Friday, 14 July 2017

Matthew Bailey introduces "Smart Cities” to Cambridge

Matthew Bailey, Internet of Things Pioneer, confidently overcame the technological challenges both large and small, in his talk on Smart Cities at the Allia Future Business Centre on Wednesday 12 July. I'd hummed and hawed about going as work was piling on, but was glad I did. I came back with three clear messages from his talk:

1. Need to return data ownership to the individual
2. Sharing local data intelligently in Smart Cities
3. Connecting Smart Cities.

But what is a Smart City? They are "cities that have deployed—or are currently piloting—the integration of information, communications and technology (ICT) solutions across three or more different functional areas of a city", according to Lisa Arrowsmith, associate director for connectivity, smart homes and smart cities at IHS. These areas include mobile and transport, energy and sustainability, physical infrastructure, governance, and safety and security.

For anyone familiar with the UK's construction and housing sector and Government structures, this does sound like a pipedream, where new communities can be built without even giving thought to the basic provision of decent high speed internet coverage as integration is certainly absent between providers of housing, services and transport.

To achieve anything, you do actually need to have a more local influence to initiate bringing disparate sectors together to create that greater whole that might even have a glimmer of a hope of becoming a 'Smart City". Matthew gave us some excellent examples from the US such as Massachusetts and Boulder, Colorado. The key factor in success here was convincing Mayors and  other politicians that you could solve city logistical problems AND win votes at the same time with an integrated Smart City approach.

Within Cambridgeshire, this should certainly be on the radar of the newly elected Super-Mayor for our region.

The added advantage to relevance of developing more local strategies, is escaping the clutches of either monolithic, labyrinthine national or federal bureaucracy or the stranglehold of large international commercial service providers who can exert a stranglehold on development. A prime example given was a certain power supply company that could dictate a city's policies, right down to street lighting in the US.

Initiatives for Smart Cities are seeding globally and, because they see the advantages of integrating big data on their communities and services to ensure a more effective city growth and development, they are also beginning to talk to each other and share experiences, good and bad.

The thing that struck me as I was thinking about the democratisation of information gathering and decision sharing, was that this also requires smart opinion collecting. Matthew had been approaching the strategy from the top down - Mayors and other politicians, then down to interested focus groups and possibly looking at local feedback from individuals. Rightly so when you consider the power and money flow.

Now, many communities are already building their communication networks, newsletters, blogs and discussion forums very locally. These might be dealing with micro-issues in the wider context of things. However, if one could crowdsource this information or even integrate these micro decisions/opinions, you would have a bottom up source of local information on needs and desires that could really make Smart Cities the integrated 'Rainforest' of interconnected and yet balanced city ecologies.

As ever, there was a note of caution that tied the blue sky thinking solidly back to the ground. To be able to intelligently share data, you need robust systems that will not fail at the critical moments. Rather than spoken, the point was driven home by the technical issues of trying to connect a laptop to the presentation screen. Something that functioned perfectly before the talk and then failed just before the presentation, was restored and then failed again at as Matthew was approaching the denouement of his exposition.

Smart Cities are in their infancy but will be powerhouses of the future. Matthew has written on open White Paper on the four stages to develop one in your city. you can access it here http://matthewjamesbailey.com/building-smart-cities-mindfully/.

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