Smart cities aren’t about the technology in them; they’re about creating a city that’s better for people. This covers everything from transport, to living, to leisure. It’s an all-encompassing concept that should be focused on using tech as a tool, not an end goal.
Unfortunately, the city building industry is suffering a little bit from what could be called the magpie effect. [For those of you out there unfamiliar with magpies, they’re birds stereotyped as being obsessed with shiny things.]
Property developers, clients, and even consultants are focusing on two things; money and shininess. They care about how much tech costs, how much they can sell (or lease) a building with it for, and how cool the thing is so they can shout about it… ultimately with the end goal of making more money. Being honest, this focus on money isn’t at all surprising; it’s just business.
However, there seems to be a disconnect between the people creating buildings and the ones using them. In our opinion, having location services that allow you to track people all around a building isn’t a particularly good idea. Sure, tell us it’ll improve productivity and “inter-person connectivity”, but I challenge you to show us a world where you can convincingly demonstrate any real, quantitative benefit. People probably just end up turning the functionality off.
The major problem here is that the people paying for tech in buildings don’t necessarily understand what tech is for. They haven’t lived the tech, they’ve just heard it’s cool and that it’s the next big thing. Smart buildings should be approached far more like how architects tackle design, than how engineers tackle air conditioning. I shouldn’t have to choose between not having and having an HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) analytics system that can save a building 30% on its energy usage, and even improve energy performance over the life span of a building – it should just be expected as standard. There isn’t a question there, and it definitely isn’t worth having a debate over.
Do we care about how we can augment physical spaces with tech to help people relax during work breaks? Or how it can be used to make people more predictive during the time they spend in the office so they can leave on time everyday – yes, that we really do care about. This is the technology that’s going to make people’s lives better, and affect them daily.
The really big question here is why aren’t we focusing more on tech that impacts people? But the answer is unsurprising, like with most things, it comes down to value. Companies developing buildings can’t always afford to be forward-thinking because firstly, there isn’t a market for it yet and secondly, because they don’t know how. There just hasn’t been enough industry precedent for it to be a reasonable business decision for a risk-averse business.
Ultimately what this results in is buildings being built that are out of date the day they open their doors, and that will remain locked into half-decade old ‘smart building’ thinking and tech until those doors close. This is a problem inherent in the fact that buildings just take a tremendous amount of time to build, and so smart building design takes longer to mature because it takes so long to fully complete the project and learn the lessons for the next one.
To solve this problem, two things need to happen, we need to increase our learning rate and experience, and we need to reduce the risk of doing smart. If we manage that, our understanding of what uses of technology within buildings and cities are most effective will increase, and we’ll reduce the hesitation factor for those paying for it.
For now, we’ll leave it there. Clearly, this is only a snapshot of what is a very complicated situation. Still, over the next article or two, we’ll explore further into some of the practical ways we can increase our learning rate and reduce risk with respect to smart buildings and cities.