Four “truly smart” smart cities – by SAP’s reckoning
What is a ‘smart city’, exactly? Is it a city with a neat collection of smart solutions, or is it one where everything works together to create new innovations?
As it stands, the term is attached to practically any urban centre with a network of bin sensors and a parade of connected street-lights. But these solutions will not change the world, as per the grand smart city plan, in isolation.
Smartness only comes from joining the dots – from connecting the city’s information sources, and bringing new insights and behaviours.
This much is clear to German software company SAP, as it is to most in the field. The digitisation of city operations is a long game, comments Max Claps, the company’s global future cities lead.
“Cities that design long-term digital strategies and farsighted investment in innovative technologies, like artificial intelligence, the internet of things, big data and analytics, blockchain and cloud computing will succeed,” he says.
Which begs the question: are any cities, now, truly ‘smart’? Increasingly, they recognise the marathon strategy of smart-city development is to pull disparate systems together, and drive unknowable advantages from their combination. The process is guided by a compass of open systems and collaborative innovation. There is no map, to speak of.
“In recent years, city leaders have understood that any city that wants to bring together liveability and prosperity must take a programmatic approach to collaborate with the ecosystem, including utilities, transit authorities, automotive OEMs, telcos, hospitals, universities and startups, to drive digital transformation across business processes and data silo,” he says.
He cities analysis from IDC, that 40 per cent of cities in both Europe and the US had started on a higher road to ‘smartness’ by 2016 and 2017. Claps reckons the visionaries among city leaders are experimenting with alternative business models and cultures of innovation, and are pairing their digital investments with targets around living standards and local business.
Of course, SAP is in the business of selling technology solutions to cities. Its HANA cloud platform and Leonardo digital suite are geared towards city-style set-ups.
Claps’ advice for cities is to “engage with high-tech partners to deploy a platform that empowers data-driven innovation to re-imagine public services and to make the urban infrastructure resilient.”
It threatens to unwind into promotional territory, but Claps reckons certain SAP customers / cities are “well on their way” to becoming “truly smart”. There is interest to hear him out and consider the very smartest reflected in the SAP mirror, because of SAP’s profile in the space, and because none get a hearing in standard smart-city leaderboards.
At the same time, it is arguable none live up to our earlier definition of smartness. Instead, they confirm the concept remains out of reach, still – and the “way” they are on just describes the journey ahead.
Here they are, all four, in SAP’s own words…
1 | Antibes, France
“Antibes uses IoT software from SAP´s new Leonardo portfolio, to control its water management system. The city has installed over 2,000 IoT sensors into its water pipelines to digitise the city’s infrastructure.
“These sensors monitor the water quality and flow to predict when and where maintenance is needed in an ageing infrastructure. The technology can also detect intrusions in real-time, allowing the city to identify attempts to tamper with the water supply and harm citizens and tourists.”
2 | Den Bosch, Netherlands
“Den Bosch is engaged with the community to improve safety for cyclists. Its SafeToBike solution is aimed at children, and alerts cyclists when they are riding through high traffic risk areas in order.
“The solution consists of a device connected to the cyclist’s smartphone, which continuously matches the GPS location with a central database containing the data of where bike accidents happen. This information comes from VIA, which gets data from insurers and the police.
“It is then processed using the SAP HANA cloud platform. The rider can also add hazardous locations themselves.”
3 | Nanjing, China
“Nanjing uses connected logistics to better measure, understand and manage huge traffic volumes. There are about 10,000 taxicabs, 7,000 buses and one million private cars running throughout the city’s roads.
“To manage this volume, Nanjing has developed a smart traffic system that includes sensors and RFID chips that generate continuous data streams about the status of transportation systems across the city.
“Nanjing uses advanced analytics that process 100 million records per day and a huge digital map that visually represents traffic events to identify traffic patterns and trouble spots. The system publishes traffic results in real-time on a mobile app, which citizens can use to plan their travel and avoid congestion.”
4 | Buenos Aires, Argentina
“Buenos Aires has always experienced seasonal torrential rains that cause flooding, property damage and injury. By deploying real-time sensors in storm drains that feed data to analytics solutions, the city can help ensure that streets and drains are clean and free of flood-causing debris.
“In addition, these solutions help the city manage more than 700,000 city assets, including streets and lights, parks, bus stops, drains, buildings and bridges. As a result, a three-day downpour caused no flooding at all. Using sensor data and analytics to upgrade asset management, the city has enhanced safety and transparency for citizens and tourists alike.”