What Businesses Can Learn from Smart Cities

by   |   April 13, 2016 1:00 pm   |   0 Comments

The idea of a smart city is to provide benefits that improve the quality of life of every citizen and make the city an attractive place to live. But the stakeholders in the building of a smart city project face unique challenges due to the sensitive data and taxpayer money involved. Technologically, connecting almost everything within a geographical territory is a big challenge. Also, putting together a huge team of stakeholders such as software developers, planners, experts, architects, and security advisers, and steering that team toward the goal, can be daunting.

Business can learn a few things from the development of smart cities.

Balance Growth and Data Security

When so much data about citizens are being used, there is always a possibility of a loss of privacy and confidentiality. For example, when municipalities use connected devices for monitoring traffic movements, they also capture data about a citizen’s movements. Depending on how the data are used, it could be beneficial or dangerous. If the stakeholders fail to protect citizen’s privacy, it could create trouble. Keeping a balance between implementation of smart city ideas and data security is not easy. Laws and regulations could help, but laws cannot keep pace with digital innovations. And deciding what constitutes the right usage of data is extremely difficult.

Still, there is a lot that could be done. For example, the planners need to involve the citizens in the data-sharing process. Citizens need to know the type of data that is being shared and for what purpose. Identity- and preference-management solutions help citizens define the types of data they want to share and also to understand the needs of the city planners.

Similar aspects of data security apply to businesses. To retain customers’ loyalty and protect the business’ reputation, it is essential to maintain data security and protect customers’ privacy. To do so, businesses need to invest in quality data security policies and technologies, engage customers in their data-acquisition policies, and have clear courses of action in case of data breaches or loss of data.

Collaboration is Essential

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A smart city is about more than big data and interconnected devices. To successfully implement such an idea, collaboration between different stakeholders – for example, between public and private partners and local bodies – is extremely important. In Rio de Janeiro, the government realized that public and private partnership is the best way to address the problems city faced: flash floods, rising crime rates, red tape, and infrastructural issues, to mention just a few. So the city partnered with IBM to set up a centralized operations hub that receives real-time data from 36 municipal agencies, including energy, health, water, and transportation divisions. Another example is the partnership between GE and the Brazilian government for power generation from biogas originating from landfill in the city of Belo Horizonte. According to Adriana Machado, CEO of GE in Brazil, “The need for collaboration is growing tremendously; companies need to shift from being focused on its own product and work with companies making complementary products for communities.”

Businesses have a few important takeaways from the different collaborations, especially between public and private entities. For one thing, it can make more sense to harness the specialties of different players through partnerships rather than trying to grow expertise from scratch. Collaborations between companies with different strengths can result in improved products or services and faster delivery. For example, companies making gamification products can harness the domain knowledge of corporate trainers, motivators, and performance trainers to provide high-quality productivity apps or games.

Taking Expert Advice

When developing a smart city, it pays to take and incorporate advice from a team of experts experienced in planning smart cities with good quality of life. Recently, a group of experts provided their opinions on what could make Toronto a better city for living. Here are the salient points:

    • Make the city conducive for walking and cycling. Have wider and better roads so that pedestrians can walk or cycle peacefully. Make the city carbon-neutral so that people become healthier. Copenhagen has been doing this.


    • Reduce speed limits. Cars should not travel at more than 30 km/hr. Gentle vehicular speed allows pedestrians to walk peacefully, without fear.


    • Provide better, faster means to commute and do everything to implement that. For example, a locality could be connected to a bus stop with a network of safe bike lanes and a bike-sharing system so that people can reach the bus stop quickly.


  • Implement a density bonus. A density bonus means densely populated public localities in a city proposed by architects or city planners and providing compensation in the form of parks, schools, low-cost housing, hospitals, transportation, and other public amenities. The main advantage of having a density bonus is that many people can easily access public amenities that would not be possible in a sparsely populated locality.


Businesses also can benefit from the insights of public policy experts. For example, private utility providers could have experts develop policies that help optimally distribute utility services and reduce waste. And a company providing healthcare apps should consult doctors while making an app that predicts strokes.

Individual Divisions Must Cooperate Effectively

A city cannot be “smart” and its public amenities cannot function well if public departments do not collaborate. For example, while the data on vehicular and pedestrian movements can be useful for the transportation departments, it also can be useful for controlling crime.

Likewise, a business cannot operate at peak efficiency and profitability, and cannot provide optimal service to its customers, if the various departments within the organization do not collaborate, share data, and work together toward the same goals.

Building a smart city is not just about interconnected devices and big data. What is most important is to understand the purpose of a smart city: to provide a better quality of life for its citizens and make the city an attractive place to live. Achieving this goal encompasses a lot of things, including cheaper and faster public transportation, low pollution, green buildings, quality healthcare, and a low crime rate. The key to providing these benefits is big data. Businesses can learn much from the example of smart cities, but the overarching lesson is that the citizens are your customers. What are you going to do to improve the quality of their lives and make your organization an attractive place to do business?

Kaushik Pal has more than 16 years of experience as a technical architect and software consultant in enterprise application and product development. He is interested in new technology and innovation areas, as well as technical writing. His main focus area is web architecture, web technologies, Java/J2EE, Open source, big data, cloud, and mobile technologies. You can find more of his work at techalpine.com. Email him at techalpineit@gmail.com.

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