Why collaboration is key to the smart city

31st Jul 2017
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Everyone is excited about the smart city, yet we still have a long way to go before we see the full benefits it represents. A number of issues must be overcome before we start living in smarter cities, from privacy to data fragmentation, and in order to address these issues, businesses and organisations across sectors must work together.

I recently had the honor of participating in a panel at the Global Female Leaders’ Summit, tackling ‘Smart Cities on the Move in a Digitalized and Hyper-connected World’. The event was a refreshing change from the norm, and was the first time I’d been in a work discussion in which 99 per cent of participants were women.

Normally, the percentage is reversed, so it was a welcome change to be part of a panel of very accomplished women who are experts in their domain.

So, together with Anne Berner, Finnish Minister of transport and Communications, Isabella Groegor-Cechowicz, Global General Manager for Public Services at SAP, and Jennifer Sanders, Executive Director at the Dallas Innovation Alliance, we discussed the conditions needed to make cities smart, and the challenges to be overcome along the way.

Data fragmentation

During the discussion, we jointly agreed that the speed of government smart city development greatly differs around the world. When discussing smart cities, people often refer to this significant technical evolution as though every city around the world is ready to make this leap. However, it is delusional to think that the globe, as a whole, is completely digitalized — after all, many regions still rely upon paper maps and not all real world objects and documents are available in digital form.

It will take a great deal of work to reach this global level of digitalization, and every government is working within their own, isolated environment. This means that data is being used differently all around the world, and if this fragmented approach continues, it makes it very difficult to envision a global smart city initiative.

Another serious issue that we discussed during the panel was privacy. As OEMs look to develop more smart city solutions, governments have a growing responsibility to protect their citizens’ privacy.

It is incredibly important for government organizations to help refine and understand the concept of a privacy profile, so that people can better understand and make educated choices regarding their shared data, and also understand how it is being protected from potential mischief-makers.

This is easier said than done, of course. If citizens decide to share less data, the potential number of benefits of the smart city given back to them will be reduced. During the discussion, we reached an agreement that the public sector needs to take a long, hard look at how to make the smart city possible and work with the tech sector to both ensure citizens’ privacy, and to make certain that their citizens can use the full potential of the smart city.

At HERE, for example, privacy is an integral part of the discussion. We are collaborating with competing automakers regarding the collection and analysis of sensor data, and while doing this, have been sure to highlight the importance of privacy to ensure that consumers understand how this data is being shared. Privacy should be embedded into solutions from an early stage.

This brings me onto one of the main conclusions we reached during our discussion: that collaboration could make the major difference to the development of the smart city.

Come together

The vision of smart city collaboration resonates loudly with HERE and, in particular, our Open Location Platform. At HERE, we see the need for a neutral player — somewhere companies and governments can go to decide how they want to share their data.

Such a vast amount of data is being collected by different organizations and governments, yet only by combining these different sources of data can you really create context. Context is what you need to really address the use cases necessary to create a smarter city, and this is what the Open Location Platform offers.

Take our work with different government bodies in Lapland, for example, where we collaborated to offer Laplanders a reindeer alert app, with the aim of reducing vehicle-reindeer collisions. Such collisions are a serious issue in Lapland, where accidents involving reindeers can be incredibly dangerous. Thanks to this collaboration, we have been able to address an issue that seriously impacts citizens.

And this is surely the point of any smart city initiative, and highlights how governments need to work more closely with companies in order to understand how data can and should be used to create smarter cities.

Making progress

The event was a wonderful opportunity to showcase female leadership in complex, interesting domains. It was also a chance to have experts from different sectors come together and learn from each other to help tackle what government agencies and companies are faced with when preparing for the next stage of the smart city.

For many, smart cities are just a buzzword. Discussions, like the one we had at the Global Female Leaders’ Summit, and collaboration can help change this perception and usher in the next step in smart city development.