The inspiring innovators of Smart Cities

modern city at night with financial background

Image Source: Enterprise Nation

Recently I joined the Digital Cities Forum 2017 at our Crystal building in London to listen to speakers share new insights into how our cities are changing.

I left the event feeling inspired about the future for Smart Cities.

You may have read my March blog on the topic of Smart Cities where I shared some of the key reasons behind becoming a Smart City and with this in mind, I’d like to report back on my findings and learnings from the Digital Cities event.

The Forum saw expert presenters deliver their digitalization insights into the Smart City future as well as share what exciting projects they were currently working on, with references from Singapore, Amsterdam, Helsinki, Vienna and Greenwich to mention a few.

As I listened to each presentation throughout the day, I was blown away by the rate at which technology is being deployed. The breadth of Smart City pilots that are currently in implementation across the globe is incredible!

The speakers gave many convincing reasons why they wanted their cities to become Smart Cities and as I made notes, I clustered the examples given around the six main reasons for becoming a Smart City which I highlighted in my March blog:

“Why become a Smart City?”

(i) … deliver better, more reliable and connected services

The stand out example came from Singapore. An alternative urban logistics plan has been deployed to consolidate deliveries offsite before final delivery of the shipments into the city. The logistic strategy had been enabled by data, using this data to connect delivery truck services which allowed more efficient planning. This initiative has resulted in a 25% increase in delivery truck utilization and an annual reduction of 14.8m tonnes of CO2.

All of this had been achieved through logistics, without any changes to the manufacturing process. As Juergen Maier, our Siemens UK CEO,  commented, imagine what further improvements could be brought to our Smart Cities if we used localized 3D printing to ultimately eliminate the need to ship small components across the globe.


(ii) …….to manage increased demand caused by urbanization

Data sources in Amsterdam show that even on current levels, 30% of the cars in this major city are used less than once a week. If we map out the predicted growth in our major global cities due to urbanization, it’s clear that unless something different is done, urban traffic congestion is going to become even more inefficient. Part of the solution to addressing this challenge is going to be dependent upon the role autonomous vehicles play in the future.

The interesting developments in this area came from three sources: (i) Greenwich and Ocado are piloting the use of autonomous delivery vehicles from GATEway; (ii) Uniti  have ripped up the classic automobile designs based upon 100 years of the combustion engine – instead designing based upon electric power and autonomous driving and (iii) with 50% more demand for transportation services expected in London by 2030, autonomous trains on the tube could add an extra 40% capacity to the existing infrastructure.


(iii) ……. to reduce demand on scarce resources

Aspern  in Vienna has been an interesting development covering an area of 2.4 million square metres for approx. 20,000 residents. Technologies that have been deployed are Distributed Energy Networks, Smart Grid, home automation and demand management within building to optimize their energy needs. All aimed at minimizing energy demands within this smart town.


(iv) …….to reduce costs and

(v)  .……to gain efficiencies from our changing energy generation landscape

 There was a proposal made to put CHP technology into every existing public building in London so that by 2030 there would be a 30% reduction in energy consumption

The Mindsphere IoT platform was showcased and specifically power grid software and digital solution. Digital Services could be offered from infrastructure changes utilizing CHP, HVDC, Digital Grids and Storage technologies.


(vi) …….to empower visitors with more information & choice

A wonderful example was shared from Sentosa Island where digital technology has been implemented to improve the customer’s experience and deliver more choice.

Technologies such as:

  • facial recognition;
  • alerts to smart wearable devices;
  • cashless payment;
  • resort analytics; and
  • even offering the customer a digital virtual assistant.

The ultimate impact has been delivered through connecting these technologies and integrating them into services all aimed at improving the visitors’ experience.

Another fascinating reference came from Tiina Kaho taking about Helsinki and its development of an Air Quality IoT network This will be the world’s first city wide air quality network giving residents both locally accurate air quality information as well as predictive modelling – another powerful initiative to empower city visitors to make informed choices.


Leaving the Forum, I felt that smart cities are well under way through the deployment of technology together with innovative ideas from inspiring citizens.

What I really enjoyed was the diversity of ideas emerging from these Smart Cities projects, from urban logistics to distributed energy to autonomous vehicles rather than focusing on just one area of city livability.

Joining the dots from the developments summarized above and many others will expose exciting patterns for the next Smart City advancements.

Watch this space 🙂



Smart Cities – powered with data to empower us with information


Image Source: The Resident

Twelve months ago, my typical working week changed. Instead of the twenty-mile drive from home into the city of Manchester, I began a weekly train commute to another city, the city of London.

There are lots of benefits of taking the train but I particularly enjoy the quality time to both work and reflect as we hurtle through the English countryside. It was on this week’s commute in a moment of reflection gazing out of the window, that I was drawn to the memory of my first ever trip to London. It was back in 1987.

I was one of four primary school children from my North East school and we were on a trip from Newcastle to London. We were part of a delegation of teachers, parents and pupils (including our local MP) who were visiting the House of Commons – to champion the jobs being created in the North East at the new Nissan plant in Sunderland.

As you imagine, at that age it was quite an exciting day and I remember being handed my train ticket and told to look after it carefully. Everything was planned meticulously with a detailed itinerary, laid out with approximate timings and locations for each important milestone on the day. I had a bag full of clothing to cover all weather eventualities. We took the long train journey to London and as the choices were limited (we were unfamiliar with how to navigate around the City), we took taxis from the station to the House of Commons.

It was a day of contrasts. I remember how my jaw dropped when I saw the magnificence of the House of Commons both from outside and inside and also meeting Tony Benn, who was patient and gracious in taking time to talk with us, in a coffee shop. At the other end of the spectrum, I also remember the stress of coping with events that weren’t on the itinerary, like trying to find somewhere for us all to eat lunch and then wondering how we were going to get ourselves back to the station. Without a thoroughly detailed plan, we would have been lost. Even with this in place, there were still unplanned events that we struggled to find the necessary information we required.

30 years later, and I’m travelling into London again but this time from the North West. Have I become empowered with more information and choice? Well the experience is certainly different to my school trip.

The day starts with a weather alert from an app called If This Then That (IFTTT) giving me a heads up on what weather I can expect to face on my commute.

As I leave the house, there’s a message from Trainline telling me that the train is on time and informing me which platform to head to at the station. Plenty of time for coffee and breakfast on the way! No need to collect or print tickets, it’s all on my phone. I don’t need to check the screens as I’m notified again on my phone if there are any delays or platform changes.

Once sitting on the train, I can access a wealth of data on the city I’m going to via London Datastore. I can see environmental KPIs such as NO2 and PM2.5 levels as well as reading up on how collaborators will use this open data source to solve challenges posted by the City.

I can plan ahead via City Mapper to look at the best way to get from Euston to my final destination, regardless of whether I’m new to the City or a regular traveler. There are a variety of choices such as tube, taxi, bus, bicycle or simply walking – if I choose one of the later two options I’m informed of the likely calories I’m going to burn. If I know it’s going to rain there are “rain safe” options to select from.

Taking the tube, entry and exit is now all enabled via contactless payment and for the final walk to my destination, Google Maps guides me from the tube station to the hotel.

Arriving at the hotel, I get a welcome text message from the hotel. I can reply to this text to root any requests, queries or room service back to reception.

No itinerary. No stress if unplanned events occur. Information at hand and easy to use as and when required.

This is part of the journey of London becoming a Smart City – but it is only scratching the surface of what Smart Cities can and could do. There have been major advancements in the last 30 years but all of the experiences above are only the changes visible on my weekly transport commute. In the background, developments in Smart Energy, Smart Buildings and Smart Transport Infrastructure are finding solutions to the urbanization and climate changes challenges. Most of these developments, particularly in Smart Energy and Smart Buildings are invisible to us, as commuters.

Smart Cities is a topic I’ve been interested over many years but it has become an even more exciting topic to explore in my new role. We all know the drivers: the megatrends of urbanization, demographic change and climate change, resulting in London alone projecting a 37% increase in its population by 2050. There are exciting initiatives being rolled out across the globe in cities like Chicago, New York, Brussels, Barcelona to name a few. In the UK, major initiatives are under way in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Peterborough and London itself.

But how best to get a clear picture of what’s going? So far, the most beneficial experience I’ve had to really understand the potential for Smart Cities has been during visits to the Crystal. Here you can see the full picture, including Smart Energy, Smart Transport Infrastructure and Smart Buildings. The exhibits at the Crystal help to add colour to the Smart London Plan and its vision to use the power of new technologies to serve London and improve the lives of its inhabitants.

Why become a Smart City? There are numerous compelling reasons to become a Smart City – (i) to deliver better, more reliable and connected services, (ii) to cope with the increased demand from urbanisation, (iii) to reduce demand on scarce resources, (iv) to reduce costs,(v) to provide a healthier environment and (vi) to gain efficiencies from our changing energy generation landscape & technologies – ultimately overall to enhance our quality of life.

But there is one compelling reason that is more visible to us than the others than the others: to empower the City’s visitors with more information and choice.

So when I look back and contrast my visit to London back in 1987 with my current weekly commute, do I feel empowered with information and choice? Absolutely yes!

Would I like more? Yes, please!

I’m excited by the future ahead and I’m personally looking forward to what’s coming in the next 30 years!