by Dr. Samah El-Tantway and Dr. Hossam Abdelgawad
While we live in an era where smartness is promoted everywhere (smart homes smart devices, smart traffic lights, smart clothes, etc.), one may wonder is that really our ultimate goal (to be smart) - is that enough? Is that solving our problems of today?
In a workshop organized by the IDRC titled “Towards Wise Cities: Opportunities of Today, Challenges of Tomorrow”, we discussed the above topic, its potential and challenges. During the workshop the following topics were touched upon: Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, Open Data, Open Service Innovation, Citizens Engagement, Incentives, Loyalty Programs, and Wise Cities. While each of these subjects deserves its own blog, below is a reflection on the workshop and how to connect these pieces.
Cities are suffering and it will only get worse
Although urbanization is seen as a vibrant sign for cities’ growth, it comes with its negative impacts across many sectors (energy, transport, water, infrastructure, health). Today, almost half of the world’s population lives in cities and this number is expected to reach 70% by 2050 (already at this rate in MENA). This exponential demand growth over the limited supply results in numerous negative impacts on our cities. While this is creating numerous of challenges, technology is rapidly evolving creating a lot of opportunities and IoT is among them.
IoT is happening and more things will become connected
One might think that the optimal city operation – to alleviate the negative impact of the above noted urbanization - can be achieved if the city has a grand brain that is connected to everyone and everything around the city and optimizes the provided services accordingly. This was interestingly envisioned back in 1926 by Nikola Tesla and it is actually the IoT of today!
Big Data is around you and it is only getting bigger
With more things getting connected, these things will receive and send a huge volume of data, at different speeds / values / dimensions/ accuracies / qualities / formats, etc. This simply defines the various Vs of Big Data. But how big is big data? In only two years (from 2011 to 2013), the generated data worldwide was almost doubled. These massive volumes of data exist almost everywhere around us; generating a lot of opportunities and challenges.
In short, the issue is not in generating or collecting data anymore, the true challenge is how to intelligently unleash the potential of data and become more innovative while orchestrating this data. In fact IDRC is actively and aggressively working and introducing “data-driven innovation” in the MENA Region (http://www.ddi-mena.org/).
Open Data is becoming free and it will be more liquid
While data is getting bigger, good luck innovating or using this data if it is completely closed/locked. In other words, opening the data has also a great potential in fostering innovation. But one may wonder how would I know whether the data is open or close? And is there something in between? What are the levels of openness? To answer; here is the equation: if you have access to the data + the data in a readable format + you can obtain the data at no cost + unlimited rights to use and distribute the data = completely open data. Some also refer to this as “liquid data”.
To understand the value of opening the data some studies attempted to estimate the economic impact of making data more open and the potential of this realm in driving more innovative services. McKinsey Global Institute summarized the potential economic impact across 7 sectors (education, transportation, consumer products, electricity, oil and gas, health care, consumer finance) at - as high as - $3 - 5 trillion USD.
Business Models are changing and cheese is moving
While the above is happening from IoT, Big Data, and Open Data; businesses themselves started to provide services with new business models by focusing on the customers. One shall realize the difference between commodity, product, and service. Businesses must think about innovative ways of providing “services” not only a commodity or a product. We always like this quote by Ted Levitt “people don’t want to buy a ¼-inch drill. They want a ¼-inch hole !”. In other words, the utility you receive out of a product is what really matters.
Nowadays services are provided in a customized way to meet consumer needs and demands (ex. Amazon and Uber).
Citizens are the key but how to keep them engaged
Citizens are the ones who receive all the services, who suffer lack of resources, who consume energy/water, who overload the health care system, who make decisions when they travel and use the roads, etc. So if businesses are innovating, and governments are enhancing infrastructure and services; and citizens are not well-engaged, then a big piece is missing.
While the above is true, we must find innovative way to engage citizens as a key stakeholder in addressing the challenges facing our cities today. In addition to incentives, technology can enable reaching this goal, and specifically through citizens’ connectivity (smart phones tablets, laptops, wearables, etc.). In short, if we manage to engage citizens through technology and incentive programs to eventually become more socially responsible and partner with the governments and businesses; then this is a win-win strategy and can result in astonishing benefits across all government sectors.
Wise City: The Vision and Key Enablers
With the above enablers (IoT, Big and Open Data, Open Service Innovation, Socially Responsible Citizens, Incentives / Loyalty Programs), we envision a wise city to: 1) employ data, 2) incorporate knowledge, 3) collaborate with citizens, and 4) boost entrepreneurship and innovation, in order to result in: a) equitable, b) sustainable, c) resilient, and d) self-driven city. A wise city is a self-driven win-win socially responsible collaborative eco-system of government, citizens, and businesses.
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