Google Maps is more than just a convenient app. It's a powerful example of the dramatic changes society has recently undergone.
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Not long ago, the digital world and the "real" world were separate entities. Sure, they communicated, but they weren't inextricably intertwined like they are now. If you wanted directions, you had to print out the MapQuest itinerary (remember MapQuest?) ahead of time. Now, you plug an address into Google Maps and the app guides you there in real time, all the while monitoring traffic and adjusting your route to avoid delays.
The rapidly closing digital-physical divide certainly makes life easier, but that's not all it can do. The intersection of technology and everyday life is also giving rise to brand new economic ecosystems – ecosystems that employers can leverage for top-tier talent.
"As the physical and digital worlds are coming together in our daily lives, we see a tremendous opportunity," says Suman Mahalanabis, head of product management for TCS Digital Software Solutions, which develops enterprise customer and urban analytics software. "[That amalgamation of the physical and digital] is what drives economic development in Smart Cities."
Smart Cities: Better Quality of Life Through Technology
Smart Cities: The Economic and Social Value of Building Intelligent Urban Spaces, an eBook from TCS and the Wharton School's online business analysis journal Knowledge@Wharton, explores the concept of the Smart City in great detail, but essentially, the name refers to any city with an agenda to drive sustainable, environmentally friendly economic growth by integrating new technologies into its operations.
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Generally speaking, Mahalanabis says that Smart Cities have three key focuses:
Sustainable Growth: Programs and technologies that make the city more energy efficient and lessen its environmental impact.
Economic Revival: Initiatives to create better jobs, attract more talent, and upskill current citizens through innovation, digital connectivity, and digital agendas.
Citizen Engagement: Strategies for improving quality of life by leveraging technology to enhance transportation systems, education, health care, etc.
These three focuses are intimately tied together in a single "ecosystem," as Mahalanabis calls it. For example, an initiative to cut a city's carbon emissions would create new jobs in a variety of fields, from solutions engineers who could formulate an executable plan to construction workers who could install solar panels around the city. And by lowering emissions, the initiative would reduce air pollution in the city and improve citizen health.
Sustainable growth, economic revival, and citizen engagement – all in one project.
"[Smart Cities agendas] are laid upon a fabric of IT and communications connecting the city to various aspects of technology that can support sustainable growth," Mahalanabis says. "The city has stakeholders – citizens, government bodies, businesses, public organizations, etc. – who all participate in that common project, leading to multidimensional growth."
Many cities around the world have already successfully adopted Smart City agendas, including Charlotte, North Carolina, which cut energy use in 50 companies by 17 percent on average through the use of smart meters, energy-efficient lighting, and data analytics; Seoul, South Korea, which used data analytics to create a viable late-night bus service and advertise the service to workers who would be most likely to use it; and Medellín, Colombia, which cut homicide rates by 80 percent through a series of neighborhood intervention programs, improved infrastructure, and the cultivation of a tech-company friendly environment.
How Smart Cities Lead to Better Jobs and Better Talent
"All cities are competing for talent," says Mahalanabis. "Smart Cities are about creating local jobs and creating ecosystems. Now that our lives are connected even more, our cities can be, too – and that's where we see new economies being built."
The example of the emissions-cutting program mentioned above gives a brief glimpse into how Smart Cities can use technology to create new economies, but it may be helpful to paint a more nuanced picture.
Mahalanabis explains that Smart Cities create "pockets of employment on the back of technology and innovation."
It all starts with an agenda, which is driven by government agencies. They decide what problems a city needs to solve. Then, they partner with private companies to leverage technology to solve those problems.
For example, say a city government decides it wants to reduce crowding on buses and shorten commuter wait times at bus stops – a project that TCS has actually worked on in the past. The government is going to need to partner with local businesses and/or entice business from other locales to set up shop in the city and help out. It's going to need to create a community of local developers who can work on the data analytics technologies needed to collect data about crowding and wait times. It's going to need data scientists who can interpret the data. It's going to need solutions engineers who can craft plans based on the data.
This talent all has to come from somewhere. The city will either attract that talent from elsewhere by advertising its initiative, or it will have to cultivate that talent at home through education initiatives. Maybe it will do both – but either way, jobs are created, talent is thriving in the city, money is flowing, and the quality of life is improving for citizens.
But, Mahalanabis notes, Smart Cities don't just create tech jobs.
"They create research jobs for the people who will craft the city's new policies," he says. "They create construction jobs for the people who will build the city's new green buildings."
And as the city's economy grows and the quality of life keeps going up, more and more businesses will open in the city, providing all sorts of new jobs in all kinds of different fields as a direct result of the Smart City agenda.
How to Start Building Your Own Smart City
Smart Cities tend to be great for business – but it's not like a company can go out and build its own Smart City from scratch.
As mentioned above, Smart Cities start with government initiatives. Employers who are interested in the talent, profit, and quality of life potentials of Smart Cities would do well to reach out to local government officials to broach the subject of private-public partnerships. See if there is anything your company can help the city with. What problems does it need solved, and how can your organization be part of the solution?
All it takes is one project to get the ball rolling.