The pandemic is teaching us the true value of technology and the benefits it creates for citizens. For example, apps can now show you when it’s safe to board the next bus or to schedule a visit to the local waste centre, both of which have been introduced to ensure social distancing. We are adjusting our expectations – for example, table ordering via an app in the pub has become normal, not novel.
However, as many have learned along the way, and the hard way, technology is just the enabler. As McKinsey points out: '“Smartness” is not just installing digital interfaces in traditional infrastructure or streamlining city operations. It is about using technology and data purposefully to make better decisions and deliver a better quality of life.'
For smart cities or, as I prefer, smart communities, to become a reality then local government needs to become citizen centric and create people-based outcomes. That is the key to success. Merely using technology to make smart data driven decision-making a reality, not letting the technology become the fixation.
We can then not just help cities, but towns, villages and smaller communities too, to harness the power of their data to fundamentally change the way services are delivered. By building sustainable, programmable infrastructure for today and tomorrow we can address future challenges, drive economic savings, promote a better quality of life and create environmental improvements. That is the end game.
Making ‘smart’ a reality
The term ‘smart city’ is an ever-evolving concept. We once viewed a smart city as a major global capital spearheading futuristic technology but now it’s here, becoming a reality, the societal impacts boundless, what makes a city really ‘smart’? And rather than focusing on certain hot spots, how can we build an infrastructure fit to thrive smart, programmable communities of the future all across the country?
There are a number of challenges still facing councils across the UK. These range from community engagement, building business cases through to data security and internal skill sets.
Internal alignment, then infrastructure
However, one of the most important building blocks for creating a smarter way of working is internal alignment. You need top-down leadership to deliver a strategic approach, to address cross-departmental data silos, creating a ground swell and consensus of opinion which will be needed to make these ambitions a success.
Another challenge is infrastructure. Many councils want to address real life problems relating to transport, housing, buildings and adult social care, all of which can benefit from the power of Internet of Things (IoT) and enhanced decision making by bringing various data sets together.
In achieving the status of becoming a smart community the emphasis should always be on the outcome that is desired and an agnostic approach to solution design, taking into account the key principles on platform and application interoperability.
Adopting this approach will ensure that all possible architectures are considered and the various pros and cons that each network type is weighed up, leading to the best solution.
5G and smart cities are intricately linked and there will no doubt be applications that require the high bandwidth connectivity that 5G can provide. Applications such as those linked to augmented reality (AR), for example, as towns and cities try to attract visitors by providing enhanced user experiences such as immersive theatre shows – utilising the concept of a theatre without walls through AR.
In parallel, there are many cities that are already being smart by deploying low powered LoRaWAN networks that are already gathering thousands of new IoT driven data sets and combining these with existing council data to create a different approach to delivering citizen experiences.
How to become ‘smart’
Implementing smart elements in a piecemeal approach delivers less value, is cost prohibitive and often means that tactical investments are made leading to numerous different software and hardware solutions that don’t “talk to one another” and are in no way smart.
To truly become a smart, programmable community of the future, the key is putting one platform in place. Pulling together data that sits within separate systems to integrate, view, manage and respond to information from a range of council services, sensors and systems, using a single intelligent dashboard to promote joined up decision making across the various service areas leading to a better quality of life for residents.
A case in point is Hull who became one of the first programmable cities in the UK, using an IoT foundation for its digital strategy across the entire area, allowing its communities to be fully programmable with its next generation network. By centralising information, that Power of Data generates insights that can be shared, improving the wellbeing and quality of life for individuals living, working and visiting the city.
It’s the job of local governments to serve their citizens and continually assess how they can build strategies to strengthen their communities against future health, economic, social or environmental impacts.
By creating digital intelligence with connected applications provides real-time information to make better choices that leads to i.e., improved air quality, reduced water waste and reduced disease burden.
By laying the right foundations and always keeping the citizen front of mind then and only then, will we create smart, programmable communities of the future.
Rob Bullock is CSO at Connexin