In the world’s bid to overcome issues brought by urbanisation—overpopulation, traffic, climate change—the seed for smart cities was planted and has now taken hold.
In fact, research suggests that there will be at least 88 smart cities in the world by 2025.
Although the name conjures images of autonomous vehicles driving down highways lined with skyscrapers, in reality, smart cities are much more subtle than that.
At their core, the purpose of smart cities are to make urban centres more resilient and liveable, to survive and thrive in a world where resources are running thin. Technological advancement, while crucial, is but a means to an end.
What Is A Smart City?
With the help of The Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G technology, smart cities aim to improve citizens’ day-to-day lives by collecting and analysing data that would help manage resources efficiently.
This data would then be applied to various sectors like public utilities and services, as well as infrastructures.
In the UK, research on smart cities started in 2013. The government agency Innovate UK invested £8 million to develop the HyperCatCity initiative, and by the start of 2015, involved London, Bristol, and Milton Keynes.
London led the race with its congestion charge scheme and transport innovations; Bristol has its Bristol Is Open project, which created a city-scale high-speed fibre connection; and Milton Keynes introduced the LoRa network, a wireless sensor network.
Two years after the initiative began, Bristol overtook London and became UK’s top smart city.
How Would Smart Cities Benefit Its Citizens?
Carrying out smart city projects can prove to be a challenge.
For one, rapid population growth in urban areas brings its own slew of issues. Traffic congestion in London, in fact, already cost the city £30 billion in 2016. And more pertinently, the widespread implications of the UK leaving the EU could touch smart city development, potentially stalling a number of smart city projects which may now lose EU funding.
However, when done right, smart cities do provide a number of benefits:
- Cheaper, faster public transportation – Plenty of cities have begun building connected transport systems. In the UK, the Isle of Wight ferries are now tweeting their arrival and departure times.
- Smart homes – According to Strategy Analytics, the global market for smart homes will reach $100 billion by 2018. This would give citizens easier control over their domestic environment and finances (e.g. smart meters, climate control, heated toilet seats).
- Better environment – The ability to analyse waste output on a city-wide scale can lead to better waste control and water management, as well as exploring more opportunities for recycling.
- Green buildings – To effectively reduce energy consumption, solutions should be based on hard facts. Integrated sensors and dashboards can help collect data on waste collection and the carbon footprint of a building, giving the owner better insight on where and how to cut back.
- Quality healthcare – Telemedicine can break geographical barriers, especially during times of natural disasters or when patients are located in remote areas.
- Improved city life – Technology can improve the life of city dwellers. For instance, Paris’ Autolib has given the public access to all-electric cars on a paid subscription basis. London also has smart parking sensors that detect vacant parking spaces, cutting down congestion and carbon emissions.
What Do Businesses Need To Do To Prepare For Smart Cities?
In a few years’ time, various sectors in major cities will all be automated. This would then—if not already—impact entrepreneurs and how businesses are run.
With the smart city era at your doorstep, there are a few steps you should take to prepare your business.
1. Balancing growth and security
A common concern among end users is what this means for their privacy and security. A more connected world means more of their data is stored online and a higher probability of privacy loss. You need to find the balance between collecting useful data via technological advancements and protecting the privacy of your customers.
Although regulations are and will be in place, there are steps that you can take as well. For instance, be transparent with the kind of data you are collecting and provide privacy options. You should also invest in security software and make sure you have a contingency plan in case of disasters or emergencies.
2. Opening your mind to collaboration
Instead of growing your business as a lone wolf, open your mind to collaborating with public and private entities. After all, interconnectivity is the name of the game.
In the private sector, collaboration would give you the ability to tap into the specialties of other companies and learn from them. Collaboration could also result in improved product quality and faster delivery time for your respective businesses.
Although companies tend to work better without the government intruding into operations, smart city projects are an exception. For projects to be completed, it needs the cooperation of businesses, the government, and the people.
3. Utilizing IoT and leveraging big data
Like it or not, the use of IoT will only keep growing. And with it comes the influx of big data analytics. Instead of shying away from what is new, consider this as an opportunity for you to gain more intimate knowledge about your customer base—vital information that would help you improve your business processes.
Moreover, it is estimated that 50 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020, giving you further impetus to embrace this new technology.
4. Including customer participation in marketing campaigns
With new technology comes a new set of customer needs, such as the demand for more efficient tools and more integration. Take advantage of this with new online-based technologies to gain customer feedback, and use this data when crafting your marketing campaigns. Take note that the medium of your business communications may also eventually evolve (e.g. AR and VR).
5. Improving communications and networks
To handle the changes in data transmission and communication, you’ll need to ensure you’ve set up a strong IT infrastructure within your business. This may require that you upgrade your internet service or your software and hardware. Moreover, all these would require working with a professional IT support team that you can trust for technical support.
The Future Is Here
Building smart cities is more than just understanding big data and upgrading to the latest shiny gadget. It is about improving the lives of every citizen—the same philosophy that your business should adopt. If you keep improving the lives of your customers, then your business will thrive once the imminent arrival of an uber-connected world comes.