In November, Clarity participated in the annual Smart City Expo World Congress, the largest Smart City conference in the world. We showcased our next generation air monitoring solution as part of the U.S. delegation and immersed ourselves into the emerging Smart City trends and technologies for the span of the three day conference held in Barcelona.

The urban metropolitan of Barcelona felt like the perfect place to be discussing and defining the future of smart cities. The lights were bright and the coffee was abundant as almost 19,000 attendees across cultures and generations converged on the exhibition floor and gathered in the meeting rooms to learn and share industry insights.

Smart Cities are Cities for the People

In line with this year’s theme of “Empower Cities, Empower People”, the event put emphasis on citizen empowerment as the rising underdog challenging the standard dialogue between technology and governance. The event’s director, Ugo Valenti, said in a press release, “We believe that the role that citizens will play in the near futures will be crucial. Top-down governance approaches are gone for good and we need to shift the relation between city governments and residents taking it one step further.”

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© SCEWC Barcelona 2016

The shift to include more bottoms-up governance approaches in urban development highlights some critical points to keep in mind on the future of Smart City technology:

Sustainability Still in the Spotlight. Products and services targeting environmental and social well-being will continue to play an increasingly important role in the Smart City space, especially to address resource scarcity. This includes digital democracy platforms and data services focused on understanding and improving resource management for public goods & services.
Zeroing in on Hyperlocality. In the case of data-centric solutions, this means implementing more on the ground projects that concern citizens on a local community level. This will involve high resolution data collection, more communication with civil society, and addressing inequalities in resource distribution.
Keeping costs down. With increased government attention on citizen level projects comes the need to create products affordable enough to purchase, implement, and replace on local scales. It’s one kind of milestone to build an entirely new smart city when you have the capital to do so, but ensuring urban revitalization in communities beleaguered by poverty and environmental contamination is key to empowering citizens.

This is an opportunity for stronger public-private partnerships that share the vision of a more connected and equitable world. The best metric to a successful smart city should be the success of its citizens, especially when it comes to providing fundamental public health services and access to clean water and air.

Win with Strategic Partnerships

The exhibition hall itself represented a good mixture of government sponsored pavilions and industry solution providers. Countries and municipalities sent delegations to represent their own interests but also hosted a plethora of cutting edge technology companies hailing from within their respective borders.

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© SCEWC Barcelona 2016

All the major technology corporations represented at the exhibition this year showcased comprehensive Smart City “packages”. Cisco, for example, demonstrated their Smart City package, the Cisco Kinetic for Cities program, that allows customers to access and utilize the value added from dozens of individual solutions on a single platform.

Cisco is not alone in this strategy either. Most established corporations in the tech sector have taken on a similar role of the solution aggregator, integrating smaller startups into packaged solutions. Through partnerships of the sort, large corporations are able to capitalize on the innovation of smaller startups and startups are able to scale up and reach more customers through these platforms.

There was also no shortage of innovative startups introducing disruptive software and hardware technology solutions on their own, occupying cubes at the expo like the unique niches they occupy in the Smart City market. While busy networking with government customers and corporate aggregators for new leads, they also took opportunities to find new ways to collaborate horizontally with other startups.

Big Demand for Actionable Data

The Smart City industry is primarily growing through these two channels of solution aggregators and startup networks, both operating within a framework that consolidates technologies into more comprehensive solutions.

What they’re doing is working too.

It’s become clear after talking to numerous government delegations that cities are looking for comprehensive and integrated solutions. They don’t have the time or resources to sort through all the choices, each one ever so slightly different in their philosophy and function.

The result is that cities will prioritize ready to implement, ready to convert solutions that streamline processes with minimal technical requirements. From data collection to data access, companies working within the Smart City space need to offer up solutions that governments can adopt and utilize directly. At the end of the day, buzzwords such as “IoT” and “machine learning” will only be buzzwords unless the data provided by technology can be translated into action.