The era of a connected society

Beatriz Sanz Baños    13 September, 2016

The twenty-first century will come to be known as the age of cities, but it will also become the century of data. Cities are the new engine of urban innovation and an ever increasing amount of projects seek to be positioned as Smart City initiatives. In any case the concept itself is more a philosophical vision of technological innovation than a specific layout of how to implement certain technological advancements.

The new habits of society, as well as new business and service models must be identified and dealt with through technology. It is no longer a mere connected society that requires deploying computers, servers or the latest programmes. A digital and connected society is expected to provide answers in the form of structured data, obtained from the city, its inhabitants and elements that are located within the city and being used by citizens.

If we focus on this latest trend at this point we would have little to add to the concept of the IoT. Many publications already deal with the evolution of connected objects, their capacity to interact and their development from devices that provide information into objects that can interact with citizens in a natural and logical way.

Hyperconnected citizens (digital citizens, “screenagers” that uses several devices on a daily basis, etc.) need more than a one way flow of data towards them. Successful cities go beyond simply managing city incidents such as reporting potholes, controlling connected waste containers that inform of their status or replacing faulty street lighting. Nowadays vehicles, buildings, houses and citizens are connected and that requires public services to be managed differently, and of course in many cases it creates new business models that adapt to these changing needs.

It is obvious that when setting the smart city’s philosophy, it is relevant to correctly size the strategy and give it adequate depth so that it is aligned with the established challenges to overcome and it is useful for solving issues. These models must have a degree of uniqueness to avoid turning Smart Cities into a repeated cliché throughout the planet. Data must be shared in homogeneous cities and territories around five concepts that can serve as a pattern of services and business models for the connectivity of things. These ideas stem from the social and city perspective, using strategic technology as a binding element for the territory where the cities are within an innovative ecosystem in an intelligent environment:

  1. Data management. The use of collected data affects decision making and helps iteratively redesign procedure in search of true value
  2. Managing similar habits. Data leads to knowledge and in this case it leads to specific needs that citizens need to cover to address their daily habits. Adapting to citizen habits instead of reshaping behaviour is key to success.
  3. New public services. Can we talk about a Minimum Viable Public Service – much in the way Lean Startup Methodology talks about the MVP (Minimum Viable Product)? We may be at the dawn of the almost-fully-customized service.
  4. New business models. If we can reach a Minimum Viable Public Service new viable and minimum business models emerge for the city and its citizens, addressing the concepts of GLO-CAL and PERSONALISED.
  5. Common, social and inclusive challenges. These may be the prelude of Minimum Viable Public Services and business models. This philosophy considers cities to be permanent labs.

Technology makes people feel safer and – according to a Harvard Business Review report – the safety net that the use of technology provides, empowers people, making them believe they are more intelligent than they actually are. In a certain way there is not a clear understanding on people’s behalf that part of their intelligence is not in their mind but in their mobile phone.

We are already entering the second stage – data analysis – where the goal is to create an operative connection, with relevant data and effective ways of analysing data within a certain context. The impact of digitization and the analysis of data offers social, economic and political improvement for the city’s services.

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