THE BLOG

From Smart Cities to Smart Shopping

24/04/2014 10:57 BST | Updated 23/06/2014 10:59 BST

There's a revolution occurring in how our urban spaces are managed but it's less about the parks, roads, and apartments & more about an explosion of digital technology and data.

With the dropping costs of storage, the proliferation of smart devices & with the internet of things, everything is programmable and can share digital data. There are already twice as many "things" connected on the Internet than people. And by 2020, this is set to rise to 50 billion connected devices, according to Cisco.

This technology can be used by councils to identify busy routes and redirect traffic, capture images of damage to public buildings, monitor playgrounds and be informed when the recycling bins need to be emptied. In the future governments can provide e-health, e-education, and e-government services, reducing the need for government staff, reducing drastically the amount of paper consumed, while ensuring the right people receive the most relevant information when they need it most.

Smart Citizens

This technology can also be used to provide other services in the home, initially to conserve energy and eventually to offer targeted products and services.

Residents can be notified when they are close to exceeding recommended consumption levels of water and electricity, and devices at home can be switched on and off based on when residents are home to save heating costs. Predictive analytics can anticipate residents' needs in advance and synchronise all the associated devices and services. For example, gas deliveries can be made before the canister reaches empty.

There is also the possibility to enable commuters to come home to a warm house, with the coffee machine ready to go, the outdoor entrance already lit, and the TV turned on. To take the concept a step further, all this information from commuting habits, how much residents exercise, and if they have pets can be used to have a much deeper understanding of their habits so that promotions they receive on their smart phones, tablets, or smart TVs are timely and related to their interests.

Information will be collected along each stage of the purchase chain, including when consumers shop on their PC, do price comparisons on their tablets and when they make purchases using their credit card at the shopping centre. By combining off line and online data advertisers have a complete picture of consumers' purchases, enabling them to promote products more intelligent & relevant and not perceived as spam, but rather like helpful recommendations. With more data advertisers can be more creative about the ads and how they are served, making the promotions more interesting and engaging.

For example, by advertisers having a complete data set from smart devices, travelers won't be offered a plane ticket to Paris after they've already bought one through their travel agent, but instead they can receive recommendations for a local GPS system, or a SIM card to place calls overseas.

There will no longer be distinctions made between traditional media, mobile devices and laptops. Everything will be digital and media will appear wherever and whenever it has the most relevance. There will be a transition towards smart advertising and as a result smarter shoppers.

Barriers to Data Sharing

In order for all this data to be aggregated, analysed and shared there needs to be a common form for sending, receiving and storing data to gleam insights. A group of 23 companies, the AllSeen Alliance has pledged to use the code underlying Qualcomm's AllJoyn protocol to help get this process started. The consumer brands that have signed on include LG, Sharp, Haier, Panasonic and Sears Brand Management Corporation.

There are also many privacy issues for residents and consumers. There needs to be a way to have aggregate data without personal identifying information that meets EU standards, that works across devices and all touch points with consumers.

In addition to privacy issues, there is the danger that data collected by a sensor in the home, in the field or in a smartphone can be compromised. A recent survey by SSH Communications Security and Forrester Consulting found the rise of M2M connections in data centers across most industries has far outstripped the ability of organizations to secure them.

For example, a security service vendor that routinely researches large-scale spam and phishing campaigns discovered that last January hackers successfully targeted and manipulated more than 100,000 consumer gadgets including smart appliances and routers in order to send out more than 750,000 malicious emails.

Pieces coming together

These projects are currently in the experimentation stage, and expectations are that with experience, new applications will become apparent. With feedback mechanisms to benefit from lessons learned, smart technology will continue to evolve to increase the value they provide to residents. The strength of the business case will continue to push the envelope for technology innovation.

Once there are sufficient security safeguards, data ownership guidelines and standards for data sharing the internet of things, can become a pervasive part of our day to day life, enabling technology to anticipate consumers' needs and improve the quality of the services they receive. In time having the ability to track consumers no matter which device they use will provide the data needed to complete the evolution from smart cities to smart shopper.