THE BLOG
19/12/2013 06:50 GMT | Updated 17/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Transforming London: Can We Achieve the Smart City Vision?

If you think life in the city is busy, think again. By 2023 there are expected to be 30 megacities worldwide, each with more than 10 million inhabitants according to Frost and Sullivan.

In its 'Urbanization Trends in 2020' report, the business consulting firm says that London has the potential to be categorised as a megacity and compete on a global scale with the likes of New York, Tokyo and Mumbai; famously ahead of the curve to the rest of the world. However there are fears that London's tired, legacy infrastructure could prevent the capital city from reaching its true potential.

Ultimately, a dependable infrastructure and technology-focused approach are vital foundations upon which a megacity will build itself, which could prove critical to a nation's economy and GDP. Without the infrastructure or technology, the potential for GDP growth may be limited.

Going for gold

Last year's Olympic Games and the introduction of Wi-Fi on the London Underground showcased the huge impact that technology can have on our daily lives when executed correctly. For example, being able to make more effective use of travel times using Wi-Fi can help to make working hours more flexible and redefine the borders of the traditional work day.

However, despite enjoying a good start out of the blocks, the question of whether Wi-Fi can be extended across the entire Underground network and work effectively at peak times still looms over the project. If people get accustomed to accessing the Internet en while on the go, then the network will ultimately have to scale up to cope with traffic loads.

Furthermore, as our reliance on technology grows and becomes an ever greater part of daily lives, demands on our infrastructure to support it will continue to climb and we will need a lot more from technology than Wi-Fi to be ahead of the curve.

IT infrastructure will inherently be the backbone of megacities, which are all about making smarter connections between devices and people. The telecommunications network through which this communication will flow needs to be resilient and efficient, and connectivity is a must-have pre-requisite - between citizens, the government and business.

Looking down the line

To lay the foundation of the smart London of the future, it's crucial to forward architect - to think now about how different systems will need to interplay in 20 or 50 years' time. If the capital is to compete as a megacity in years ahead, and remain competitive with those in emerging economies then we need to actively think about the infrastructure to support this growth and take action now.

Cities which rely on a great deal of traditional infrastructure have a far greater task in changing, as opposed to those that have been built up more recently, proving it necessary to look ahead and consider whether existing technology infrastructure is sustainable long term. This filters down and directly applies to enterprise as well; an enterprise with legacy IT is harder to change. The key for London becoming a megacity is ensuring that planning is done right the first time, over a long horizon as opposed to "death by a thousand cuts".

Mind the gap

With advanced technological innovation comes the need for adaptation. Technology is developing so quickly now, it's no longer an entire decade-long generation gap which is separating the digital natives from the digitally naive, but merely years.

Behind the scenes, advances in technology are also influencing the development of cities in ways that consumers might not realise. For instance, big data has played a fundamental role in facilitating the development of megacities. Despite being dubbed a 'buzzword', Big Data puts us in the driving seat and enables governments, businesses and consumers the opportunity to predict future demands, avoid disasters from occurring and even cure diseases.

Whilst this may seem farfetched, technology has advanced to such levels that we can accurately mine millions of megabits of data in a matter of seconds and relay the findings back to the end user in real time.

We're already seeing Big Data become a reality with previous 'unrealistic' technological ideas like virtual billboards and targeted advertising which offers consumers deals based on location and their personalized preferences, in real time. Police forces are also using historical data to identify crimes before they happen with a high degree of accuracy and retailers are automatically stocking up on hats and sun cream the week before the weather forecasts a heat wave. As we continue to generate more data, we expect organisations and consumers to tap into this information swell.

Laying the foundation for London to become a megacity will not be quick and it will not be easy but by embracing technology now, supported by big data and a longer term attitude towards planning, we can ensure that the city of London lives up to its future potential as a megacity.