Being “Hyperconnected” Is Key To Unlocking Full Potential In Cities

Future Technologies to Unlock Smart City Projects

The most recent, evidence-based research conducted by ESI ThoughLab reveals that cities embracing advanced technologies are witnessing improvement in many areas. They are experiencing low levels of crime, and pollution and better living standards including public health. 

Nevertheless, becoming a smart city is not enough in order to tackle the rising challenges in the urban environment. And hence, the study shows that cities need to become “hyperconnected” urban centres to unlock the full potential from technology to improve economic, social, environmental, and business landscapes. This can happen when the latest technologies interconnect key areas of the urban ecosystem. Connecting roads to vehicles, buildings to energy grids, citizens to governments and cities to cities. 

The all-inclusive research by ESI ThoughtLab throws light on the practices, policies and performance results of cities that are already on their way to becoming hyperconnected. Benchmarking data from 100 cities and in-depth interviews with city leaders helped shape an evidence-based roadmap for other cities. In addition, valuable input was also drawn from the cross-industry alliances of leading firms and research organisations. 

Eventually, ESI Thoughtlab came up with a tool that can support other cities in planning their way to becoming hyperconnected cities. The context that follows is a gist of the entire study. 

Four Pillars Of Hyperconnected Cities 

Emerging Hyperconnected Cities

ESI ThoughLab focused on four pillars of a hyper-connected city. These are technology, data and analytics, cybersecurity and connected citizens. Instead of focusing on smart city technology, their study revolved around the importance of connectivity.

The study found that 9 out of 10 cities are using technologies like public WiFi, IoT, cloud, and mobile technology. Second to these technologies is the use of biometrics (83% of cities), AI (82%), blockchain (66%) and telematics (52%). By integrating these technologies with broader sets of data, cities are able to create successful smart urban ecosystems. These include smart buildings, energy grids, water systems and mobility. More importantly, they are enabling real-time communication among residents, government bodies, businesses and services. Furthermore, these hyperconnected cities also outshine in developing trade linkages with other cities and countries. Fostering collaboration with businesses and academic establishments is also a key. In the study, 48% of cities confirmed that they are working with academic institutions to explore smart city solutions. 

Strategy One – Adoption of Transformative Technologies 

The leading cities are embracing advanced technologies in important areas including IT infrastructure, telecoms, mobility, financial systems, and digital security. In a period of three years, the use of such technology will not just increase in these areas but expand to other sectors. For example, as the sensor prices drop, cities will leverage IT, WiFi, LPWA, 5G and data management systems to build the needed infrastructure. Hence, the usage of IoT will increase by 100% for the environment and 50% for buildings, public places, energy, water and waste management. Nearly 50% of cities will use biometrics in buildings, schools and public places while one-third in public safety and health. That said, the implementation with facial recognition will come with certain hurdles as witnessed in cases like San Francisco

Strategy Two – Gathering Insightful Data

Hyperconnected cities attract an array of data to deliver value to stakeholders. This involves common data harvested from city departments, local companies and citizen surveys. Data is also gathered from social media, IoT and AI. Data like geospatial, behavioural, predictive and crowdsourced are less used. They are estimated to rise dramatically in the next three years, though. Almost 57% of cities are working with businesses and other non-government organisations to collect data. Essentially, IoT and AI are enabling cities to gain deeper insights from existing data.

Strategy Three – Application of Data and Analytics 

Cities in the study are applying advanced data and analytics to obtain insights and enhance the performance of the same areas where ‘Strategy One’ is implemented. Besides, less number of cities are employing advanced data and analytics in public safety, energy, environment and buildings. The application is estimated to rise in the future with the adoption of transformative technology. However, there are certain obstacles preventing cities from progressing. Like, for instance, only 46% of them believe that they have the workforce with data and analytics, strategic thinking and problem-solving skills. 

Strategy Four – Boost ROI From Various Urban Sectors 

As per the estimates reported by cities, hyperconnected initiatives attract an average ROI from 3-4%. Cities are able to produce substantial returns from their investments through business, financial, economic, societal and environmental benefits. However, the results differ depending on the targeted area. For example, government projects including digital business licensing, digital tax filing and digital payments attract the highest ROI. In addition, cities just beginning to implement recognised an ROI of 1.8% while advancers and leaders see a boost of 2.6% and 5% respectively. 

The Route To Become Hyperconnected 

Step 1 – Begin with developing a business case and monitor performance constantly. Fund innovative city projects by evaluating the best investments. 

Step 2 – Keep the majority of the focus on calculating the full benefits to your city. Hyperconnected cities usually consider societal benefits like reduced crime and improved health and well-being. Other key areas of focus are improved productivity, logistics, e-commerce and tourism. 

Step 3 – Explore the best way to organise your resources. Although there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ way, ESI’s research revealed general trends across diverse sectors. Hyperconnected cities tend to entirely centralise their staff. 

Step 4 – Capitalise on transformative technologies. Leading hyperconnected cities use more advanced technologies than others. Nearly three-quarters own an innovation hub to promote the use of sophisticated technologies. About two-thirds comply with international standards and employ senior executives with sufficient resources to supervise new tech. Another group focuses on the increased use of AI, robotics and relatively less machine learning.  

Step 5 – Use the ecosystem effectively by shaping a collaboration into a best practice. Partnerships enable cities to achieve more with fewer resources. 

Step 6 – Obtain more value from data and focus on monetising it and making it open to businesses as well as citizens. The hyperconnected leaders are collecting, integrating and winning more value from data and extracting it from outside the government. Besides, they have flexible data policies to keep up with changing technologies. 

Step 7 – Make sure every citizen is engaged and connected. As the hyperconnected leaders are following, you need to be extremely wary of the needs of the citizens and actively engage them in the city matters. The majority make sure that stakeholder understands the value of smart city projects and stay connected and deliver their input. Nearly two-thirds keep the focus on ensuring that underprivileged population (poor, disabled, digitally illiterate etc.) are included in the smart city programs.

Step 8 –  Exercise an omnichannel approach to interact with citizens. Use multiple ways like cross-channel communication to reach and engage residents. As hyperconnected cities do, use community websites, city dashboards, open data portals, 24-hour call centres, and online chat rooms. In the next three years, cities are planning to increase their use of social media and all other channels discussed above. Concurrently, the use of citizen surveys, text messages and email with lessen.

Hurdles To Overcome 

As found by ESI ThoughtLab’s new study, there are multiple challenges being faced by cities on the road to becoming hyperconnected. Policy and regulations are more of an obstacle, especially for emerging cities and so is funding. Inflexible procurement rules, antiquated mandates and inapplicable thresholds are also known to hinder smart city projects. As cities become more innovative, the risk of cyber threat increases. Cyber attacks come from different directions and cause heavy losses in cities. Hence, it is important that cities focus on measuring the progress of their cybersecurity framework. 

Overcoming these hurdles may not be easy. However, the path chosen to fight these challenges will bring tremendous benefits as cities learn more and gain a better picture of the current situations within their ecosystem. In fact, the route to hyperconnectivity will be a solution to the majority of the obstacles faced by cities, businesses and citizens – regardless of their geographies, trade boundaries, and societal status.