EVER wondered what it would be like to live in a place where public services are managed by vast swathes of data, technology and customer-focussed analytics? Imagine a seamless drive to work, a streamlined waste management system and data-driven energy usage. Yes, technology has the power to transform the places in which we live. What began with the notion of “clever cities”—integrated, connected and sustainable communities—has expanded to cover a variety of “clever” domains and public spaces, including states, multicity regions, campuses and military bases. These places use technology to serve citizens in a comprehensive manner and enhance many aspects of public life, including quality of life, mobility, security, education, economy and the environment.
Three key components are driving the “clever government” or “clever enterprise” movement globally:
These core components are causing a tectonic shift in the public service landscape from clever cities to clever airports to clever rural communities.
Clever regions—coordinating across governments. The concept of clever regions includes a broad array of places and services. For instance, the Greater Phoenix Clever Region initiative brings together 22 cities and towns in Maricopa County to drive regional technology pilots and provide test beds for researchers to try out new solutions for public services.1 Clever multicity regions should transcend city boundaries to drive more inclusive and expansive innovation. Moreover, cities also realise the benefits of pooling resources and are able to tap into economies of scale as they seek to use seamless physical-digital experiences to deliver traditional city services to citizens in entirely new ways.
Clever campuses—improving how we learn. Moving beyond traditional digital classroom and education initiatives, the campuses of clever universities are acting as test beds for the broader clever city movement. A clever campus uses artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain and other emerging technologies to automate processes, monitor and initiate workflows, and improve data-driven decision-making for various stakeholders.2
The University of Washington, for example, is piloting a clever grid project, installing more than 200 clever metres across the campus in an effort to drive down energy consumption on campus.3 Similarly, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has created a test bed to pilot multiple connected-vehicle and autonomous-vehicle projects on a 6.2-mile corridor adjacent to the campus.4 The pilot is timely since it is becoming increasingly imperative to enable vehicles interact with each other in the wake of the challenges posed by autonomous vehicles.
Clever airports—improving how we move. Many transportation providers are taking clever mobility advances from pilot projects to the real world. For example, some clever airports now use Wi-Fi access points as sensors to measure the location and dwell time of travellers as they move through the terminals. The data currently helps these airports place messaging and advertisements, but it can also lay the foundation for more individualised travel services.
Clever technologies can provide broader benefits to others beyond those directly using them. For example, London’s Heathrow airport uses an IoT solution to identify auxiliary power units (APU) running on the tarmac. The data can be used to remind airlines to switch off these units if kept running beyond the required time-table. By cutting down the time these APUs run, Heathrow has been able to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions and improve air quality around the airport.5
Clever bases—improving security. As with the environment, clever technology in one area can improve government services in others, such as integrating clever cities with nearby military bases. The city of San Diego has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Marine Corps Installations Command to collaborate on clever city programmes. The MOU will help the city tap into the Marine Corps research on renewable energy and water conservation, while the city will extend some of its existing programmes such as clever street lights and a city services mobile app to the base.6
Clever rural communities—improving rural economies. Clever technology can also be instrumental in bringing government services to areas that have lacked them, helping the local economy. For instance, in the past four years, India has been able to bring each village into the national power grid under the National Rural Electrification initiative,7 making rural agriculture easier and improving people’s living standards. In another example, Purdue University is collecting more than 1.4 petabytes of data daily on its 1,400-acre research farm in an effort to improve the nutritional value of plants.8
The clever government movement is not without its own set of challenges, chief among them funding and data governance. Technology costs money and, for many governments, funding or financing clever projects can be a thorny issue—which is why some countries are taking a broader national approach to funding these. The India Clever Cities Mission programme aims to develop 100 clever cities by 2022.9 More than 5,000 Clever City projects of different sizes and nature, worth about US$29 billion across these 100 cities, have been approved under the Clever City Mission and are under various stages of implementation.10
Further challenges of clever spaces could emerge after these spaces are built. As clever spaces increasingly link the cyber with the physical worlds, cyberattacks and vulnerabilities can have serious real-world effects. For example, thousands of homes lost power in a cyberattack on Ukraine’s power grid.11 Plus, with so much data being used in clever spaces, governments should address the privacy concerns of their citizens. The Quayside project in the city of Toronto has faced resistance from residents over a lack of transparency around privacy and security of citizen data.12 Going forward, governments will need to create greater awareness about the benefits of their prospective projects. Not only will this help build greater transparency, it will also enable greater constituent buy-in.
It’s important to have a North Star for the clever government movement, but the progression should be viewed as a journey. It’s also important to emphasise the ROI for any clever initiative, as orienting it towards the larger mission will be critical for the success of any clever investment.
A 360-degree clever city looks across every aspect of a city’s operations and uses technology to improve outcomes. The digital infrastructure of a clever city sets the stage for a network of partnerships all focussed on one goal: creating a smarter city. The result? An urban centre that not only leverages technology to improve its own operations but connects with citizens, businesses and charities in new ways.