Smart cities and the Internet of Things – credit where it’s due

Sean Jackson

Imagine a city without traffic congestion, parking spaces are always available, public transport runs efficiently, the hospitals work, pollution is reduced and any other annoyance you face on a weekly basis is eradicated. This is the city of the future; a city driven by data.Everything is interconnected – not just with physical roads but networked together.

The city of the future will be data centric with devices embedded in pavements, street signs and even dustbins. Sensors will become part of a city’s DNA. Their job will be to gather data that will be analysed and processed to make the city run more smoothly, therefore happier places to be.

George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer and keeper of the purse strings in the UK Government,  pledged £140 million back in his Spring Budget to make this vision a reality through the development of the Internet of Things, researching smart cities and investing in smart cars. The government aims to position the UK as ‘a global leader in emerging markets and technology’.  It’s not just about leading the way and the economic benefits, the Internet of Things and smart cities will move the Government towards a more citizen-centric view of the world. This is imperative when you consider the United Nations projections that by 2050 some two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities, twice that of 1950.

This rapidly shifting urbanisation brings with it huge administrative challenges. We need to ensure that urban environments are not just functional, but conducive to happiness.  It’s therefore critical timing that the Government has woken up to the true value of data, connectivity and analytics. Using data can help to create efficiently run services aid collaboration. This of course has economic benefits, but it also provides better living standards.

Local, not just central
In addition, the Government Digital Service (GDS) – dedicated to making public services digital by default – has been extended to cover local authorities, a promise made by Cabinet Office minister Frances Maude earlier this year. Collaboration is key and this is particularly relevant to the successful development of smart cities. Local government must be given the power to make its own digital decisions and move its towns and cities forward in tune with its citizens, using data to listen. Data can help governments understand what citizens need before they know they need it.

A smart move to a smart city
 Smart cities will use sensors to monitor public infrastructure and services, gathering real-time data to help decision-makers with minute detail, from where car parks are needed, to specific healthcare requirements. Connecting cities digitally and processing the data being created will undoubtedly have a positive impact on our quality of life.

However, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the sheer volume of data collected.  A new report by Gartner estimates that in 2015 there will be 1.1 billion connected things, a figure expected to increase to 9.7 billion by 2020. That’s a lot of data.

To add value the data must be analysed and mined for actionable insights.  Only then can those in power really utilise the enormous quantity of data to help progress policy and make the right decisions on an array of issues.

We’re already on the right track
Sensors in residents’ waste bins are being used to inform local councils about who is generating the most rubbish, whose bin needs to be collected and who should therefore be paying more. These sensors have significant implications for both reducing waste and helping local authorities work out their refuse collection strategy. It can even help with workforce management and routing logistics. GPS sensors in dustcarts can be used to see where and when they can be deployed the most efficiently.

Data can, and will be used for the good of the nation but that does not stop the fear-factor. As we move to smart cities, careful consideration is needed in communicating the benefits to the community. People need to understand what a smart city is, and be reassured over any security concerns. As we move further into smart cities, the benefits and huge potential for our future will become apparent. By unlocking the value from data, urban areas will thrive.

By Sean Jackson, chief marketing officer, EXASOL


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