Smart City Expo Barcelona: It takes more than ‘smart’ to build a future city

By 21 November 2019Uncategorized

Smart City Expo Barcelona: It takes more than ‘smart’ to build a future city

Smart streetlights, intelligent garbage bins, dynamic traffic lights, autonomous vehicles and even smartly connected concrete. At this year’s Smart City World Expo Congress (SCEWC), the world’s leading event for empowering cities and collectivize urban innovation, we took a look into the future. A future that is actually happening right now.

How to bring innovative, smart ideas to life?

Not only is innovation applied to objects that we use in our daily lives in and around our houses, but whole cities and surroundings are also getting ‘smarter’ every day. Multifunctional light poles in Rotterdam that act as air quality sensors and charging points and only light up when needed. AI-powered camera surveillance that detects fights and activates colorful light to change the mood and reduce violence in Eindhoven’s busiest bar street. Not even mentioning the 130 fully connected buildings through 200.000 data points during the Expo2020 in Dubai. Everything’s getting smart; But how do we bring innovative, smart ideas to life?

By 2050, two-thirds of all humanity (est. 6.5 billion people) will live in cities, while these cities only cover 2% of the earth’s landmass. Obviously, this will bring a lot of challenges; Think, for example, about the fact that 2% of this landmass is responsible for 70% of all worldwide emissions. During the International Smart City Business Forum, a day prior to SCEWC, Philippe Letellier (vice chairman at ITEA3), explained that the most common challenges for cities are within the topics of Climate and Water, Energy Supply and Distribution, Mobility, Privacy, and Cybersecurity, and Health and Wellbeing. It’s no surprise that in making cities smarter, we see most startups and corporates focus on these exact emerging industries.


1. Two roads to take: optimization or disruption

In his keynote at SCEWC, Roland Busch (deputy CEO/CTO at Siemens) pointed out that in the approach of making cities smart or, in his own words “applying IoT in the Digital Transformation of cities” there are two roads to take: optimization or disruption. For example existing rail infrastructure in a lot of countries can be made more efficient and safer by applying digital means such as sensors, analysis, and prediction techniques. But finding new ways to travel from A to B requires real disruption. Think of the super-efficient Hyperloop.


Siemens at Smart City Expo BarcelonaRoland Busch, deputy CEO/CTO at Siemens


2. Build upon a strong foundation

Both optimization and disruption approaches have a common requirement: a strong foundation to build upon. Olga Kordas (Director of Viable Cities & Senior Researcher at Swedish KTH) mentions the importance of having financial instruments, policies, and missions well in place; “[…] or else, nothing of the iceberg above the water will stay afloat”. An important part of that foundation is a strong technological foundation: a prerequisite for the success of innovative initiatives. A scalable platform that can connect and process data that is being gathered. And exactly in this part of the foundation, a paradox shows.


3. Focus on Human-centered Design

Because besides the (technology) foundation, the true value appears to be in finding smart solutions that have a direct impact on the end-users. In other words: it is about the user and not about the available technology as such. “We need innovative solutions that are driven by real problems. That is something you will only find out if you talk to people”, as Zeynep Sarilar (chairwomen at ITEA3) quoted. This is clearly something that resonates well with our Human-centered Design approach to creating digital products and services. Without observation and involvement of users- and employees of NS OV-fiets, their last-mile mobility product would have never been as successful as it is today. Or as Piet Opstaele (Innovation Lead at Port of Antwerp) said during his presentation at the Smart Ports side-event at SCEWC: “You have to investigate the assets and talk to the people to find real opportunities for innovation”. With that approach they have successfully implemented their first Digital Twin, monitoring the entire port: APICA.


Piet Opstaele, Innovation Lead at Port of Antwerp


Be adaptable to succeed in Emerging Industries

Another mentioned characteristic during various sessions also fits very well with our view on the industry: being adaptable, nimble, and agile. Frans Vermast (Ambassador at Amsterdam Smart Cities) advocates an approach of experimenting and rapidly sharing: “By presenting successful and not-so-successful experiments to others, we’re able to share lessons learned and prevent others from making the same mistakes”. To us, this applies both on a macro level (such as entire programs or even on the company- or city level) as to micro levels (projects, scrum teams, or even specific tasks). Having adopted Agile Product Development methodologies company-wide in 2014, we have quite some years of experience to underwrite the pros of this approach.

Those pros have proven beneficial, especially in emerging industries, where using a strong design- and technology background must be applied in doing things for the first time. Combining these with an optimize or disrupt approach, building a strong foundation and human-centric design sets you up for success in bringing innovative, smart ideas to life. Or, to quote Vermast: “To stop to talk the talk and start to walk to walk”.

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