(Article published in TM Forum Live! Asia)
The smart city seems to be one of most hyped topics around, and this looks set to continue.
Last year India launched its 100 Smart Cities initiative. If we Google the term “smart city”, news about smart cities in India will be listed in the first ten results.
However, “smart city” is not a new term; it was coined many years ago when IT companies and telcos mainly drove it. Many cities have tried, but many have failed too. And many initiatives stalled at the framework stage. So, what makes smart cities successful?
Essential qualities of smart cities
Smart cities should have these qualities:
If we asked the citizens whether they wanted their governments or local authorities to embrace those qualities, the answer would be a big “YES”. But somehow it doesn’t always resonate well with the other parties, such as governments or local councils. Why?
We have seen how IT has helped to make organizations more cost-effective. However, when we have a deeper integration with each and every device that we monitor with connected sensors, those who manage those sensors can start to get jittery. Imagine when every ‘asset’ is linked to the person responsible: It could be good or bad, depending on how that person handles and manages that asset.
But that’s how IoT works – reducing cost and enabling higher efficiency. If you are the captain of a sinking ship, what’s your first instruction? Plugging the hole of the ship or steering to a new direction? Of course, the answer would be to plug the holes and secure the ship before you can steer to the new direction. It’s the same for any organization: Before they create new revenue streams, they must be able to identify areas of improvement, reduce any stumbling blocks, streamline and shorten the process, reduce manual work and increase automation. And that’s what IoT does!
If you are the captain of a sinking ship, what’s your first instruction? Plugging the hole of the ship or steering to a new direction?
Automated and people-first
Countries such as Singapore, Japan and Korea keep improving their services because they have reached a state where everything is automated, and services are citizen-focused.
Thus, every country that wants to implement its vision of smart city must understand where the priorities are. It’s not enough to simply “want” a smart city. Get the trust from the citizens, and we will get them to build the smart city that we envision.
In developing smart cities, we must not allow technology to overcome the whole deployment. We cannot ignore the most important dimension of cities i.e. the people who live, work and create within them. We must also take into account the voice of the citizens and let them become active in the process of city design.
One of the ways to get citizens to participate in a conversation with their government is through their most close-to-heart device i.e. smartphones. Crowd-sensing has also become a new business model which allows this large number of smartphones to be used not only for exchanging information between users but also for activities that may have a huge societal impact.
Crowd-sensing applications are particularly attractive to city authorities because they can provide the relevant parties with valuable data without the need to make significant investments. It has reignited citizen engagement with their government authorities, opening new perspectives for cost-effective ways of making local communities and cities more sustainable, livable and safe.
The ability to acquire local knowledge through sensor-enhanced mobile devices – e.g., location, personal and surrounding context, noise level, traffic conditions, noise pollution, opens up many possibilities to share this knowledge within the social sphere, with practitioners, healthcare providers, urban planners and utility providers such as local councils.
It’s about time for us to empower citizens.