The Challenge of the Smart Megacity

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On my recent visit to China, I was struck by the country’s commitment to investing in smart cities. China’s most recent five-year plan set aside $70 billion for smart city technologies, with around 200 cities competing for funding. This is part of a huge project of urbanization, which saw $1 trillion allocated for urban infrastructure under the same plan. Last year, the Chinese government announced its intention to increase its urban population from 53.7 percent to 60 percent by 2020, and there are already 15 megacities in China with more than 10 million people.

With 1.3 million people per week moving to and trying to build lives in cities globally through 2050, it’s no surprise that the impetus to bring “smart” to these locations has risen on the agenda of many of the most prominent cities worldwide.

If done properly, a smarter city environment should have a measurable impact on the economy, the citizens and their lifestyles, business and the environment. There’s certainly no shortage of examples of how technology can be applied to making a city smart, as listed below:

BUT do applications like this amount to the “smart city”? One thing I’ve noticed, from my discussions with Intel customers in China and other countries, is there is no single definition of what the smart city is. Government bodies recognize the opportunities presented by technologies like those I’ve mentioned and it’s clear there’s a healthy degree of friendly competition amongst the cities but where I see many struggle is working out what they should do first or next, and what the smart city really means to them.

While this may be well understood by many of you, the focus areas we see coming up most frequently are:

  • Smart Transport/Mobility
  • Smart Home-Building-Facility
  • Smart Public Infra & Community Driven Services
  • Smart Fixed-Mobile Security Surveillance
  • Analytics and Big-Data Strategy-Planning

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Irrespective of which area a city focuses on first, one thing is for sure: with the proliferation of millions of smart connected devices – on the transport network, and in anything from buildings to street lights to manholes – the result is a huge amount of flowing data. To get the best return on investment, it’s essential to plan how that data will be managed, how value can be extracted from it and what you plan to do with it. While almost every customer I talk to acknowledges they need to do something with the data most struggle with what they want to do with it. Without these plans in place, the data simply piles up and creates mountains in minutes. If you haven’t done so already I’d recommend hiring some Data Scientists – typically mathematicians or statisticians who can help you determine what data you need and what you might want to do with it.

On a somewhat related note, many of you will be familiar with SMAC stack (social, mobile, analytics, cloud). This is the digital platform being laid down across industries to underpin transformation. It’s been a core part of the rapid rise we’ve seen in shared economy companies like Uber and AirBnB. It is also fundamental to the smart city. The smart city is not just about adding connectivity to a building or other asset: it’s about the data you gather, the insights you gain, the services you can create and deliver, the accessibility you provide, the economic growth you stimulate and the communities you grow. Clearly, this all needs to be done and delivered in a secure and predictable manner. The point is not to look at or use SMAC and just look at one part of it. The impact comes from the multiplicative effect it has.

In the smart city, as much as anywhere these days, all roads lead to data. The question we need to be asking is: which roads do we want to travel?

What do you think defines the smart city? I’d be interested to read your comments below.

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Andrew Moore

About Andrew Moore

Andrew is the General Manager of the Digital Transformation Office in Intel’s Industry Sales Group. The role involves developing a set of progressive but actionable approaches to helping key customers define and start executing meaningful transformation strategies. The goal in doing this is, ultimately, to forge strategic and symbiotic relationships with the some of the world's leading organizations and in doing so raising Intel's profile and role as a true thought leader in the world of digitization.