Smart cities: moving beyond technology

Smart cities should be focused on outcomes for citizens, says smart cities Tsar Dr Jacqui Taylor. Governments around the world are listening to her message.

Jacqui Taylor wants action. The CEO of web science firm FlyingBinary, and smart cities expert, believes the UK is lagging behind other countries on the journey towards smart cities.

She is well placed to take a view. As well as working with the UK government for the last eight years, she’s also been advising the Chinese government on its plans to create 600 smart cities, 200 of them brand new, for the past 18 months.

Taylor is concerned that the UK’s Digital Built Britain, the name given for the step beyond BIM Level 2 to a more interconnected built environment, is too sector focused. The Centre for Digital Built Britain is now researching how the sector can take that step.

Taylor who was cities lead for the original Digital Built Britain programme says:

"Digital Built Britain has moved into research mode which, from a policy point of view, is based on the belief that there’s a lack of capability in the construction industry to make that transformation beyond the BIM mandate. I personally don’t believe that, I think that the construction sector can use its existing capability to make that change. Don’t wait for the research. No other nation is doing that."

Taylor’s message to UK construction’s CEOs is clear: don’t just focus on what technology to adopt, focus on the outcomes.

Globally, technology has become the outcome; people have become focused on the technology only. That’s missing the point. Technology is the enabler.

Outcomes for cities can be linked to the quality of their citizen’s lives; for instance, how healthy communities are or an area’s educational attainment rather than wifi coverage or app use. For companies, this focus on outcomes means finding a new business model and a new commercial offer.

Society 5.0

Until now, smart cities around the world have largely been about how digital transformation can be deployed to create efficiencies: monitoring traffic and parking spaces, sending signals from bins when they’re nearly full, switching lights on or off or the digitisation of city services.

“There’s been an international backlash against this approach focused on an issue of lack of trust between citizens and cities, this flies in the face of the transformation to smart cities,” says Taylor. Societal outcomes should be the goal. “Technology should be about connecting people to improve health and well-being, and making sure everyone is included,” she says.

That’s why I talk about communities not cities, because it really does depend on what you are planning to provide as a city service, what you are transforming it to in order to change the outcomes and what the citizens need.”

“It sounds like you have to be all things to all people, but you don’t. But you do have to decide on your focus and use configurable Internet of Things (IoT) technology, but it must be done with the participation of citizens.”

“In FlyingBinary we have built IoT technologies for an inclusion agenda recognising that smart cities will still need to deliver services and information physically, through infrastructure and humans. It’s not only that some people are challenged to use technology, some people choose not to have a digital footprint,” says Taylor. “Choice is part of our democracy.”

While the rest of the world is talking about Industry 4.0, Japan is moving towards what it calls Society 5.0, striving to make everything it does with technology, human-centric.

Boosting return on investment

Combining an outcome-based approach with AI services can be powerful. “There is human bias about how we decide on outcomes. AI can be trained to uncover that bias. The artificial intelligence cloud services we have built for the UK government train on two billion data points. This approach to AI brings a global perspective to policy making,” says Taylor.

In a community, AI can enhance what humans are doing. “For example in a clinical setting, AI does not override what the clinicians are doing,” says Taylor. “It presents other probabilities that could unlock another care pathway.”

Overturning business and commercial models can yield impressive returns on investment (ROI).

Says Taylor, referencing an advanced manufacturing company which switched from supplying product to supplying services using IoT technology, moving to a servitisation model. Construction can utilise this approach building on the BIM 2 mandate.

New smart city challenges

Though China has made amazing advances with the smart city agenda, it has also raised some questions around the world. In 2018, we learned that in Xinjiang Province in China, CCTV watches the residents and the government stores information about where they are, where they are banking and how they are using the internet. The country is developing a social credit system, so that if you infringe a minor law, you could lose your rights to travel or do other things.

Taylor has worked with the Chinese government to rethink its strategy.

Citizens must have trust, which means that their privacy must be protected and its cloud services must be secure.”

In Europe, there is legislation to underpin these goals: the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and the European NIS Directive on cyber security, both enacted last year. There are also two British Standards on smart cities – PAS 183 on sharing data and information in smart cities, which Taylor wrote, and PAS 185 on implementing a security-minded approach which she helped to develop.

Russia and Dubai have already adopted PAS 183, which she is now fast tracking to an International Standard to accompany the two new international infrastructure standards she has created. Europe has also made a huge €940m budget commitment to move European cities towards an outcome-based agenda. “It’s happening now,” says Taylor. On 11 December, she and the three other members of a Specialist Task Force on smart city initiatives presented their draft plans on the citizen-centric approach on behalf of the European Commission.

As for construction companies, Taylor advises them not to miss out. First task is to focus on how to change their business model, choose a pilot project and get going. “The construction industry can start now,” she says. “There are many other sectors proving this. Who will be the UK construction leaders for IoT?”

 “I genuinely believe in this sector,” says Taylor. “By deploying globally leading IoT technology and partnering with some of the outstanding engineers I have met in the sector, we can flip the value chain for construction for the better!”

Thinking smart: advice for construction

We asked Dr Jacqui Taylor how construction companies should harness IoT and the concept of smart city technology. Here’s her advice:

  1. Think about your desired outcomes. Maybe you want to create schools where educational achievement is higher or offices with better productivity.
  2. Scrutinise and adapt your business model. What will you be providing and what commercial model can you use? Who do you need to partner with, merge with, morph into, in order to do that?
  3. Ask the data. The technology to secure, curate, analyse and create data-driven outcomes already exists. Use it to help you make better decisions and focus on desired outcomes.
  4. Privacy preserving and security-minded approaches are required. Technology must be able to be configured and used by non-data specialists to develop new trust models.
  5. Get started! Choose pilot projects and collaborate with partners to deliver new commercial propositions which will kick-start your journey.

For further information contact:

Ginny Patten
Manager, global marketing and communications

t: +44 (0)207 544 4000