Being Smart About Technology

The city of New York has a bit of an issue.

When heavy rain inflicts itself onto Manhattan, sewage proceeds to be dumped into the harbour at an alarming rate – 27 billion gallons a year in fact. 

To try and combat this rate of pollution, there is now an app called ‘Don’t Flush Me’ which basically tells residents when it’s probably best to …. let it mellow, if you will.

It all works via technology – a sensor that measures water levels and creates a database.  When pollution is at high levels, users of the system are alerted so that they can do their part to manage New York’s sewage levels. 

Might not keep the alligators happy, but this is a fundamental way that citizens of a city can use technology to improve their own living conditions.

There’s a new ‘buzz word’ (how I’ve missed talking about buzz words recently…) doing the rounds recently – ‘smart cities’.  This refers to a future scenario when everything in a city, from the roads to the dustbins, are connected to a network and become ‘intelligent’ by being able to monitor themselves (it’s a similar notion to what I talked about in my ‘Internet of things’ blog post). 

With the ‘smart city’ trend, what gets talked about a lot is how businesses are coming up with ideas on how to make cities ‘better’.  Take Microsoft for example, who themselves took a ‘big data meets internet of things’ approach on their own campus in Redmond, Seattle. 

Microsoft compare the current status of cities to the 1987 movie Wall Street, when Michael Douglas stands on a beach and takes out a brick style phone, widely recognised as one of the first times a mobile phone was seen on film.

Darrell Smith, Director of Facilities and Energy of Microsoft (who was instrumental in the campus construction) says, “At first, all mobile phones were bricks – basically two-way radios. Now, in just a few short years, they have advanced to become a laptop in your hand….Buildings are still that brick phone. We want to get buildings to where phones are.”

Interesting, but what’s more interesting to me is not how businesses or governments are working out ways to technologise (new word) cities – it’s more the impact of that technology, and how people come to use it, and then be able to manage it.  

Take for example Cheshire East council, for whom technology has completely changed the way they deliver care. 

An app, used by council staff out on the road, can be downloaded onto a tablet and is used to take down residents’ details.  This data is then fed into a system which can then be shared with other agencies within the council area. 

As Alan Allman, senior IT manager at the council says in this article, if a member of the fire service, for example, was making a routine safety check for an elderly resident, they could also update the system if the resident happens to mention that they need help with their meals. 

No more duplicate visits – the information is shared and can be sorted out remotely.  And the member of the fire service who made the initial visit can update the system on the go, which is so important for today’s increasingly mobile workforce (for more details on this subject see my recent blog on CRM in the Cloud).

Residents themselves will soon be able to log in and update the system themselves, putting the user in control. 

We spend a lot of time talking to our customers about getting their infrastructure right, so that it allows their whole business to operate at the rate it needs to. 

They need the right products and components so that duplication and mistakes within the business are minimal, and they need the right support so that the system doesn’t fall over.  The third side of the triangle is the service TSG delivers which pulls everything together, and ensures that our customers’ are getting the most out of their IT spend. 

Because if you’re not careful, and you don’t think about your IT environment as a whole, you risk flooding your system with…. let’s call it sewage…. it becomes convoluted and doesn’t do what you need it to do.

Businesses are unique, so it’s also about taking the time to figure out how to isolate that really useful piece of information (such as the water levels in New York) that will end up making a difference.

And much like the ‘Don’t Flush me’ example, the system only works if people use it.  So for smart cities to take off effectively, citizens very much need to be involved in the process. 

Technology alone is of little use – it’s the way we use and manage it when its full potential becomes realised.