Monday, February 13, 2017

On those who refer to #SmartCommunity instead of #SmartCity when developing #IoT strategy

So anyways, over the weekend I was doing some reading on smart cities, because smart cities are like trendy and stuff. Actually, they're mainstream rather than trendy - even I attended a Smart Cities conference late in 2014. (Some day I'll tell the story of how I got there.)

One of the articles I saw was one that Gordon Feller tweeted about - an article on Meeting of the Minds entitled What, Exactly, is a Smart City?.

But before I talk about that article, let me mention who wrote it, Peter Williams, Ph.D.

IBM Distinguished Engineer

KNOWN FOR: Creating new businesses in established companies; identifying new uses of data and technologies (especially Internet of Things - IOT - and analytics) that enable new or improved business models; advising start-ups and established companies; innovation and lateral thinking; expertise as a change agent.

THEMES:- Resilience and sustainability; IOT; artificial intelligence; analytics; business implications of emerging technologies; all for both public (city/state) and private sectors.

SKILLS: - Innovation; Strategy; Planning; Business Model Design; Process and Organization Design; Business Metrics; Demand Generation; Sales Enablement; Partner Ecosystem Development and Channel Management; Communications; Change Agent.

SECTORS: - Government; Utilities; Cleantech; High Technology; Manufacturing; Defense; Consumer Goods.

In addition to his work for IBM, Dr. Williams is also a visiting lecturer at Stanford University.

Teaching a 3-unit class on Smarter Cities - how ICT enables smarter cities, and the advantages and pitfalls that arise. My first iteration of the class had 11 students. In 2015 and 2016 it maxed out at 50+.

As he notes in the article, Dr. Williams' 50+ students who are taking the class obviously want to know what a smart city is. If you break the phrase down into two words, you can attack each word one at a time. For Dr. Williams, "smart" is fairly straightforward.

Smart cities are a leading manifestation of the internet of things (IOT): they involve the use of sensors – either standalone or added to physical devices – to generate data that can be communicated, integrated and analyzed to enable some aspect of city life to function better in some way. Data flows may be used singly or in combination with other flows, or in combination with historical (ie accumulated) data from the past. At this level, IBM (my employer) has a snappy definition of “smart” – “Instrumented, Interconnected, Intelligent”. The Smart Cities Council is in much the same place, with its “collecting, communicating and ‘crunching’” [of information].

So we have a working definition of "smart." But isn't "city" straightforward also?

Not really.

To people in the United States, we usually define cities in terms of size (and sometimes incorporation). New York, New York is a city. Guasti, California is not.

But things are a little different in other parts of the world.

Yet in the UK, a city historically was defined by the presence of a cathedral: while some of these places are very large, the city of St Davids, in Wales, has a population of just 1,600 people, who are significantly outnumbered by the sheep in the area. Meanwhile Reading, England is “just” a town, but with a population of nearly 233,000....

St Davids, with its cathedral, is undoubtedly a religious center, but with its tiny population, not really an economic or social one. Yet the mere town of Reading has a university, several top-flight sports teams and a strong economy adding value to a significant stretch of SE England; it is clearly a center of several things, and of some significance.

To address these and other concerns, Dr. Williams proposes an alternative nomenclature:

This leads me to suggest that we should use a more neutral term such as “community” in preference to city. Communities can be large or small, and they may or may not be a center of some noteworthy aspect of human activity; they may be separated from other communities or they may be aggregated into a conurbation of some kind. But any community of any size or significance can be “smart”. Communities should also define the services of interest to them, within their territorial boundary or outside it, as required.

Perhaps the community is Reading, England. Perhaps the community is the entire state of Andra Pradesh in India. Or perhaps the community is the non-governmental Waze community, a worldwide subset of people who are using information from smartphones and other sources to calculate optimum driving routes.

This terminology debate piqued my interest, so I started to wonder if there were others that talked about "smart communities" rather than "smart cities." And I found a few examples. ESRI uses the term. Yokogawa uses the term. And, as Geoff Arnold points out, Verizon uses the term.

This is all really a semantic issue, but perhaps an important one when you are targeting your Internet of Things strategy. If you just focus on the cities, you're missing a lot of the market.
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