All Change. Time to Review

This will be my last blog here.  Last as smarter cities technical leader as well.  A new adventure beckons for 2014!

I have been given the chance to create something new.  More details to follow in the near future.  Look out for Know Now Information and the kn-i platform.   

As the title suggests I want to take this opportunity to take stock of the smarter cities market here in the UK.   I would argue that change is starting to happen.  More partners and clients are thinking in the right way when it comes to being smart.  Primarily this is a shift to managing your world through outcomes.  

Procurement are being challenged to think outcomes.  This is creating a demand for smart information.  What is not yet in place are those wide industry adopted benchmarks.  A lack of trust pervades this space.  

I do see glimmers of hope though as trusted partners are now being tasked to drive outcomes-as-a-service for citizens.  These are often seen as being 'Innovative'. So not the norm. Yet.  This is triggering the 'right' type of conversation. Those involved in the discussion understand that having information is great, but what counts is acting upon it.  Having the power to change approach, action or policy is key to being able to realise benefits.  

What next though?  Let us remember that this market is still immature.  I would argue this means massive opportunity still exists for new services and innovations. Most of which have yet to be created.   The first I think will be driven by the shift to more personalised and localised informatiion delivery.  The relentless rise of the smartphone as your primary internet interface will continue to grow.  Location based services will be first to have trusted business benefits.  As they say it is all about Location! Location! Location!

A second positive trend is the growing positive track record of business' that focus on sustainability.  This is simply good business, good for the balance sheet and your customers.  Let alone CSR and environmental benefits.  Sustainability and a gradual drfit to a circular economy re-inforces the outcomes-as-a-service mode of operation and consumption. 

Barriers to entry are being reduced across a number of areas which is my third positive observation.  The cost of compute - from the Cloud to the smartphone is following Moores law and benefiting us all; the adoption of standards to guarantee interoperability is reducing risk and allowing SME's to play on the same pitch as large corporates; the availability of pervasive 4G mobile is bringing your home internet experience to your pocket.   This changes your consumption pattern and offers new opportunities, as well as providing us with vast amounts of data.    

The final element is this growing realisation that collaboration, risk sharing and shared delivery mean the sum is greater than the parts.  The net net is this behaviour further drives the need for smooth information flow.  This is because it aids in establishing trust across partners and enables outcomes to be used as a measure of shared success.  Especially if partners and stakeholders have different motivations and expectations from a collaboration.   

What I can see though is that 2014 will be a year of change.  Exciting times ahead for us all.   Good luck!


Smarter Transport Trends

I recently gave a presentation to the CPT Scotland Conference.  The theme of the pitch was to look at the future of Smarter Transport in Scotland.   The nub of the presentation was that change is in our midst and Scotland is in a great position to prosper in the future.   This is because Scotland hjas a number of world leading transport providers; plus, with its regulatory freedom Scotland has a unique opportunity to become a smart transport champion and centre of excellence

The changes that I predict will happen include:  The move to a multi-modal world;  smart ticketing that will react to changes as the situation demands;  closer alignment of traveler needs to providers ability to supply and better utilisation of assets.  All as a result of harnessing the information now being generated by people, machines (buses, trams) and networks (roads, railways and IT!).

Check out this you tube video of Smarter Mobility

However, not changing behaviour in a smart transport world will see today's transport providers becoming marginalised.  They will simply be providing moving assets that collect people and drop them off.  Control of the customer, their experience and the travel outcomes  they demand will migrate to other entities, (such as retailers or mobile phone companies).  

The future of transport I envisage for Scotland is one that is collaborative, information intensive and outcomes measured.   Fantastic rural connectivity is blown away by the quality of service that a seamless, safe and secure public transport network in the urban districts provides.   Scotland is now multi-modal and covered by a single smart ticketing regime.  The transport authority will rapidly respond and apply changes in capacity  based on prediction. 

How to go from today to the future outlined above is of course not an easy task.  Yet, the first steps are being realised in Scotland.  Firstly, a collaborative approach is being embraced.  Secondly, using information to seek new outcomes is being investigated.  Finally, the transport authorities are looking for new approaches that embrace a smarter transport model.  Next step is to bring this all together.  

Why monitor stuff? Got an answer now...

Today I was at the Centre for Smart Infrastructure & Construction (CSIC) .

An excellent morning discussing structural health monitoring of bridges.    The CSIC team were searching for for feedback from the industry partners that their research was heading in the right direction.


During the session I could not stop thinking about the similarities between monitoring of a physical infrastructure and the monitoring that is undertaken in the IT layer.   The challenge when monitoring IT though is often striking a balance between delivering function and delivering a system that can be run efficiently.  This same challenge is evident in the physical world too. 


However, in the bridges, tunnels & structures domain, a clear business case for monitoring can be made simply on the operational cost reduction.   The fact the same data can improve modelling, reduce risk and extend the financial health of an asset is a bonus.


I left the session with a spring in my step.  Helped by some sunshine of course.  But I do detect one grey cloud on the horizon.  The asset owner was still sqabbling over who should pay!   This is important and requires more focus.   Yet I am confident that the case will be made that the business case for this monitoring data can be successfully made.   Sunshine returns!

Transport Systems Catapult news.. now what next?

Just seen this annoucement regarding the new Transport Systems Catapult CEO   Great news!



So alongside the appointment of Will Whitehorn as chairman the UK transport domain can hopefully see some activities being kicked off.    So what should be the first project?  Well I know that one area that would be good to solve is the concept of transferability....


Transferability is recognising the need for a collaborative approach to intelligent transport.   Yet also being realistic about the needs of the different stakeholders and investors involved in delivering & using a smarter transport system.    In that different entities will have different speeds and motivations when it comes to measuring any RoI in smarter transport.  Plus, by enabling a collaborative approach the data is worth more collectively than stuck in a silo.   Yet how to pay for this collective data and its successful exploitation?  That is ensure sustainable transferability. 


I would like to promote the idea of a 'Travel Hub' as the way we can all resolve this thorny issue.   The Travel Hub is a data exchange and mart.   Which allows for the easy transfer of data sets to different users.   With some transfers attracting a payment.   With a 'tax' on use to pay for the ongoing servicing of the platform.   


Travel Hub needs a little cash to build a more detailed business case.   I think it worthwhile as it would be an ideal road test for the coming together of all the transport disciplines.    Plus,  it will put the UK at the forefront of solving global transport dilemmas and a Travel Hub would assist the UK in its move to mobility,   All good reasons to give it a go!


Smarter Cities on the Gartner Curve - Trough or Slope?

So  looking at this Gartner curve from  July last year on Emerging Technology, I would argue that the roller coaster of goodies that make up a Smarter City - Sensors, Cloud, M2M, Big Data - are all mooching in the trough.  Which means that it can only go one way. Up.  

Governance is really really key.


I have over the last few weeks been having a number of discussions around the creation and standards for a smarter city.    Culminating last week with a very interesting first review of PAS 181 - a Smart City Framework.  This is activity being undertaken and led by BSI.  


In a smarter city it is impossible to predict what technology will be able to do in the future.   Therefore, establishing a set of principles will ensure that a certain amount of predictability and stability can be expected.  This is important, especially when it comes to raising investment for smarter city projects.  


A standard however is slightly different.  It is a mark in the sand, (a starting point perhaps in a smarter cities context).     Standards need to be kept, maintained and invested in.  Standards sound like hard work... 

However, I know that an outcome from the discussions to date is the need to recognise that a certain set of ingredients ensures a smarter city will have a greater chance of success, and thus worthy of being seen to operate to a standard. 


One of these ingredients will be Governance.   Not the most exciting topic I realise.  But GOVERNANCE is probably more important than the decisions actually made.  As at least a well governed smart city framework will at least have owners and a community that cares - i.e. you can change course!

The governance discussions I am now having at a project level are very similar to those I had during the early SOA deployments in the early 00's. 


The key here though is that in a smart c ity, multiple engineering disciplines need to talk to each other seamlessly.    So the dictionary in PAS 180 (A standard perhaps!?) will be critical to keeping all us engineers on the same page. 


All in all, the coming standards from BSI PAS 180, 181 & 182 - are going to help make the smarter cities world a little more staid and boring, which is just what a young upstart sometimes needs. 


Implications of a Smarter City

I did a pitch today at the Winchester Business Conference where  I focused on the positive outcomes that a sustainable and  smarter world will enable for a community.    The end message is that the citizens of Winchester are sitting on a gold mine of opportunity.   


I listed the implications that are driving this opportunity.  Which in their own right are worthy of a blog entry all of their own... Here is the list..

  • Sustainability is essential.
  • Citizen Engagement, Empowerment, Enablement.
  • Geospatial referencing – Location Location Location!
  • Mobility of people, goods and services.
  • Global thinking.  Local in delivery.
  • Data Value Chains that provide Intelligent Information.
  • Convergence of engineering disciplines.
  • New business Opportunities and  'disruptive' platforms.
  • Rise of the Third sector and Social Enterprise
  • Triple Bottom Line - people, planet, profit!
  • Underpinned by Open Data. 

I will explore these themes in later blogs. Key though is that embracing a sustainable and smarter approach is not only good for the planet, but is great for your pocket too.  Now that sounds smart!

I am a fan of the Third Industrial Revolution

I have been out of action for a few days and took the time to read an excellent book by Jeremy Rifkin - "The Third Industrial Revolution - How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World".


The message that Rifkin is providing in this book is incredibly compelling.   In short, the world is entering its next revolution based on collaboration, renewable & sustainable energy, open data and looking for more than a simple profit statement.  


The first Industrial revolution based on coal and steam power, then was taken over by the second industrial revolution based on Oil and Automobile.   The Third industrial Revolution (TIR) is based on the premise that sustainable outcomes are the end game and that means renewable and sustainable energy coupled with open and collaborative data.  This will allow smart grids & collective switching.   But this is not just about technology this is also about society, economics and politics. 


I have always thought that the sustainable approach to a smarter city construct would mean that the old measures of profit-loss and win-lose as they are no longer adequate in explaining why being smart is good needed to be added to.    


Being sustainable does mean being smart.  Therefore, being smart leads to a different set of measurements and motivations  being required.  Capturing what is measured and how that measure performs over time and against its peers will be an interesting study.   These early studies will shape our thinking and the pace of change.  We are right at the start of this journey.   How cool is that!


In short, I recommend that you add this book to your reading lists.   The Third Industrial Revolution is now on!

Understanding the value of a Smarter City

So we are having fun talking to various cities here in the UK.  A common discussion point is  how these cities and regions will become more sustainable and smarter places to live and work.   However, a consistent question raised is:  " This being smarter is all well and good, but can you prove it?".


The answer is of course I can prove that taking information from a sensor and doing something useful will work.  After all, it is just a bit of data, some soggy string connecting it all and something of interest entertaining your eyeballs.   The killer question is.  So What? 


So What is key, because if it cannot be answered then it does beg the question... why bother with the hassle of enabling  information streams, then analysing this information, coming up with something new and then acting on it?  Simply creating a stream of data to tell you what you probably know (e.g. in traffic jam) is not good enough.  What is required is a suitable action to take advantage of intelligent insight.   Therefore, a transformation in process & approach is also part of this move to sustainability. 


Therefore,  to maximise the value of a smarter initiative or outcome, it is  necessary  to change approach and delivery too.    This then maximes the return on investment made in obtaining the 'Intelligent Information' in the first place.  


However, because this planet of ours is still in the starting blocks of its smarter journey,  what is not fully codified or understood is how for a specific outcome that is desired or a challenge to be overcome, what is it exaclty is made smarter.    Who is the beneficiary of being smart and why the RoI for one entitiy is not the same for others.

NOTE: I do not see this as a weakness by the way.  This is because in comparitive scenarios - e.g. healthcare - health professionals still do not have a cure for cancer, yet we still treat this disease successfully!


So for 2013, I think we have to start building on known facts.    This is my focus for this year.   It will be interesting to see how this unravels....



Are we there yet?

It has been a while since I last posted.   Mainly down to shear weight of work!  Bit like traffic congestion really!


Some exciting developments that have been keeping me busy.  Firstly, an exciting new smarter transport pilot in London.   Sworn to secrecy, but this is the start of a very important business case build to enabling a smarter London to begin.

Secondly, helping Southampton City Council with the Future City Demonstrator bid.  Best of luck to the city that wins!    The demonstrators are very key to unlocking the value in making a city smarter.  Plus, the referenceability of the demonstrator as well as the showcase of doing things smarter, will be great for UK Plc. 


I will  be back for more musings later....

Are Smarter Cities the Key to Social Mobility?

This link takes you to  an excellent blog called the Urban Technologist, which is written by my colleague Dr Rick Robinson.


Rick interviewed me... and this is a record of our chat.  More to come of these, as the topic of smarter cities is vast, complex, convaluted and brand new! 


I hope you enjoy the read as much as Rick & I enjoyed the chat.


Arcticle from Base London - Smarter Transport in a Smarter City

Smarter Transport in a Smarter city


A successful, sustainable London will need to have a sustainable transportation system. It is estimated that over 4,000 Londoners die early every year from air pollution, primarily due to traffic. Congestion is estimated to cost Londoners over £5 billion in wasted time, increased energy use and lost productivity. We cannot continue as we are, adding to the toll of unnecessary deaths, the congestion and the waste.


A sustainable transportation system is, by necessity, based on a strategy to lower emissions and lower congestion. We lower emissions by reducing the number of “combustion engines” and reducing the number and length of their journeys. Congestion occurs when our transportation system becomes saturated. Bottlenecks can be addressed by either better matching supply with demand or by providing more efficient throughput.


There are many well-recognised methods of managing supply and demand. Where a system has over-capacity, incentives need to be created to improve utilisation; where there is under-capacity (a system under stress) alternatives need to be encouraged. Price, time, convenience are all variables at the disposal of operators.


But this is all much easier said than done. How do we turn strategies into reality? At the heart of the answer lies data.


In today's highly instrumented and inter-connected world, travellers, transport providers and regulators can harness the data that technology creates and enables. Data is the common element that binds sustainable transport solutions together. From data we derive intelligence and the insight that can help London to sustainably move both people and goods.


As transportation and traveller data is collected, distributed, analysed and acted upon, it becomes a new data value chain of trusted Intelligent Information. Participants are not only travellers and operators but third parties too - who add value and create new business models for themselves. In such a scenario all parties are simultaneously providing and consuming (or reacting) to the same trusted information.


A key plank of a sustainable transportation policy is to move travellers out of their cars and onto alternative viable “transport outcomes”. This can be realised not just through a shift to public transportation (which is generally considered more sustainable) but potentially to walking, cycling or even not travelling at all. It is access to Intelligent Information that enables smarter, more sustainable transport outcomes.


Although London is already blessed with great public transport, the ideal system is fully multi-modal. This is one in which the interchange between transport modes (train, car, bus etc) is seamless and the balance between available supply and demand is efficiently met. One way to achieve this goal is through the provision of a trusted and real-time integrated journey planner used by both travellers and transport providers.


A personalised journey planner would advise travellers of their optimum multi-modal travel arrangements based on criteria such as time available to complete a journey, current location, destination, the expected efficiency and comfort of the journey, carbon impact and even price! It would be fed by real-time information on the availability of transport options as well as taking into account what other travellers are predicted to do.


Smartphones are the catalyst that are driving personalised journey planners. In addition to GPS information, they enable a rich data experience and provide a platform for the increasingly useful new forms of 'apps'. Furthermore since the smartphone can be a wallet and a translator too, a person could potentially now travel unimpeded by traditional barriers, and with an unprecedented quality of information. One can easily imagine a tourist in London provided with access to all of the information needed to navigate around the city - in their local language and using the same e-ticket benefits that Londoners enjoy.


The technology behind IBM's Watson computer, might soon help make the daily commute a whole lot easier - and safer. Watson represents a tremendous breakthrough in the ability of computers to understand natural human language. It can digest the equivalent of hundreds of millions of pages of material from books, reports and articles. In three seconds or less, it can pluck the correct answer from an ocean of unstructured data.


So, what does all that mean for the London commute? London already collects massive amounts of traffic data from sensors embedded in the road, traffic cameras, taxis and buses equipped with GPS devices. Using Watson technology, drivers and travellers could receive personalised answers to a broad range of travel-related questions, such as: “What's the best route to work if I leave now?” or “Will it be better if I wait 15 minutes?”


The ability to seamlessly coordinate multi-modal transportation is a tough balancing act between many factors including, for example, schedules and the number of potential passengers. Watson-like capabilities would see patterns in the traffic and real-time information based on current passenger demand . Transport operators could pose questions such as: “What happens if we delay this train for a minute or two because the bus that most of our passengers use to get to this station is running late and the next train isn’t for 20 minutes?”


When it comes to traffic, even real-time information is often not fast enough, predicting the future is much better. For example when you hear about a major traffic jam over the radio, it’s often too late to do anything to avoid it. If you’re lucky, you’re far enough away from the problem that you can take an alternate route or use public transportation. Predicting the hold up before it has happened and then correcting the outcome so as to lessen the impact on as many travellers as possible is now achievable using sophisticated traffic prediction modelling.


Recent IBM research has highlighted that London's drivers spend, on average, nearly 20 minutes looking for a parking space. Quite apart from the inconvenience, the additional driving simply adds to the congestion. Worldwide experts estimate that this causes 30 percent of urban traffic congestion. However, Smart technology is already in operation in some US cities, which removes the hassle of finding a parking space. What's more, linking such schemes to revenue collection and demand management policies allows operators to offer flexible pricing according to circumstances.


Smarter Transport is not just about people but freight too. The movement of freight, and in particular bulky freight, is being impacted by the Low Emissions Zone in London. Initiatives, such as the increasing use of the River Thames to move bulky goods that are not time critical, have been successful and are growing in number. For example, shifting freight off the road and into rail/road modal transfer sites could deliver significant improvements in sustainable freight transport. However these modern versions of the once popular freight yards, require new investment to establish the sites, and so is realistically still some way away.


New technology could offer other alternatives. We could use enhanced data analytics to help bring goods to you more efficiently, by matching where you are to where the goods have come from. For example your Amazon order could be handed to you as you step off the platform at Waterloo station because the delivery driver for the logistics company is aware you are close by. Technology could also provide a mechanism to enable logistics companies to share free space in delivery vans. By encouraging the use and sharing of data many more opportunities will be created to achieve smarter, more sustainable outcomes.


Smarter transport is therefore about getting the best from the existing transport infrastructure and using data to make sustainable choices. After all, we cannot build many more new highways across London, nor add more lanes to existing roads. More and better use of the data we already gather is more cost-effective and our best hope towards improved sustainability. It will involve operators, travellers and third parties being active members of the data value chain and embracing new technology.


I believe that Londoners and London will lead by example. The evidence is already there: the open data available from the Digital Store and the Congestion Charge Scheme - which was ahead of its time. Furthermore, embracing the new or setting a global trend has never been an issue for Londoners. Together we can lower emissions and lower congestion. Let's make London smarter and sustainable.



Chris Cooper

IBM Smarter Cities Architect



I am hosting a workshop on the harnessing of data in the move to mobility at Digital London on the 14th March.

Smarter Transport..what it really means

Smarter Transport is really about mobility. Which is really about harnessing a number of trends (inside and outside transport) that are all converging. This convergence comes in the form of policy and regulatory shift, a desire for a more sustainable economic model, new behaviours and business models and the ongoing encroachment of pervasive technology adoption. Backed up by the engineering disciplines (civil, mechanical, electrical, IT) converging too. The common convergence thread though is data. Turning this data into knowledge and then to action is the smart bit.

Transport Extra 2012 Power List

UK, New Transit , 07/12/2012: Power List 2012: Innovators & Pioneers

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