google Traffic, providing a vastly increased level of efficiency and effectiveness with road transport and infrastructure usage
- Financial services: most people have bank cards which are now beginning to be used for micro-transactions as the technology moves towards contactless open standards, e.g. access to transport services. Financial services present the best early opportunity to bring the private sector into the smart city environment
- Intelligent homes: integration of intelligent technology in homes is just starting to occur (think medical monitoring or Apple ‘Home’). Besides reducing carbon footprint and energy consumption, fire and burglar alarms may be connected to the internet to inform the householder of problems, wherever they are. Those with special needs may have monitored alarms, assistive technology such as automatic door openers, and linkages with hospitals for automatic patient monitoring and drug administration
- Smart offices: low energy usage, improved employee environment, high-speed communications, strong yet unobtrusive security, linkages to transport hubs and on-site additional services (café, health center, etc.)
- Emergency services: links to transport sector to speed up emergency vehicles by turning traffic lights to green, more and earlier information to speed up assessment of requirement, links to other services that may be required (e.g. local authorities, welfare services, animal control, etc.)
- Healthcare: organising transport to suit patient needs; sharing of data to speed-up and improve healthcare services; individual’s health apps (vis-à-vis Apple’s ‘Health’) linking with health service providers; linkage with social services to improve patient outcome while reducing bed occupancy and providing better communications between patients and carer services
- Education: student identification cards could include e-purse functionality to increase security and reduce cash being carried around; maximizing the efficiency school transport fleets throughout the day including real-time route optimisation; linkages with the private sector including workplace education and student deals at restaurants, on public transport, and in shops
Today the technology is all there and governments at all levels are keen to move forward: so why is it not happening?
Recent focus across the industry has been brought to bear on assessing the causes of this stagnation.
We have highlighted the key issues below, based on our view of relevance:
- Designing for an open, shared, smart city environment will be an expensive and long-term undertaking, where the benefits may not yet be realisable
- First movers spend more, gain less, and may need to change systems/processes to meet downstream developing standards
- Second movers may not wish to fit-in with the designs of others (i.e. ‘not invented here’ syndrome)
- Jurisdictions must determine and empower an entity to provide central governance and implementation oversight, while either complying with existing open standards or defining new standards where necessary
- Services and agencies are currently legislatively restricted in their ability to share data – policy and legislation around privacy and data sharing would need to be amended to support the level of intelligent services which a smart city environment could provide
- Individual engineering companies are taking the initiatives with, for example, smart buildings, where there should be broader industry-level standards. The firms designing and building new offices are not the right organisations to develop appropriate standards for software, data sharing, single sign-on, etc. What is required is consultation with organisations dedicated to developing a standardised smart city concept leading to the emergence of properly functioning inter-operable smart cities
- Education is a ‘must do’ exercise to go along with the introduction of new technologies and service integration; if the users are not properly educated as to new ‘smart’ functionality the anticipated benefits will not be realised
- There seems to be a disconnect between planners and designers/implementers. Perhaps this is because people believe that smart cities fall within one particular purview/agency/role, rather than requiring a broad collaborative multi-agency approach across all impacted stakeholders
ALCO has been advising clients on the development of the systems and integration required to support a smart city approach for over ten years. Our team has the necessary experience and skill-set to support our clients through concept and into implementation, enabling our clients to move forward with confidence.
For further information on our involvement in this area please contact any member of the ALCO Consulting team.