What does a connected community look like?

When talking about Smart cities, it’s easy to get dazzled by the technology that enables people, buildings, health care, utilities and cities to become Smarter. Much of our upcoming smart city report alongside UKBlackTech talks about the need for quality connectivity and alludes to the technology that provides a platform for ’Smart’. While it’s true that there are fundamental building blocks that are needed to deliver on the Smart promise, there are many other things to focus on. First of these is to define the aim in becoming Smart – what are you trying to achieve?  

At a recent Local Government event, I met with upwards of 40 representatives from local authorities from across the country where the overwhelming message was “We’re behind on the ’Smart’ journey, we know we need to do something, but we don’t know where to start”. At the event we had showcased the magnificent work that Hull City Council has been doing with their Integrated Smart City Platform deployment, so it’s understandable that many delegates would think they are behind. But, interestingly, when so many feel like that, you begin to realise that in reality, there are only a very few that are way out in front. When Hull City Council set out on its journey, they were clear about the data sets to integrate into the platform and what they were aiming to achieve. This is why our partnership with them is a delight, as it is built on a clear understanding about what the technology can do to support their ambitions.  

The second differentiator is that of Integration. Not of technology integration per se, though that is, of course, something we do for our ConnexinOS Platform clients, but it is about the Integration of the various departments to come together to make the City, as a whole, Smart. At another recent event, I sat with representatives from DCMS, Transport for London, The Cabinet Office, UK Parliament, The London Mayors Office, and we all agreed that the largest challenge holding the development of the Smart City agenda back is that Local and City Authorities still tend to work in team and budget silos, Ben wrote more about the issue of silos here.  

An Integrated Smart City Platform that gathers data for one department can deliver benefit to another. The receiving department is grateful but would they have funded the initial case when the benefit they receive is a by-product of another use case? Taking an example, the Water Utility seeks to have better data on water consumption per capita, more accurate bills, and targets to reduce water leakage/wastage. The data from the latest smart meters provides this. But it can also provide useful insight to those in the adult social care environment, where knowing that 86 year old Barry is up at 2 am using a lot of water every night, could be a sign of dementia or other issue. Of course, this is just one example, but start dreaming about the possibilities of correlating data sets from existing databases (health, police, utilities, social care, and others), with the data from myriad sensor types across the City, and suddenly a world of incredibly Smart opportunities arises.  

For Smart Cities to really start making a significant impact to residents and council budget allocation and local tax revenue, it requires a leap to an Integrated City approach first – like Hull has done, among others such as Sunderland. From there, it is all about the technology which supports the aims of the City as a whole. While we hear a great deal about how the ubiquity of 5G will eventually allow fully connected communities, we hear very little in the mainstream press about the technologies that exist today that are already enabling Smart Cities to flourish – technologies that, in fact, cover 70-80% of IoT Smart use cases today. One such example is LoRaWAN, a standard for many years which is used across the board with our clients today, from Hull, Sheffield, Leeds and many other locations for every use case under the sun. There’s no need to wait for the big dawning of 5G. Those who are leading the field as Smart Cities use what is already the best technology available, and is likely to remain so, even when 5G is ubiquitous, because it has been designed for IoT use cases from the very start.