Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The invisible infrastructure

A recent survey published by Arquiva and YouGov has a few interesting observations about what is happening in the UK “Smart Cities” movement. I haven't yet seen the study itself, but the press release and associated info-graphic make some interesting points. 

If you haven't been following things over there, various cities in the UK have been pushing the “Smart City” rock for a while, and are hot on using the Internet of Things to make their cities safer, better, and more efficient.

Unfortunately, the populace seems to have missed the bandwagon:
  • 96% are not aware of any “Smart Cities” initiatives.
  • 29% though that the main bebefit of a Smart City would be a better living environment, but 25% couldn't name any particular benefit.
  • Traffic Congestion was the most commonly cited area needing improvement (57%), but only 33% listed it as a spending priority.
  • The second biggest issue that people wanted fixed (parking) drew only 7% of the survey population as a high spending priority.
  • 48% of those surveyed said that the earliest Smart City benefits were at least 5 years away.

Perhaps the problem is that the bandwagon isn't going where the people want to go.

Maybe some of those figures are influences that some things (traffic and parking) we love to gripe about, but know deep down aren't really “quality of life” issues.

It's possible that more of the money should have been spent on telling people about the great things they're doing, even at the cost of having fewer doing great things.

I suspect that we are seeing a fundamental aspect of human nature at work. People need to see something happening before they believe in change. The difference between a “Smart” city and any other city (or between the “Smart” grid and the way we've always done electricity) is information. Gathering, moving, accessing, and analyzing data. You can't see it happening, it weighs nothing, and we have come to expect information to be “free (as in beer)” in addition to being “free (as in speech)”.

In short, it's pretty much invisible and we don't see why we should pay for it.

If we can solve that problem, we'll be making real headway on gaining mindshare. I invite your thoughts.

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