The smart city business proposition

July 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

A couple of issues ago, Fast Company had a big article on on Smart Cities and how IBM, HP and Cisco are betting huge on them. There have been more from them on the same topic that can be found here [1][2][3][4]. So what does a smart city mean and how does it impact you and me?

Most of you must have noticed IBM bombarding all business and tech magazines with its smarter planet pitch while Cisco does something similar with its “Smart+Connected Community“. Billions of dollars are being poured into courting everybody from local planning officials to heads of state. In addition, ads campaigns are all over the place and more is expected in the coming months.

The business folks at IBM and Cisco have reams of material on the matter here [IBM][Cisco] describing energy and financial savings for communities that become “smarter”. They are also touting better educational opportunities and improved government functioning as major benefits of moving to a smarter community. From what I have read and assimilated on this topic, it boils down to the following real world factors.

1. Building a well designed network to serve all aspects of the community from the ground up. Simple as it may seem, itĀ hasn’tĀ happened in much of the west since development and infrastructure growth has been staggered. When wiring a community from scratch, smart network engineers can do an optimized and well connected system that will account for potential bottle necks and build better load balancing techniques into the system. While this is in no way revolutionary, it will perform much better than most evolutionary infrastructures we are used to.

2. Using vast amounts of collected data to feed back into the system and optimize it from all aspects. This is something that is becoming bigger and bigger as we speak. Data Mining has so many applications that are yet to be “mined” (pun intended) it is mind boggling. IBM’s expertise in data mining will come into play here. Predictor systems will be in vogue and for a good reason.

3. Provide a backbone that can handle future traffic requirements. This is big. Much of the current infrastructure is not scalable enough to handle the explosion in Internet traffic. A smart city built from the ground up will be designed taking this very important element into consideration. If there is one thing all planners and designers agree- network traffic is headed one way, up.

4. Enable rich applications that were impossible until recently. This will be an offshoot of the previous point. The better the infrastructure and available bandwidth, more innovative the applications that can use them. This ties into some of the ad-speak of the smarter city ideas namely improvements in basic education and remote teaching.

5. Empower newer kinds of economies that lie untapped. This is an unknown entity which will remain so until each and every smart city identifies its niche and uses all the new found power to exercise it to its benefit.

But for all the cool things that it promises, there is a huge cost to pay. Each of these cities are billion plus dollar investments which will take a lot more to manage and maintain. Herein lies the bounty Cisco, HP, IBM and many more are after. The promise of newer revenue streams that could take care of the bottom line for years to come.

I am just waiting to see the first smart city built from the ground up that manages to not just be a showcase of cool technologies, but one that actually executes on a vision to put all of it to use for its citizens.


Improving the classroom learning experience

May 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

Technology that truly impacts how good things can be done better is worth knowing, understanding and appreciating. As a lifelong student I have been interested to know how technology can, is and will impact education. A press release from Cisco today on its suite of classroom learning tools is worth taking note of.

The full press release is here:

I wont claim to be an expert and evaluate Cisco’s word on the matter. We will take it as it is – they have lived up to their claims for a long time now to be questioned on it. The suite in its entirety is pretty exciting in what it claims it can do. It will truly change distance education and e-learning systems if implemented fully. What I am curious to know is how can it impact low income education systems and school boards on a budget crunch (as almost all of the country is today)?. Can it save money for the school district or university system while improving on things as it stands today?

The other dimension to this technological evolution in how education is delivered is more personal – is there a downside to our dependence on such systems for learning?. When I was doing my undergrad, I used to have a handwriting that was appreciated and well respected. Once I hit grad school and subsequently a career in technology, my handwriting has significantly deteriorated. Reason- I use electronic systems to do most of my reports and communication. There is no value for the written word. The same is true for our memories. The more I trust my smartphone to handle my tasks and phone numbers and such, the less I focus on trying to retain this information in my head. As we head towards the smart learning systems that truly are innovative and ground breaking, do we stand to lose something else in the process?

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