We’re now in the early phases of the next digital revolution – and it’s changing virtually everything about the way we work and live. The shift underway goes by various names: the Gartner Group calls it “the Nexus of Forces”; IDC Research refers to as “the Third Platform.” Other refer to it as “the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution.”
Whatever name you choose, this is really the mother of all transitions, knitting together a wide range of technology-driven disruptions. One benefit of the process underway is that it seems to transforming our experience of both utilities and cities.
At its essence, IoT is the networked connection of people, process, data, and things. IoT brings together each of those elements – the people, the business processes, the data, and the things -- to make networked connections more relevant and valuable. It turns information into actions, and these then create new capabilities, richer experiences, and unprecedented economic opportunity for everyone connected to the city.
By “things” we’re really talking about the sensors, devices, objects, etc.—and not only the devices themselves. IoT is about integrating front office and back office operations across the entire city in ways that ensure IT and network components are connected to the other systems -- including the people, process and data. This enables smarter decisions.
Among the main factors that fuel the IoT revolution are these:
Asset Utilization (reducing costs) by….
- improving business processes in ways that reduce costs
- improving capital efficiency
Employee productivity (greater labor efficiencies) by….
- improving labor efficiency
- making every hour worked a more productive hour
Supply chain and logistics (eliminating waste) by…
- improving process efficiency
- reducing waste in supply chain
Customer experience (which is more than just the addition of more customers) by….
- improving customer lifetime value
- additional market share (adding more customers)
Innovation (reducing time to market) by….
- improving the speed of research, development, and engineering; reducing time to market
- creating new business models and new sources of revenue
To get the most value from IoT, utility leaders and city leaders are both beginning to transform their respective organizations. This is a long-term process, but it helps to keep in mind what some of the successes will look like.
Consider for a moment one big problem facing cities: traffic congestion. Smarter transport is enabled by better street-level technologies hung onto utility poles and traffic lights or other city-centric assets. How much safer, more mobile, and more efficient would our urban roads become when disparate pieces are stitched together into a more intelligent infrastructure? What happens when utilities and cities have a range of affordable solutions available to them?
Some cities are now using interoperable wireless communications networks that link up cars, buses, trucks, trains, emergency vehicles, personal mobile devices -- molding them into a unified transportation infrastructure. Once in place, such a system does fundamentally change the transportation system paradigm --because it gives people tools (whether in the midst of driving, commuting, walking, or planning a trip). It makes urban travel faster, easier, more accessible, and environmentally friendlier.
As IoT grows and develops, a number of forces are driving massive shifts in both customer expectations and customer needs. These changes are being caused by advances in technology, and also by shifting socio-economic factors.
Reliable communication networks and services have long been a critical element in ensuring both the public welfare and our economic stability. Malicious attacks on the Internet, disruptions due to physical phenomena, software and hardware failures, and human errors all affect the proper functioning of essential public services that run over telecommunication networks. Such disruptions reveal our increased dependency on these networks and their services.
Where information lives, and how it is accessed, has been changing dramatically over these last few years. The convergence of technology’s biggest megatrends (greater mobility; bigger Big Data; growing high-speed clouds) created the facts of life that we now take for granted: more people, processes, data, and things are inter-connecting than ever before. The result is nothing less than the IoT revolution.
In cities, this is already having some very positive impacts: enabling high levels of cross-sector collaboration (linking, for instance, new sources of energy with smart and connected electric vehicles); increasing efficiencies; expanding economic opportunities; reducing the harmful environmental impacts of human activity.
As a result of these new possibilities – all of which are enabled by digitization – both energy grids and cities are quickly becoming powerful IoT hubs. These hubs are the places where we integrate computing, networking, skills. These hubs are also spurring innovations in multiple sectors of society and economy.
The range of functions that a smart grid in a smart city can digitally integrate is growing exponentially. It typically includes connected and remotely accessible city-assets or public-spaces, where dense connectivity allows new patterns and styles of public engagement and municipal service delivery. But a smart city and/or a smart grid also adds tremendous value through more mundane, but equally important, functions like parking, lighting, security, Wi-Fi and energy management. As IoT grows, cities and grid owners can more affordably invest in new capabilities, and they can increasingly benefit by sharing those same capabilities.
Decisions involving technology are a daily function of city life, impacting all of the ways that we live and work and play and learn. With increasing investments in infrastructure -- especially for more advanced data networks and communications networks -- cities find themselves on a path to full connectivity. From publicly-accessible websites to back-end administration of complex city services (like street lights and parking), today’s cities could not exist without using a hot of new digital tools. In a very short time, such technology has become critical to their success – and survival.