Smart Cities & Software Development: Closing the Gap
18:33 27 August 2019
The Internet of Things does not stop at home appliances, wireless sensor networks or even electric vehicles. As populations continue to grow towards modernization and technological efficiency, cities today seek innovative ways to become Smart Cities. In this context, software development is expected to play a major role in the unfolding of smarter urbanizations.
In short, a Smart City is all about interconnectivity. Several examples can be found around the world, such as the online-friendly LinkNYC kiosks in New York City, which provides Wifi and access to relevant city services; the open-source Flood Alert Network in the UK, used to inform citizens about the chance and level of risk of a flood; or the computerized management of public services (e.g. garbage collection and recycling) in Madrid through the MiNT platform.
Cases like these and many others have set the benchmarking grounds for Smart City nearshore software development. According to Brian Peccarelli, the co-chief operating officer for Thomson Reuters, about two-thirds of all cities are investing time and resources in smart technology, with spending projected to reach US$ 135 billion by the year 2021.
As new technologies become more accessible and popular, the need for sophisticated software solutions arises within the urban landscape. Along with a considerable amount of Smart City project announcements, the software development field prepares to face new challenges.
What makes a Smart City Smart?
While there is no denying the global enthusiasm for large-scale technological problem-solving, there is still a gap between software development and Smart Cities. A city can not be called smart just because it has free WiFi in its main avenues. What is more, the definition of the smart concept will vary among cultures.
So, what makes a Smart City Smart? First, it is crucial to understand the needs and behaviors of its citizens. As Remington Tonar suggests, “smart city technologies are meant to improve citizens' lives, but true improvement begins with improving people, not just the places they live.” In other words, technology must fulfill the purpose of connecting humans over devices.
Take the Finnish capital of Helsinki, for example. By having the goal to co-create smart infrastructure and services with its citizens, Helsinki actively promotes the use of open data in cooperative platforms. Current initiatives have already improved local daily life, as the city administration continues to encourage private investment in smart solutions.
This way, programs like the Open Knowledge Foundation Finland provide a space for experimentation in which software experts and enthusiasts can compile innovative ideas. The Smart Kalasatama District is a result of this, where over 200 stakeholders —including city departments, residents, small and medium enterprises and other organizations —are working to implement smart and sustainable services in over 20 urban projects.
Cultivating a Smart Software Development Ecosystem
Smart City projects often run into the same problem: the short-term mindset of local authorities. Motivated by budget limitations, political office leaders tend to address urgent crises over strategic long-term investing plans. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of work to be done between accessibility, assets, and infrastructure for smart technology.
However, short-term concerns can be eased with short-term results, even when dealing with long-term goals. Such is the case of the City of San José, California, where the investment in LED light poles with mobile broadband connectivity was justified under the US$ 9 million in energy savings per year resulting from the digitally-managed lights.
Furthermore, a big part of the solution to this problem hovers around a very specific skillset: innovative software development that anticipates expandability solutions. Even when starting small, keeping the bigger picture in mind can be decisive for any successful smart initiative. Following the ideas of Craig Nevill Manning, Head of Engineering at SideWalk Labs, Smart City developers should think not just about apps themselves, but entire ecosystems where new applications can bloom.
This is why Smart Cities today are putting their trust in open source platforms, allowing lots of different actors to play a part in such an ecosystem. There is no shortage of Smart City cases and projects. In fact, now more than ever people see technology as an enabler of participation and improvement in their quality of life.
Groundbreaking and even fashionable technology solutions can surely make life more efficient and convenient. Optimization of everyday tasks such as commutes would help almost anyone. But Smart Cities must go beyond straightforward solutions, and focus on how the benefits technology brings will enrich its citizens, and how citizens can contribute back to the city.
Whenever positive impacts on the quality of life are set as goals, software development can improve the living standards of any community, from city navigation and city services mobile apps to smart security services and customized energy management. Emerging technologies are already in motion, bringing modern-day urban problems closer to the digital realm.
Over time, the world will keep finding new ways to define what makes a Smart City smart. At the same time, cities and populations will continue to evolve, following their highly dynamic nature. Nonetheless, as long as citizens are kept in the center of the matter, software development will be able to lead the transition to smarter, safer, more efficient cities.