Access all areas

Thinking Highways
By David Hytch December 22, 2014 09:01

Access all areas

MyCity, Smart City, Future City and why we need another name. David Hytch introduces the concept of the Smart Conurbation

It is without doubt one of the marketing wonders of recent years that Future and Smart Cities have come so far in such a short space of time. A cynic might remark that with big data, cloud computing, digital media, the app scene and smartphones, there was a need for using all these in one package. I believe that in some cases companies have spent a lot of resources in promoting their wares in the hope they would convince people with money to spend that this was the way to safeguard the future.

58 Access all areas 2

Future cities will need a digital infrastructure in place that includes upgraded network and Broadband technology

I do not doubt that we have reached a point where there is an amazing array of technologies and systems that can be deployed to ensure our towns and cities are developing in the best way to deliver better services for the citizen, stronger and sustained economic growth, deliver education and community services that enable city administrations and agencies to compete and recover ground lost to European cities and drive forward the changes in governance necessary to reflect the future state here in the UK.

The approach that I am suggesting is to be oriented around the citizen, whether resident or visitor, and develop the services from that perspective, and to then look at the way services are delivered, processes are managed and new technologies can be brought to bear more quickly. Starting with a strong product and service portfolio, and building on the experience in transaction management, including a healthy dose of Digital techniques and working closely with partners – both large and SME – will ensure we have the most appropriate set of offerings.

Before I am reminded of my previous words I would add that we look at the way cities are developing their strategies and find the combination that works in many different circumstances. Some places do need a radical shift in the way they deliver base ICT services. Updating the website or opening up Social Media is not enough to get sustainable engagement. In looking across a number of cities the issues range from infrastructure, digital and analogue, organisational barriers and governance.


As a former CIO in a public authority, one of the biggest issues we faced were the silos that bedevil an organisation. Not only does this lead to, and perpetuate inefficiency but more importantly it impedes the free flow of data. The way business processes are run is also likely to be sub-optimal and a cause of disruption to the citizen and other stakeholders in the business community. In the past the suggestion was that the private sector would provide the answer, and whilst there may be some things the public sector can learn there are already many examples of good practice in the public sector that can be used.

Locking data in application-based datasets is a real barrier to moving forward an approach for Thinking Cities and the networks, transport included, that support them. Not as some might suggest by installing a whole new system but by building an approach for the particular circumstances involved. This might mean building an umbrella data platform or replacing systems in a managed way over a period of time.

58 Access all areas 3

Delivery mechanisms: Skype, Smart TVs and set-top-box technology of the likes of Sky brings internet access into the home without additional devices

Delivering operational cost savings is a key part of every city’s activities and these must be supported by a business case and benefits realisation plan. Benefits realisation has been part of our lives for a while and to ensure the city in the future is getting the best deal we need to ensure that post project reviews are implemented o learn and share the lessons learnt.

The focus on technology and product lines as a Smart City package should be widened to include the architects, developers (property not software), landlords, business community members, education, health and leisure providers. All of these people can be part of the future development of a city and yet are often not engaged by the technology community until too late to make a difference.

To deliver Thinking Cities we need to encourage the consultant engineers, architects, quantity surveyors and other professions to be part of this as they are frequently on the first engagement for the design of new infrastructure and buildings.

For a city to be equipped for the future there are a number of technologies that should be in place. These include digital infrastructure in the form of IP networks using either upgraded networks, the Governments Broadband funding streams or local networks that are available. Private networks owned by the local authority provide a good base, and this is also the place that private and public sector and academia and the research organisations need to work better together.


The exciting prospect for cities and conurbations in the next decade comes from the current generation of technology and systems and the prospect for the next generation as well. Moving to a citizen-centric view and the combination of digital media and channels provides the ability to promote and project services directly to those who need them, overcoming some of the physical constraints that exist today where bricks and mortar have been the norm for so long. I hope that city authorities will make better use of some of the fixed facilities in combination with digital services. This may be of considerable advantage to segments that may for a variety of reasons have found it difficult to engage or take advantage of the type of services offered.

Distance learning should make it possible for anyone to get qualifications that will enhance their opportunities for work or enjoying leisure time. Delivery should include techniques such as those used by Skype, Facetime or OCS. The importance of digital infrastructure underlines the possibilities that this approach can unlock, particularly as the development of the broadcast services and internet ready TV from organisations such as Samsung or set-top boxes from Sky, BTVision and others brings access to the internet into the home without any additional devices.

58 Access all areas 4

Location mapping pushes information and services as well improving planning and systems through data collection

Another great opportunity exists in taking transport systems to a level where they not only provide the operational systems and the things we are seeing as commonplace for smartcards and passenger information but the ability to provide information in a more integrated and intelligent way, again as centric to the traveller. The technology to identify location and use that data to not only be able to push information and services to the passenger, driver or operations staff but to use their location as part of the picture for collecting data and using it intelligently to improve services, planning and systems. Across transport the evolution of the pervasive sensor network and supporting the Internet of Things that can be connected all the time, and the computing power to use this data to drive new and better solutions is a key element in the Thinking City. The work being done by the automobile industry in connecting their vehicles both private and commercial is beginning to become a part of the way we think about the City in the future.

The advent of the Thinking City and the Thinking Conurbation comes as a result of not just one thing but a series of developments in technology, systems and applications that are driving forward our capabilities. Those cities with far-sighted leadership, both political and executive, are embracing the outcomes from this in driving their economy, jobs, dealing with deprivation, providing education to improve the skill base, and ensuring that their cities, and conurbations, are the most competitive and attractive for people to live, work and visit.


David Hytch is a freelance transportation and smart conurbation consultant

Thinking Highways
By David Hytch December 22, 2014 09:01