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Is your city as smart as a 10 year old? To get smart, cities must focus on friction

What exactly is a smart city? According to Wikipedia, “a smart city is an urban area that uses different types of electronic data collection sensors to supply information which is used to manage assets and resources efficiently.” This basic definition paints a picture of an urban setting that is “smarter” because it can see, understand and react faster to the everyday events due to greater digital connectivity.

In a previous post, I wrote about the idea of greater connected infrastructure and the value it could unlock for an urban environment. But integrating connected infrastructure alone will not establish a truly “smart” city. It is important to ensure that the vision for a smart city goes beyond being as smart as a 10 year old (trust me, I have one). A truly smart city will be one that uses digital assets to go beyond better management of assets, but achieves transformative impacts on the citizens, environment and ecosystem. When it comes down to it, smart cities are those that find ways to reduce friction.

Friction comes in many forms in an urban environment, from the movement of people, to the movement of inventory and the usage of resources. So, what are some transformational aspects that address specific areas of friction?

True smart cities reduce the friction created by old supply chains. Anyone who has ventured through the streets of New York City during the day can see the impact of legacy supply chains all around them. Trucks, boxes, pallets, forklifts and dollies are not meant for sidewalks. Yet, throughout an average day in New York or Shanghai or Frankfurt, these tools of our supply chains can be seen roaming the streets. Why? As the velocity of commerce continues, the stores and physical assets of retailers cannot keep pace. They require constant replenishment and therefore constant visits from trucks unloading pallets and boxes using the dollies and forklifts. This has the unintended consequence of making already heavily populated sidewalks even more dangerous and encumbered. To solve for this problem, truly smart cities should implement greater digital assets. For example, IoT, RFID, connected machinery and assets, connected consumers and connected stores can enable a more finely orchestrated smart city when it comes to replenishment. Moreover, digital assets allow inventory to be more optimally stored throughout an urban setting and beyond. Replenishment can be done with a real-time understanding of what needs to be replenished and when, rather than making assumptions. Each of these examples is a way in which a city can reduce friction to create a more seamless experience.

A smarter city reduces the friction of red tape. Imagine what a city would look like if there were fewer blind spots and greater transparency when it comes to the number of functions that occur within an urban setting. Citizens would have full transparency into how funds are used, how resources are allocated and how the city is truly run. While some argue this is too utopian of a view, cloud-based technologies are already paving the way for cities to shed greater clarity and insights into their everyday functions. Simply put, a city is collection of systems that are all intertwined. Friction and inefficiencies occur when there are blind spots and areas where uncertainties exist. Could digital bring clarity and insight into these areas? The answer is absolutely.

Smart cities are becoming a reality due to greater access to cloud computing and digital assets. Digitization is already catalyzing transformative changes that can reduce friction and open up supply chains and cities they operate in.

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