How can a city be smart?

The concept of a Smart City living might seem like something from a sci-fi movie. However, council services communicating with one another, identifying problems before they’ve impacted on residents are in fact some of the benefits already offered by a Smart City solution.

With technological advancements moving rapidly, the idea that connected cities will be able to plan and communicate more efficiently, while streamlining resources, is now a reality.

In fact, if cities do not embrace these advancements they simply won’t survive. Our City leaders need to wake up to the fact that investment in ‘smart’ technology now, will recoup huge benefits in the future. By the same token the technology industry needs to embrace the change and understand their role within it. After all, by 2020 it is estimated that there will be 26.5 billion physical objects embedded with technology in an industry worth $1.9 trillion (£1.2 trillion).

If both cities and technological companies work together they will find themselves in a beneficial position. According to the European Commission, digital technologies translate into better public services for citizens and in turn a better use of resources. For example, understanding traffic data to help improve services such as bus routes, street lighting or traffic flow, which can only be a good thing. It could help the city to move more easily, to adapt to change more quickly and become more ‘smart’ to the needs of the population. It will also help to reduce our impact on the environment.

So how does it work? Imagine you’re stuck in a traffic jam leading to a car park in the city centre. This car park is full, but as you are so far away, you don’t know that. What if your Smart City could communicate this to you via an app on your mobile phone? Even better it could tell you how to get to another car park with plenty of availability. Would you be more likely to come into the city again if you didn’t have to sit in a traffic jam?

Take this a step further and cities could use the opportunity to talk directly to the consumers, perhaps offering useful promotions within a shopping centre they are visiting. As a result, consumers may stay longer, spend more money and keep coming back.

Companies could also collect this data to target these consumers directly, with more relevant offers delivered straight to their mobile device. By encouraging customer loyalty and customer engagement the High Street may be revived. With online shopping booming and the High Street struggling to keep up, Smart City solutions could give the consumer a reason to return to bricks and mortar shopping.

Cities that embrace the change will also reap the rewards financially.

I’ve been watching Manchester city centre’s improvements in Smart technology with interest, and it’s exciting to see what’s already integrated there. Digital signage, played live advertising videos, while wayfinding kiosks helped tourists. WiFi access was also widely available along with seamless connectivity as I moved from one store to another. Manchester's local tram service provider, Metrolink, had also introduced a smart ticket service for passengers, which doesn't require users to carrying cash or buying tickets on the go.

Long-term the impact on the environment and savings gained through Smart City installation can deliver a green agenda like no other. Technological advancements could help local councils monitor their electricity, gas and water provisions efficiently. It could pinpoint a gas leak or a power cut instantly, reducing both the risk to the consumer and the cost of the problem.

Development and innovation in Smart Cities is racing ahead. Up to $40 billion will be spent on Smart City technologies by 2016. Technology companies need to keep up with the change and understand what cities need.

Cities themselves need to move forward rapidly, to see how short-term investment can have serious long-term benefits for the people who live in them. Smart Cities are not something happening in the future. They are happening now, for the benefit of us all.

Gavin Wheeldon, CEO, Purple WiFi