The rapid evolution of the smart city
Not just another political buzzword, a ‘smart city’ has become something tangible that can vastly improve our lives. Any city properly supported by technology can transform– today – into a smart, intelligent ecosystem, capable of engaging with its citizens, empowering its employees, and optimizing operations.
A truly ‘smart’ city has people and businesses at its core. It offers responsive, high-quality, personal services that have the added benefit of delivering greater return on investment for city officials. Imagine being able to ‘energy swap’ between local homes and businesses to distribute energy supplies more effectively and reduce costs. Or being able to vote, register a child’s birth, report a crime, or file a request for city building or maintenance permits, without setting foot in a city office. Forrester has predicted that 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. If you take into account that more of these people are making use of new technologies; then smart cities will be critical in coping with both growing population and technology demands.
With more people flocking to cities to seek a better way of life, urban migration poses significant challenges. Increased energy consumption impacts the environment. Greater traffic congestion frustrates road users and amplifies pollution. City maintenance becomes more challenging. To tackle some of these issues, forward-thinking governments have turned to data and devices. Today, 1.6 billion connected things are being used in smart cities, and Gartner expects this figure to grow to a staggering 9.7 billion by 2020. Applying smart and predictive solutions like advanced analytics and machine learning is the best way for city leaders to make sure that their infrastructure can not only handle the influx but also actively improve economic health and quality of life for residents.
Building trust and transparency
Citizens are the building blocks of any community. What if city departments could offer them personalized, interactive services that facilitated citizen engagement? People would become more invested in their city, helping to drive quality improvements for those same services.
As an example, the Miami-Dade police department, the largest law enforcement body in the South East of the United States, is making policing more transparent to build trust in their community, in line with President Obama’s Task Force for 21st Century Policing. This initiative calls on law enforcement to better use data and technology to accelerate progress around transparency, accountability and public trust.
At Miami-Dade, transparency means body cameras worn on the front of officers’ uniforms, activated every time an officer interacts with a member of the public. It also involves a new Community on Patrol (COP) app. Both are powered by Microsoft Azure Government, a government-only, secure cloud-based solution.
Footage from the cameras, stored in the cloud, allows the police department to capture and analyse data more efficiently. The footage can be used for new and ongoing investigations, as well as court evidence.
The COP app allows the city’s 2.7 million citizens to use their smartphones to directly (and even anonymously) provide tips, feedback and video evidence which could later lead to convictions. When police follow up on the tips they receive, it boosts trust and increases people’s willingness to report crimes, testify in court and contribute more street-level intelligence. In short, a more responsive police force means better community relations.
Power to the People
It’s not often that City workers are not often considered to be on the cutting edge of technology adoption, but Hollands Kroon, a municipality in the Netherlands, is showing just how far ahead of the game smart cities can be when it comes to empowering employees.
The area has radically reimagined what it means to work in municipal government by transforming its organizational structure and deploying Microsoft cloud solutions to enable their workers to be mobile. Thanks to the cloud, employees can work whenever, wherever and however they want, meaning the municipality no longer focuses on days off or “working hours.” They chose to focus on results and personal development of their employees, and are finding that people are more productive, absenteeism has dropped and job satisfaction is improving. They realized that if their employees were allowed to do what they enjoy, they get better at it, and citizens are the ultimate beneficiaries.
Government employees are not the only ones who have seen a difference in Hollands Kroon. A new wave of companies from a number of industries are settling into the area, attracted by the municipality’s efficient new infrastructure and service delivery.
Strengthening the backbone of the city
As soon as you step into a smart city you feel its heart beat. Smart cities effectively let you take their pulse, offering up real-time information on the health of the urban environment. These insights can be used to improve service levels, support citizens and help businesses. But this can only be achieved when a solid infrastructure is in place. With the global population set to increase the world’s energy demands by 56%, extreme demands will be keenly felt on energy grids and infrastructure across the world.
Agder Energi, the third largest power producer in Norway operates a smart power grid in 30 municipalities of the Agder region. The company’s resources are entirely renewable, with the majority produced through hydropower, and the grid is managed in partnership with Powel, a leading utilities software provider, and powered by the Microsoft Cloud.
The platform allows the company to see which resources are ready at any given time so they can choose where to draw power from. On a windy day power comes from turbines; on a sunny day it comes from solar panels; and with the analytical power of Microsoft’s Power BI, it can also predict when power surges might occur. This intelligence is transforming energy provision, reducing waste and delivering the future, today. And in even better news, the solution can be applied to any substation or grid in the world.
Smart is set to stay
With the proliferation of internet-connected devices, and with smart cities being “the new darlings of the Internet of Things” (Forrester), it is inevitable that cities of the future will keep getting smarter.
Younger generations, millennials in particular, view ‘smart cities’ as the ideal city living environment. When it comes to their consumption of a city’s resources, 56% of millennials expect to install their own solar panels over the next five years. Two thirds show a desire to sign up for a digital application that allows them to track their energy consumption and household climate, and 41% said they would like to connect to their utilities through social networks (YouthfulCities survey 2016).
With this new cohort on the verge of becoming tomorrow’s decision makers and the Internet of Things movement picking up pace, tech-fuelled cities are definitely here to stay. The smart city will soon become a ubiquitous state for the billions of us who call a city our home.