Sometimes you find something that can redefine the most complex challenges. Smart Cities is something that many want to reach, but is it too far or much closer than we believe…well that depends on whether you want to use what you have today or re-tool your city.
Time to get Simple…
It is time to Touch & Feel a city.
When I arrive in a city for the first time I get a sense of it quite quickly, the sounds, the smells, the people, how clean and how it makes you feel….
We all have our favourite cities and I have several — New York, Singapore, Madrid, Florence, Vienna, Dubai and many others… But what makes them so special, the food of course yes, the history certainly and the variety of places to go, for me though it is the general vibe and atmosphere that reveals the city’s spirit, leading to the experience that matters, that resonates, that you remember…
Or do we judge a city by other means? The ease of getting from the airport to the hotel, from the hotel to downtown or the beach, or how safe you feel as you move around, aided by your smart phone that helps you navigate to where you need to go, making payments and gaining access to places, tickets and passes for transit infrastructure.
It is not until you start moving around a city you immediately get a sense of how joined up it feels, or not. How many times we need to produce our ID, buy tickets, pay for access, queue for things? Its worth remembering we are told the 4th Industrial Revolution is already upon us and everything (billions of devices) will have a sensor that will one day be driven by an Internet of Things (IoT) world.
But for me there is something missing with this statement, something doesn’t quite add up. Like everyone else I get the concept of Smart Cities that are meant to run themselves, think and predict, but it seems the main agenda has be hijacked seems by the hardware manufacturers that tell us we need all these new sensory devices, and in time maybe we do, however this opens up a whole new world of issues of control and security. Specifically of data sovereignty, introducing new vulnerabilities for erroneous third parties to infiltrate the system and for central authorities to push a wider surveillance agenda.
So what makes a city smart?
I recently sat on a panel of apparent Smart City experts and not one of them could clearly articulate what a Smart City really is, how it is defined and the sequencing to implement. Is this because arguably it, this things called a Smart City can be many things or is it being over complicated because it is focused on an Orwellian future-scape.
Or is it, as I suspect, much simpler?
Is the measure of a Smart City related to its health?
Specifically a city’s commercial health, because ultimately this is what makes a city prosperous, makes it work for the people who depend on it or just passing through. High crime equals fewer visitors and tourists. Poor infrastructure creates friction that slows the movement of goods and services. Any number of things, even the small ones, can impact a cities commercial health. In the same way a city without a ‘vibe’ is dull and uninteresting. A city not in sync with itself can end up an empty shell as commerce moves elsewhere.
Is a Smart City about having a Pulse?
My definition of a Smart City is when it has a commercial pulse, that detects, measures and responds to the flows of commerce? So that commerce can flow easier and faster to enable expansion and growth… After all cities were at one time founded on the back of simple trade, emerging trade routes for and buying and selling, designed to support the movement of goods and services (people) by train, ship, air and these days by electronic means as exchanges and online market places. Although the world remains a manufacturing economy where 95% of goods are moved around the world between countries and cities, countless administrations have not invested into cities in decades and why all of a sudden Smart Cities are moving to the top of the agenda.
Is it not just about the movement of goods and services, of tourists, of workers, of flows of capital the use of transport systems, infrastructure (parking, tolls, trains), retail, hotels and stadiums, places of interest, businesses and local government? It is about the movement of commerce itself and who is behind it. As the people and companies consume the things a city has to offer. Does this means a city’s ability to support active commerce to deliver work and prosperity for its people remains a core objective (notwithstanding safety and security also dependent of having sufficient capital investments)…
As commercial flows are serviced and tracked it is possible to work out the parts that create the most income for the city, most reliant on infrastructure working, or where commerce is abandoned because if remains too hard. By industry and type of commerce, by zip code and region. It is already available but as yet the heart beat is too low to detect.
By adding a commercial pulse the closest thing we can get to a Smart City, and yes we can have it now…
Some Cities are already getting smarter
When you dig a little deeper you find some cities are becoming Smart-er than others and not yet reliant on an IoT future. These cities are unlocking and connecting the information between various technology systems under the cities control and have started to join all the dots by connecting private commerce, businesses and major infrastructure around the city, much of which remains in private hands.
Then the realisation hit me when I came across a fast growing technology company from Australia called SimplePay who are already helping more than 500+ cities to become much smarter. Deploying their unique solutions, their special elixir, that very quickly gives the city the commercial pulse. Literally breathing life into bricks and mortar, the metal and steel, making dumb devices already in place to become smarter.
A living DNA…
The boys and girls at SimplePay inject their particular DNA into a cities infrastructure to give it a living ’pulse’. A layer that allows real time flows of commerce that provides deeper insight that in a matter of hours and days reveals the hidden commercial secrets of any city, without the need for massive upheaval or technology upgrade. Discussed a bit later…
Urbanization is apparently inevitable
The World Economic Forum predicts 60% of the worlds population will live in cities by 2050. A dreadful thought given mankind emergence towards industrialisation saw the shift from smaller villages and communities only two centuries earlier. Those who predict the future dream of an automated, self driving future where cities manage themselves, where everyone can feel safe, are identifiable and where the ebb and flow is controlled to prevent things becoming chaotic, polluted, unsafe and unpleasant, is therefore economically not achievable.
Ask anyone about a Smart City and they think of a futuristic city in the sky, a 25th century evolution of glass buildings, zero pollution, no jams, no crime and everyone is looked after, fed and where it seems there is also no currency and everyone is identified. There remains a delicate balance as Smart Cities for some represents a loss of freedoms and liberty and the hard coding of a surveillance society. The end of privacy and trust!
There remains a lot of confusion as to what is a Smart City, and what you need to create one. How can a city be made smart and at what cost? How to protect the people and respect civil liberties. Well good luck with IoT?
But then again the most common definition of a Smart City and the primary agendas are driven by the hardware manufacturers, the technology and telecoms companies that want to gain from imposing a new infrastructure on a city made up of billions of sensors that create an Internet of Things (IoT) future. A solution that in theory requires billions of sensors to be secure, connected and integrated. A technology integration and layer that is not ready, viable or in my view possible today.
But for me these big businesses, the WEF and other futurists have it mostly wrong as they discuss Known Traveller Identity, Borders and Immigration, Security Threats and multi mode mobility, as this agenda meets head on with the principles of Self Sovereign Identity, requiring significant investments and change to a city’s infrastructure.
Here is an example from Ericsson whos description reveals a core strategy to sell IOT devices.
What is a smart city?
There is a range of definitions of a smart city, but the consensus is that smart cities utilise IoT sensors, actuators, and technology to connect components across the city. This connects every layer of a city, from the air to the street to underground. It’s when you can derive data from everything that is connected and utilise it to improve the lives of citizens and improve communication between citizens and the government that a city becomes a smart city, said Esmeralda Swartz, head of strategy and marketing of the software business unit for Ericsson.
The problem with this statement is it assumes the technology is viable and that cities have large budgets to effectively re-tool everything. Even if IoT devices were deployed, each one is based on different hardware, software and protocol, they would need to be paired, validated and made secure so that external parties cannot bring a city to its knees. We remain some way off…
The answer is ‘Simpler’ than you think…
Every city collects data and information about commerce through millions of devices called point of sale, through payment networks, through card systems, ticket machines and self serve kiosks. These devices are already installed, active and doing their job. But until now cities have been unable to get access to, and mine insightful information, joining the public and civil dots. Until SimplePay’s unifying ‘pulse’ layer that is…
The people that use these devices everyday are known by the banks, the credit card companies and the retailers, their information about who they are, where their money comes from, their name and address (and other ID related data) has been validated. The point of purchase is the definitive small beat of a cities much larger heart, that collectively across thousands of devices add up to a real time pulse. A commercial pulse that you can touch and feel.
People that are unknown and not part of a system struggle to move around, buy and sell, visit a museum, and buy airline tickets, as cash also becomes obsolete. Everyones participation in a cities commercial model relies on having access to the financial system as an entry point, albeit some may withdraw cash from an ATM to spend, (notwithstanding use of a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin), they will still touch and interact with the city’s commercial systems leaving their particular footprint behind them.
SimplePay provides a unified payment layer connecting tens of thousands of payment devices across a city, processing high volumes of transactions across all payment types, cash, cards, bank transfers, cheques and event cryptocurrencies.
By providing this unified payment layer they create the city’s pulse, offering deep insight of where commerce is actually happening, when and how much. As in the context of a city spending equates to activity, flows of products and services, of workers parking their cars, travellers on trains, going to the airport and using roads. Identifying the payments of the individual as they move around the city.
A simple payment fingerprint of the individual, as they navigate infrastructure and consume. The pulse shows the hotspots, the concentrations of capital as it is being earned and spent, where, by industry and when.
Automating the collection of taxes…
The SimplePay approach keeps delivering for cities and its citizens allowing the real time automation and collection of VAT and other taxes. Vital income for any city and making it simpler for merchants to comply. Predictive income for the city is the blood that flows through the artieries of the city. Keeping the city healthy, vibrant and propsperous.
Mass Mobility as Unified Payment Journeys
As people arrive in the city they reveal themselves, what their intentions are, what they are up to, via airline and hotel booking systems, taxis and UBER accounts, ticketing at stations and metros, restaurants and places of attraction (zoos, conferences, hospitals, museums, shows), carparks, shops and malls, any place that takes payment which is pretty much everywhere. It is possible to know when they are coming (booking systems) and their journey ahead of time.
And why SimplePay are working with hundreds of cities because their low friction approach is the closest thing you will get to a Smart City…
The best solutions are always Simple…
Why not give your city a commercial pulse…
I give you SimplePay your smarter Smart City partner…
Author: Nick Ayton is an Advisor to SimplePay and is working on Smart City projects with governments.
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