Influencing tomorrow’s cities today
Service providers need to act now to contribute to the new wave of thinking for urban development. Cities of the future will be underpinned by information and communications technology (ICT) to ensure eco-sustainability. Smart applications and services will help communications and improve knowledge-sharing. As well, concepts like smart metering will drive efficient energy usage and reduced energy consumption.
To influence urban developments of the future, ICT companies need to do 3 things. They need to:
- Think like they are part of the overall value chain
- Figure out how, collectively, they can grow the opportunity, including efforts related to standardization, monitoring, accounting, innovation and transformation
- Compete within that opportunity
It’s no longer about net neutrality, or Long Term Evolution (LTE) versus WiMAX. It’s about the overall eco-sustainability value that can be provided by the industry as a whole.
ICT is the key
To reduce carbon emissions and accommodate growing populations, urban areas have to become more efficient. The challenge in reducing the carbon footprint of major urban areas starts with the buildings and infrastructure — which represents the largest part — followed by the transport system.
Most cities distance the areas where people work from the areas where they live. Urban planners need to look at more eco-efficient flows and create urban spaces that combine work, living and recreational spaces within the same area.
ICT companies have a key role to play in both greenfield cities and urban renewal. Key communications can provide eco-benefits by disrupting traditional processes and offering new ways of doing things more efficiently. ICT companies can also make a city seem like a small village by sharing knowledge and helping people to work smarter.
A new planning paradigm
New technologies and better ways of sharing knowledge are required to create more efficient urban spaces. This is where ICT companies come in. Before the new millennium, telecom providers were brought into the planning cycle late — almost as an afterthought. Today’s urban developments involve the major ICT suppliers earlier in the planning stage.
New cities being built in the Persian Gulf area are paradigms for how the planning process will work in the future — for both greenfield projects and retro-fitting of existing communities. Power distribution, smart metering, smart transport and traffic control options, as well as communications and knowledge-sharing, are all under consideration. In these new urban environments, the information infrastructure is planned alongside the transport and energy infrastructure as integral building blocks of the overall architectural concept.
The traditional silo mentality is one of the key issues that ICT companies need to address. The question is: How can ICT companies fundamentally plug into the urban planning cycle, breaking down the silos and delivering the new opportunities that communications can offer?
There are some interesting ideas in action today. For example, retailers are sharing their databases with delivery companies. The retailer’s database provides the delivery company with information about exactly what’s being sold through a particular channel. Delivery routes are then planned in real time to ensure that demand is efficiently satisfied. As well, some larger companies have created “foresight” applications that take into account factors such as weather patterns, to ensure that the right products are in the right stores at the right time.
In addition to reducing business operating costs, improved communications applications and networks can also energize entire communities. The proliferation of social networking in recent years is a prime example of the power of knowledge-sharing and breaking down the silos.
Smart telco applications and services are also starting to have a much broader impact. A good example is the implementation of bicycle-sharing and electric car-sharing centers within urban areas. Virtualizing transport by determining where vehicles are most needed and making shared vehicles available is much more efficient than the old mass transit method.
These are effective green business models for the companies concerned. They’re also part of a trend toward virtual collaboration between players in the value chain, which increases efficiency even further.
Rising to the challenge
The global recession has affected consumption patterns considerably. Consumers are more conscientious about what they buy, how much they buy, and in many cases whether or not the goods are eco-friendly. Observers believe that these changes will be permanent. Sustainable thinking is no longer simply fashionable, it is a reality. Nations and organizations are listening and willing to take a step forward.
The world is looking for leadership. Who better to lead the drive for increased urban efficiency than ICT companies? Enhanced communication and related applications — from smart metering to high-speed mobile broadband networks like LTE and WiMAX — offer the kind of efficiencies and social cohesion that will drive the new urban environment.
Now is the time for ICT companies to seize a thought leadership position in sustainable urban development. By leading initiatives, forward-thinking companies will create new markets and revenue streams for their industry as a whole, while increasing the efficiency of the environment to the benefit of all.
Industry leaders are clear on the opportunities to improve the environment. Although there have been struggles with consensus and little action to move forward thus far, there is widespread agreement on the need for industry action. At the World Economic Forum, we are working on a number of programs that are helping ICT companies rise to the challenge. For example, the “ICT for a Low-carbon World” program looks at leveraging technology to reduce more carbon emissions than the industry contributes. Our work with the Governors of the ICT industry on “ICT for Economic Growth” is concentrated on ensuring growth for ICT services and technologies that promote environmental sustainability. At the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2010, we will focus on advancing the opportunities available for the ICT industry to take action. Our goal is to continue to move the agenda forward to improve the state of the world.
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