A typical tech product is said to have a great run when it reaches a ten year mark. Take the iPod, discontinued at the end of 2015 by Apple after a spectacular life cycle that transformed the way we consume and enjoy music. The laws of innovation are extremely demanding, forcing companies to set their product spin offs in record time periods of 12 months. With each year, a new handset model, a thinner LED TV, a smaller yet 'fatter' sounding loudspeaker. The product portfolios widen, their niche competitiveness specialises even more.
With the arrival of data analytics, and in specific, behavioural learning, the branch of data sciences that analyses how humans behave within digital contexts, data that was invisible as an asset becomes the rich set worth turning into input variables. At last, outside of the financial industries and the social media universes of Facebook and Twitter, human data is being analysed in order to transform products and renew their consumable values, their longevity values. This data has eventually been noticed at city councils, at town mayoralties, revealing cities as the centres of the data output galaxy. For cities are where the most fantastic, the richest, most contextualised data sets can be found about human behaviour in order to predict the future of life, work and play within them.
Cities are not places or geographical localities like mountains or valleys. Cities are products. They are meant to attract new settlers and to entice existing dwellers to remain in them. Originally built around transport links - trains, harbours and today airport hubs, cities became centres of transactional values for business or for entertainment. The 24/7 hour cities will generate Zettabytes of data compared to what Facebook or forex trading currently produce: people's movements, consumer behaviours, dynamic data outputs that will tell the stories of how certain neighbourhoods grow larger in sizeable activities and contextual scenarios that will explain why people flock to the river banks to drink on a hot summer night instead of gathering in the middle of greens. When this vision is presented to city mayors, some get it and others just cannot imagine that, if they don't get the data story right, businesses will terminate their commercial property rentals and move to other centres and citizens that drive the GDP of towns with their home purchases, their gentrification, will move to the country looking out for the lifestyles that they seek for themselves and their families.
The city, as a product, needs to respond to B2B and B2C expectations, just like a vacuum cleaner on a shelf at a department store. Guessing what people want out of the cities of the future starts with analysing what they currently do in the present, or, as we say in product innovation, what the "users" are currently trying to do to fulfil their needs. The observational practices that good product innovators deploy when creating new products or services have evolved into analysing data for behavioural purposes. The clinical focus group inside a room, out of context and where a small group of strangers is supposed to share their intimate thoughts on a product is a ragged doll of a method. If you want to know what people want, watch what they do. And then provide them with what they never thought would exist. Imagine an on-demand taxi service that can be called up from one's mobile, requires no cash because it's on account, and that it's cheaper than public transport sometimes. Uber, has not only transformed city transport, but has enticed the public to stay longer in town spending money on a Friday night because getting back home is a skip and a hop at affordable prices. Uber should have been a product of Diageo. Do you see my point? This is what product innovation is: to look at the collateral data and to spin it into a centrifugal unexpected direction that, upon landing, makes the most sense for its occurrence.
When mayoralties realise the amount of transformative ideas that can be sprang off the data that they currently hold, the famous cities of the future that everybody is talking about in terms of connected devices will surpass this one-gear IoT vision and truly deliver authentic futures for everyone, the people and the businesses. All great things start with small beginnings, and to the current data sets, soon bigger terabytes will be added to arrive at the ultimate destination: cities that are uplifting places of life, work and play.