Why One Connected City Is Not A Connected City

ByEdwin Diender

September 11, 2020

Edwin Diender

Earlier this year I started this blog series by introducing the universal framework for smart city construction, visualized by a cube. A cube and its pieces are held together by a structure that allows each piece to move independently without breaking that structure.

The cube’s analogy can help understand and position each of the building blocks in smart city construction. But more specifically, the cube helps visualize the universal framework that holds all these pieces together. And which allows these pieces to move independently, without making the structure fall apart.

An introduction to the cube & universal concept. Watch in full here.

The core and center prices represent the brain and nervous system. Safe cities are the cornerstone of intelligent city construction, so its cornerstones stand for safety and security. And the edge or support pieces are the ecosystem.

From there the blog series continued with the implications for city managers, the role of eGovernance and how it evolves. And it moved via the intelligent city ecosystem and industry convergence onwards to why enterprises cannot compete on their own. You can find these posts (and my others) here.

Before moving into explaining why one connected city is not a connected city, let’s get back into context and recap the previous posts:

Implications for city managers, the role of eGovernance, & how this evolves

A key role of governments is to create the ecosystem that allows stakeholders and public-private partnerships to come together on business and smart city projects. Equally, government investment in national ICT infrastructures is essential not just to stimulate the digital economy, but to foster innovation and create a strong foundation for smart cities.

With a strong and intelligent ICT infrastructure, a government can establish a climate that attracts inward investment into the city and creates jobs.

For city managers and all stakeholders involved, the game is changing. And so the game plan must change. We need more holistic views rather than linear. The conversation needs to be about efficiency in daily operations and city management.

We cannot solve tomorrow’s problems with solutions of today. And the approaches of today probably don’t match and fit the journey of tomorrow. So, the universal infrastructure is helping to transform the role and the way city mayors and their teams currently take and uphold their responsibilities.

The intelligent city ecosystem and industry convergence

We’ve been talking about smart cities. But perhaps it’s worth clarifying the difference between smart vs intelligent. We can think of “smart” at more of a technological level – sensor, actuators, data collection, and a reactive response; for example, a smart street light that switches on and off when it senses a pedestrian.

By intelligent, I mean something that’s more akin to a connected system with intelligent control – again using the example of street lights, we can think of the system that connects all the street lights in a city. In this sense, intelligence is the true value driver and the culmination of smart technologies. Hence, from now on I will speak of intelligent cities.

Industry convergence leads to economies of scale and the better use of resources. It reduces repeated and wasted investments, creates a faster response, and ultimately delivers a better service for residents.

In the intelligent city context, governments guide and coordinate stakeholders with different priorities and goals to best utilize resources and outcomes and maximize budget efficiency.

Digital technologies like 5G, IoT, and AI can break down information silos and create a data-driven, platform + intelligence approach to collaboration. Digital technologies allow us to do better what we already do best – achieve ICT-powered industry convergence that can build efficient and sustainable intelligent cities.

Industry convergence operates under the universal framework of intelligent cities – it lets each building block move independently without breaking the overall structure.

Why enterprises cannot compete on their own

The world of today is a world of shared economies. The value is the economies of scale and shared benefits whereby the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As the cube analogy visualizes for us, the universal framework for intelligent city construction is like a wireframe in which all its pieces can move independently without making it fall apart.

As such there is a link between the separate pieces. Even in a true monopoly, there is a dependency of some sort.

Integrated and global supply chains are comprised with a wide array of suppliers, partners, goods and services. Collaboration across industries is leading to innovation and new business models where a shared economy means economies of scale, shared benefits, and the business engine of intelligent cities.

For enterprises, it means a new approach to partnerships, innovation, and transformation. The whole is more than the sum of its parts.

How intelligent cities will evolve into a connected city ecosystem

One connected city is not a connected city. To what does a connected city connect to if there is only one?

Thailand in Focus

The digital agenda of Thailand has several aspects, which can be considered ‘on their own’ and ‘isolated’. But mind you, these sections are already within a single digital agenda that makes them all part of a bigger picture.

The bigger picture explains digital transformation, industry convergence, eGovernment and eGovernance, initiatives to move the nation higher up the value chain by means of digital transformation, and so on. But it also indicates the ‘intelligent connectivity hubs’ and the way they are linked. In addition, each of these hubs has its own merits, its own identity, its own characteristics. And each comes with its own hierarchy of needs.

Now, imagine each intelligent connectivity hub as a cube: Bangkok as a governance and financial hub or cube. Chiangmai is an educational hub. Phuket as tourist and entrepreneurial hub or cube.

But more importantly, this indicates how these intelligent connectivity hubs, these separate cubes are inter-connected and work together, forming a nationwide shared-services center. Each being a building block,  an individual piece in a universal structure that allows each to move independently without breaking the structure.

And as such, creating an ecosystem of connected cities is a network of inter-connected cities. The visualization of that larger framework with each cube, inter-connected, can be visualized as such:

So let’s dive a bit deeper.

IOC – the intelligent operations center – can power this as the hub for the technology enablers

The ultimate goal of digital transformation is to equip cities with a digital brain. The emerging “city-wide computing” will integrate data across industries and domains to create huge business and social value. For inter-connected cities this will integrate data across regions and cities, creating huge business and social value across regions.

City management is a good example. Today, new safe city systems in countries like Singapore, Hungary, China, and Russia will enable centralized management across different departments, including public services, transportation, environmental protection, and water conservation. Imagine cross-regional collaboration.

If a landslide strikes in one area, all departments in the region will know about it. They can then work together to resolve the issue, across the region. The brains of each city will work together as a network of brains. Combined computing power.

Does it hinge on private-public partnerships and political will?

Success comes with challenges. A challenge for today’s scenarios is a shared vision and a team to execute this vision.

Are there barriers to implementing this?

Technically speaking there are no boundaries or barriers. In fact, there are many examples of nationwide shared services centers throughout the globe. The key issues mainly sits with regulations and lengthy approval processes; the so-called red tape.

Some approval processes are highly manual and analog, by origin. Things have to physically pass the desk of a person whom physically has to be available for signatures, authorization and what have you.

What other advantages will it give?

Resource-sharing, reducing inequality, greater collaboration, load-sharing and load-balancing, improved governance.

Tying it all together

In my next blog I will move into the hierarchy of needs for inter-connected intelligent cities. And how such hierarchy of needs fits perfectly within the cube analogy. Because each cube holds multiple geometrical shapes within itself, including multiple pyramid-shaped hierarchies of needs. 

Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.

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Edwin Diender

Chief Digital Transformation Officer & VP, Government & Public Sector Business Dept, Huawei

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