Smart cities, towns and villages built on data-driven insight are key to a better citizen experience

Andy Berry of Pitney Bowes

More and more of our population is migrating to cities. By 2050, almost 70% of us will live in cities, attracted by the prospects for employment, the cultural diversity and the extensive facilities. By 2030, forecasters predict that there will be 41 mega cities with over 10 million inhabitants.

This urbanisation means that urban planners and local governments are experiencing pressure on an unprecedented scale. The decisions they make now will impact more and more people who call their cities home – hard to visualise whilst the current infrastructure creaks at the seams.

From transport to healthcare, energy to education, public safety to pollution, the resources and underlying issues common to cities have long been subjects of concern. Enter the Internet of Things. Creating a ‘smart city’ – a connected community of people, places and things across digital infrastructure – might just be the answer. Already it is key to the successful management, efficiency and enjoyment of some of the world’s most dynamic, thriving and vibrant cities, says Andy Berry, VP Software Solutions, EMEA, Pitney Bowes.

Reports reveal huge sums put aside for cities to integrate technologies and benefit from the Internet of Things. In the US, city governments are forecast to invest around $41 trillion over the next 20 years so their cities can benefit from the Internet of Things. In Europe, the European Commission and the European Committee of the Regions announced a plan to join forces and create smarter EU cities.

But what does the smart city really mean? When visualising a smart city maybe you think of streamlined, curved glass buildings, hyper-connected populations with armfuls of devices, low emission bullet trains – a kind of ‘Back to the Future’ meets a futuristic Gotham City in which tech super heroes eliminate crime before it happens and hoverboards are the main mode of transport.

Perhaps for some cities that will be the reality. But those cities which have already earned their ‘smart’ colours have one critical thing in common: everything begins and ends with data. The insight extracted from this data is where the real ‘smart’ resides.

Think about the data generated within a city in a split second: from journeys, movement, travel, transactions, experiences, evolution, buildings, infrastructure, commerce, and the inter connections between them. Of course, the Internet of Things is about connectivity and infrastructure– but the power of this connectivity lies in the data generated and shared, and the intelligence this data produces.

This can improve the lives of your citizens whether you’re an officially-designated ‘smart city’ of 10 million inhabitants, or a small conurbation of just a few thousand. Let me give you two examples of UK local governments, both Pitney Bowes clients, that are using the data they generate to give their citizens a greater experience.

One is a bustling university city with a population of almost half a million, and the other is in a beautiful area of Wales with a population of less than 100,000. One is a world-renowned smart city, the other isn’t. But both are using data to drive digital transformation and improve the service they provide to citizens.

Torfaen Borough Council

Torfaen is the third smallest borough in Wales, and serves a population of around 91,000. With access to a diversity of 300 different data sets across the region – from geospatial data to information on local schools and public services – the council carefully considered how they could use this data to benefit their citizens and to improve their own internal systems and processes. It decided upon a cloud-based location intelligence and data management platform. This would enable it to integrate, present and analyse data, and generate significant cost savings.

The data also enables improved citizen services and citizen engagement across the borough through new web mapping services. Local citizens can now visit the council website and use the mapping system to find out information specific to their exact location on topics such as refuse collections, school catchment areas, journey data, highways incidents and leisure activities. It enriches the website, reduces pressure on the council’s service support team and improves the citizen experience.

The council’s 700 internal users can now share spatial data internally or externally in a web application. Data is easily shared among departments ranging from social services to education, highways, land management, the police force and customer care, helping to make workflow more efficient and less costly, and emergency personnel in the field can quickly identify and solve problems onsite, day or night.

Hands touching circle global network connection, Omni Channel or Multi channel

The council’s website is now the hub for services and information, improving efficiency and response for constituents. Residents can report issues with roads or litter, find out where their local polling station is, voice concerns, make payments, and more.

Whilst not officially designated a smart city – it might not use ‘Internet of Things’ connected devices to manage its infrastructure, for example – there’s no doubt that this organisation’s management of data and the insight it generates offers a smart, informed, meaningful service to its communities.

Bristol City Council

Bristol is a blueprint for the smart city. The vibrant cathedral city in the South West of England is widely acknowledged as one of the first truly ‘smart’ cities in Europe. Recently the city won a highly-acclaimed ‘Internet of Things’ award for its ‘Bristol is Open’ programmable city initiative, which cleverly enables citizens to digitally contribute to the city’s operations.

Bristol City Council, the engine room of the region, is fast gaining a reputation as one of the most forward-thinking local governments in Europe. It has played a major contributing part in the city’s ‘smart’ drive. Like Torfaen, the council realised the vast amount of valuable, meaningful intelligence that could be extracted from its data.

For example, its recorded public infrastructure highway assets include carriageways, footways, street lights, retaining walls, traffic signal junctions, signs, bridges and viaducts, and have a combined gross replacement value of over £5 billion.

Using Pitney Bowes’ Confirm OnDemand cloud-based asset infrastructure management system, the council pulls together data on these assets through field-based inspection, data capture and risk assessments across the city. Access to this data acts as a springboard for the Council’s decision-making. For example, it can locate lampposts positioned on Bristol’s ‘wireless mile’ by using the sensors attached to those lampposts.

Every city is a collection of assets from fibre cables to fire hydrants, parking meters to properties, street lights to traffic signals. When city leaders can identify, track, monitor and manage these assets, the full value and possibilities of connected technologies become clear.

Both Bristol and Torfaen are groundbreaking in their own right. Connecting, understanding and enriching data to drive insights – perhaps predictive analytics – in real-time, and providing better experiences for citizens is where their value lies. This intelligence holds the key to the gates – physical or digital – of our future towns and cities, and unleashes the potential of the ‘smart city’ – or town, or village.

The author of this blog is Andy Berry, VP Software Solutions, EMEA, Pitney Bowes

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