With the move towards smart cities continuing to gather pace, many of us could soon be living in “Cyberville”. Developing urban areas where sensors collect data from people and devices helps governments and local authorities to more efficiently manage resources. They can analyse traffic data and use of public transport, for example, and manage water and power supplies.
This joined up, user-generated approach allows smart cities to be more efficient, sustainable and economical. And businesses operating within these streamlined urban centres can also benefit enormously.
Lines of Communication
Smart cities are built on joined-up thinking, living and working—attributes which could equally apply to successful businesses. The latest report from government-backed Future Cities Catapult, based in London, highlights the UK’s urban centres moving towards smart city status.
For example, Milton Keynes is to become the UK’s first "Gigabit City" under the new Vodafone and CityFibre Fibre-to-the-Premises programme, while Bristol was named the highest-ranking UK smart city according to the Huawei/Navigant UK Smart Cities Index, followed by London, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds.
Opportunities to Grow
Future Cities Catapult sees urban development, connected cities and business opportunities as inextricably linked.
"Places with the right characteristics, assets and resources allow innovation to proliferate and businesses to grow, yielding prosperous communities," said Nicola Yates, CEO of the urban innovation lab. "Today’s urban innovations promise not only to improve the lives of citizens and deliver efficiencies in public administration, but also to create new opportunities for business to exploit and more productive places where everyone can prosper."
According to a report by Deloitte Insights: "The smart city movement provides an opportunity for both for-profit and nonprofit partners to engage with governments. Cash-strapped city governments are always exploring opportunities to partner with the private sector."
It suggests businesses should also think beyond collaboration and "identify opportunities that could add value to both the city as well as business".
In short, smart cities have the potential to provide endless opportunities for forward-thinking companies.
A Matter of Time
The need for more efficient transport systems and infrastructure is one of the biggest driving forces behind smart cities.
For business owners, less time spent sitting in a stationary car or on a delayed train means more time working, building relationships—and making money. Equally, employees are less likely to be late (or, at least, they can’t use the old “stuck in traffic” excuse).
Potential solutions include smart traffic lights—fitted with cameras to monitor and respond to traffic flow—and self-driving cars. Electric vehicle charging points can also be monitored; connectivity problems can be promptly resolved and, longer-term, new hubs can be added in response to demand.
"One of the key areas that we have seen a lot of activity on has to do with mobility. Anything around transportation, traffic monitoring, parking," said Sanjay Khatri, director of product marketing for Cisco Jasper Control Center, a tech company focused on smart cities. Speaking to TechRepublic, he added: "These are areas where cities are seeing a very fast return on investment. It not only helps to reduce the cost of monitoring parking and making sure that they are collecting fines, it's also reducing congestion."
A More Sustainable Model
The data-driven model of smart cities enables town planners and authorities to trim away the fat to reveal a leaner, more efficient machine. It’s an ethos Zipcar has long espoused: exactly what you need—no more, and no less. Just as the Zipcar app allows members to locate and unlock vehicles on-demand, tech-savvy urban centres aim to reduce wasted resources.
In turn, less waste means greater sustainability, and less impact on the environment—something that’s especially important as the population continues to grow and more people move into cities. Businesses operating within smart cities are likely to share the same commitment to sustainability.
That often goes hand-in-hand with fewer overheads and greater efficiency, and increases motivation to look for innovative solutions and improve workplace conditions. All of which is attractive to customers; in a study by Nielson, 66% of respondents said they would pay more for a product or a service if the company demonstrated a commitment to positive social and environmental change.
"Sustainability is a worldwide concern that continues to gain momentum—especially in countries where growing populations are putting additional stress on the environment," said Nielson’s Grace Farraj. "An increasing number of consumers in developed regions consider sustainability actions more of an imperative than a value-add."
Building a Smarter Future
The knock-on effect of smart cities goes right down to brass tacks, bricks and mortar, and steel and glass. More businesses will occupy smart buildings, where devices linked up in the “Internet of Things” communicate with each other, and their human users—sharing data and knowledge to boost efficiency. According to Innovation Enterprise, this could be in the form of radio sensors to monitor occupancy and room usage. It reduces the amount of time spent setting up technology and provides the knowledge to allow power-saving in spaces that simply aren’t being used.
Smarter office buildings, like smarter cities, will enable smarter working practices—and help businesses to build a better, more sustainable, future.