Sol Salinas, Managing Director, Accenture Digital - Mobility, Global Lead, Accenture Smart Cities
Earlier in 2017, Accenture opened a cutting-edge tech hub called The Dock in Dublin, Ireland, the single most connected building on the planet. With over 10,000 sensors (more per square foot than any space on the globe), the building is intelligently connected to all other things and people within its walls. Data from sensors allows for the intuitive control of everything from heating to lighting. The sensors facilitate the connection of employees and clients, and even have the ability to learn occupant behavior and react to user feedback.
The Dock represents the great potential we have for creating a sentient city: a city that is as aware of its occupants as its occupants are aware of it—a city that feels and senses and is seamless with city residents. From our work on The Dock and smart city projects all over the world, we understand the promise of using IoT to better connect cities and inhabitants, and also the challenges we must overcome to get there.
Challenge 1: Technology Doesn’t Guarantee Outcomes
San Jose, Costa Rica is a large city of about 600,000 people, scattered in the sprawling Costa Rican mountains. Traffic can be horrible, taking 2 hours to travel just 15 miles out of the city. There are very few traffic lights, signals, and street signs, plus the roads are narrow and lined on both sides with water crevasses that are about eight feet deep. There is no room for error as a driver, yet on a recent trip, I noticed that I didn’t see any accidents at all during my two-week stay.
Coming back home, I was driving from the BWI airport to Washington, D.C. and just 5 minutes into the commute, traffic came to a halt. The backup was caused by a fender bender on the four lane highway of I-95. No accidents in Costa Rica for 2 weeks and I needed only 5 minutes in the U.S. to experience one.
This story demonstrates something we should be aware of when we approach technology and smart city ventures. Technologies in and of themselves don’t deliver outcomes. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t aim for this goal, but we must remember that the technology makes no promises when it comes to outcomes.
Challenge 2: Prioritizing Use Cases
Today more and more things are connected through the use of sensors and technology, and that level of connection will only expand. Eventually, it will become a large cluster of connections, and that brings up the challenge of how to organize it all. How do you decide which use case to move forward with? How do you choose to do this as opposed to that? At Accenture, we approach it similarly to how Abraham Maslow organized the hierarchy of needs.
In his pyramid-shaped diagram, Maslow prioritized the needs of human beings with the premise that needs have to be met on one level before a person can rise up to the next. His ordering was physiological, safety, social, esteem, and finally self-actualization. Achieve one level and you are able to move up and work on the next.
At Accenture, we use a similar idea to help cities decide on what to address in their smart cities projects. Depending on the concerns of the particular city, they may focus on public safety, climate change, sustainability or some other area where technology can improve the city. From that base, the city can move on to different levels and different issues.
Eventually, perhaps 5-10 years from now, we will see cities achieve self-actualization, which we define as a holistic system where each smart city project works together as a single organism. However, deciding what to start on, how to build upon that, and how to connect everything together are challenges that each city will have to address.
Challenge 3: Bringing Non-Tech People Into the Conversation
In identifying priorities and use cases, cities will face the challenge of bringing non-tech people into the conversation. Technologists can discuss sensors, routers, gateways, platformers, etc. but many important stakeholders do not speak this language. How do we expand the conversation to colleagues in other departments, those who work next to us in city government and specialize in different areas but also have a vested interest in smart cities projects?
At Accenture, we believe that the key is to not talk about the technologies right away. Bring in the bigger community of stakeholders and hold a discussion in plain English, so that everyone can understand and contribute. Technology can be brought in later, and at the right time. In the beginning, smart city projects should be approached as a group exercise where collective dialogue about the city’s problems and priorities can be discussed among all vested parties.
Although these three things represent challenges that each city will face in their smart city ventures, the challenges are not insurmountable. As we have seen with The Dock, we do have the power to use sensors and technology to build intelligent, connected spaces. The next step in the journey is to take these ideas outside of the walls of a building and let them expand to fit the boundaries of cities, countries, and even one day, the world.