Smart cities… powered by skills
September 22, 2017
With two-thirds of the world’s population set to inhabit cities by 2045, the anticipated number of ‘smart cities’ could reach approximately 100 by 2025.
The key focus of smart cities is on service transformation through digital technologies to drive improved outcomes for resident citizens and businesses. But how much thought is going into understanding the appropriate professional skills and training to provide the fundamental bedrock of their longevity and success?
What makes a city ‘smart’?
Smart cities are ones where technology is used to enable them to perform better in meeting people’s needs. In the same way that we use data to help us track our household budgets and plan our travel, smart cities use technology to make our lives easier. From tracking traffic movement to help take the stress out of our morning commutes, through to helping deal with social integration and cohesion and making better use of leisure and cultural facilities, smart cities have the potential to make our lives better.
The use of technology can allow a city’s infrastructure, social, cultural and environmental architecture in effect to think for itself and make adjustments, for instance to direct drivers to free parking spaces or promote local cultural activities, as we go about our daily business. Through making our cities smart, we can help to lower costs, improve public service outcomes and make our cities more sustainable too.
How might this impact me?
This is not ‘just another gimmick’ that will be here today and gone tomorrow, this is the beginning of a revolution in how we live our lives. If we can help our urban ecosystems to learn, improve and make adaptations on the move, we will all see a benefit in our daily lives. Our travel could become quicker, easier and safer, our public services like health and education more efficient and our environments better to live in.
It’s not just about technology
Smart cities are still relatively new and as such we have a lot to learn about the smart improvements that will make a difference. Ultimately, technology is a tool. To deliver smart cities, we need to first train more people capable of making best use of the available technology.
But the skills to deliver a smart city are still in short supply and to deliver them well, we need more than just people who know how to use tech and design the sensors and systems that collect data: we need analytics specialists who can interrogate and analyse this data as well as city planners, consultants, transport and logistics experts who ‘get smart’ and can integrate the latest developments in their work. And we need more people trained to protect against the misuse of smart technology such as cyber specialists.
So, we just need to train people, right?
People with the right skills, thinking in smart ways can deliver the cities of the future. But it isn’t as simple as just training people: we need the people, with the right skills, in the right places, making decisions. If smart cities are truly going to develop in the UK – for example, in the way that Glasgow and Manchester are seeking to do – we need to see local solutions. We need cities with the leadership and vision to make this happen, who can compete with Barcelona or Oslo, and take the initiative to develop a new way of living and working. We need a proper skills plan that creates a nexus of people in the right place at the right time.
We need to understand which skills are really going to drive change and seize the opportunity that technology presents. At the end of the day, a city can become saturated with technology but without a person to programme it, somebody to interpret the data it generates and managers to make changes that will impact our lives, all the technology in the world will not make a difference.
For smart cities to realise their potential will require a collaborative effort from central and local government, local employers and representative bodies to create and deliver a vision of the future. Exciting times!