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'How to avoid creating a smart city dinosaur'

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I used to work for one of the most innovative computer companies: Digital Equipment Corporation. It designed, manufactured and sold an excellent proprietary IT system. Clients got the IT they needed, and Digital was successful for decades.

Then along came a new IT system. This was technically inferior to Digital’s, but a lot cheaper, more flexible and usable on a variety of suppliers’ hardware platforms. Customers discovered they could innovate faster and more cost-effectively.

How did Digital respond? It created its own version of the new IT system, but focused on convincing customers to keep using its old products.

But customer after customer realised that using a mix of technologies from multiple suppliers was more valuable, allowing them to provide different – often better – services.

Digital’s fortunes declined, and it was eventually bought by Compaq. It had become a dinosaur and gone extinct.

There was nothing wrong with its original system, but customers no longer needed the things it was good at.

Those working on smart cities should take note. Cities’ needs are changing rapidly. Rising populations and citizen expectations are placing more demands across cities’ components and services.

Existing infrastructure may no longer meet the new requirements, and the original suppliers may not be able to respond.

Technology changes fast. It becomes outdated far quicker than ever before, and this needs to be understood and planned for.

Cities must think about different acquisition strategies over different timescales. They also must be able to easily and quickly replace, update or augment their infrastructure to take advantage of new capabilities.

Cities also must understand that without this integrated flexibility a prolonged acquisition process may lead to outdated technology being installed.

And one size doesn’t fit all. Where once a single product met most requirements, today’s smart cities have many new requirements that can only be met with a range of different, coexisting devices and technologies. This mix must be understood, actively planned for and managed.

Whatever initiative is under way, it must be sufficiently flexible to be reconfigured, repurposed or replaced. Truly smart cities will understand and choreograph this. Those that don’t will rue their failure to do so.

In our case, our Smart Hubs will never be the only intelligent street furniture in any location, and nor should they be.

They will always be one component in a smart city ecosystem of devices, offering different capabilities to residents where they are located. We are ready to work in that environment. But are our cities?

Steve Peel, senior executive, Urban Innovation, Pulse Smart Hub

Column sponsored and supplied by Pulse Smart Hub

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