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Symbiosis is key for digitising surging cities

Roughly 3.5 billion people across the world live in cities, with the United Nations expecting this to almost double by 2050, stating that successful urb...

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|Aug 30|magazine9 min read

Roughly 3.5 billion people across the world live in cities, with the United Nations expecting this to almost double by 2050, stating that successful urban planning will be key to managing this influx. Transport, energy and utilities, and public services organisations will have to support this population growth, for which data analysis and collaboration with industry stakeholders will likely be the key to success.

Singapore is at the top of the list for preparing for this increase in urban dwellers. Winning the accolade for the smartest city in the world this year, it is in the process of creating a virtual representation of the city, deploying a vast number of sensors and cameras, to do things like helping monitor the cleanliness of its public spaces, storing the dimensions and construction materials of buildings, and assisting with traffic management. While Singapore is leading the way, we cannot ignore the steps that have already been taken in the UK.

If we look to Glasgow, smart street lights have been installed that can record air quality, noise and movement to save energy. While, Milton Keynes is using parking sensors to improve parking infrastructure and has also launched installations, such as an Open Energy Map, to empower local communities to better understand their fuel usage. Looking more broadly, the UK government has pledged for every home and business to have a smart meter by the end of 2020. The overall aim of this initiative is to achieve a low-carbon, efficient and reliable way of delivering gas and electricity, while also being a foundation for an eventual smart energy grid that aims to further green our processes and reduce wastage.

While there is no doubt that there is an insurmountable amount of data being collected from devices and sensors across the UK, this data is ineffective unless we analyse it effectively and turn it into valuable insight. Being able to collaborate and share data between different stakeholders involved, from local government, to construction companies, and energy and technology providers, will be key. For smart cities to truly work, we will need to create an eco-system whereby all services of a connected city are truly symbiotic.

Investing in infrastructure, integrating tools such as big data platforms and Internet of Things (IoT), and having appropriate storage requirements are a must. This means cities can analyse data on a big scale. Stakeholders also need to be upskilled with the knowledge of how to integrate big data analytics into the decision-making process before headway can be made. Eventually, they will be able to use analytics and algorithms to make precise predictions that will benefit everyone, such as foreseeing traffic congestion, knowing how infectious diseases may spread and responding to power outages faster.

UK cities are on the right path to solving these challenges and synchronising data - the 2020 smart metre pledge by the UK government and individual city initiatives show this. Just last year, we also saw the BIM Task Group unveil its ten-year plan for ‘Digital Built Britain’ which includes an open data policy and BIM Level 3 being used to support the growth of smart cities, services and grids. Now, we just need to create a collaborative environment in order to make truly smart, connected cities a reality.

Joe Campbell, Senior Director, Engineering Construction and Operations, Cognizant

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Read the August 2016 issue of Construction Global magazine