As consumers, we’ve been empowered by the arrival of the internet and digital technology. We’ve witnessed first-hand how technology has revolutionised our daily lives. For instance, we can now navigate ourselves around cities using the phone kept in our pocket and use the same mobile technology to pay for a chocolate bar.
Life changing innovations such as these have become the norm and as citizens we now expect the same level of forward thinking from city infrastructure and our interactions with public authorities and services.
Street lamps that are able to power electric cars may seem like a far-fetched fantasy but the technology has already been developed. We are already seeing the deployment of recycling bins which can tell councils when they are full and ready for collection.
Powered by the Internet of Things (IoT), the emergence of ‘Smart Cities’ is promising to redefine how public services are implemented and managed throughout the UK. Not only could these new and exciting initiatives help local authorities save money, but they could improve the quality of life for millions and make our urban areas more sustainable.
A recent UK government study has estimated that the commercial value of smart city solutions and services could top $408bn (£261bn) per year by the end of the decade, so there’s a clear commercial imperative to move the smart city movement forward. But how will this happen? Who will take the lead role in enabling smart cities – if anyone at all?
With public sector budgets being slashed, it is unlikely that local authorities will have the confidence to push this agenda through as a major digital initiative - at least not at the speed that the public wants to see progress.
Turning potential into progress
What is more likely is that initiatives will happen on a case by case basis. As opportunities are identified and success stories present themselves, confidence will grow and further projects will emerge.
Getting these projects off the ground is the important first step. The hype surrounding smart cities may be focused on the Internet of Things (IoT) and the sensors which can supply endless streams of data, but the major stumbling block will be how we process this information and generate actionable insight.
To make projects viable, public and private organisations will need the ability to manage information by creating tailored applications quickly and cost effectively. The emergence of no-code, and low-code, application platforms has made this possible. These self-service rapid application development platforms are allowing public and private bodies to test ideas and rapidly produce prototypes.
A movement towards an open data culture is another important step. The ability to access, protect, use and share a huge variety of continuously growing and publicly available data, which might relate to local housing, train times or public events for example, will open up the possibility of people and organisations using that information in new ways. This could very well deliver smart city solutions which have not previously been conceived.
This confluence of IoT technology, rapid application development platforms and the ready availability of data is providing all the necessary ingredients to allow us to realise the potential of smart cities sooner rather than later.