KnowNow Information has spent much time on developing Smart Cities and it is high time we had something to say – several interweaving strands that lead to a conclusion

  • The power of your own information in a smart city.
  • How by fusing information together useful opportunities now present themselves.
  • The cultural and economic readiness of the market to deal with this new phenomena.
  • Finally asking whether smart cities as a concept has grown up a little, or is it still in the petulant youngster phase?


Your Information

EU Smart Cities logo

EU Smart Cities logo

A development project that KnowNow Information is leading – codenamed “Pods” –  is  starting to push the envelope in terms of how we as a society exploit user provided data.   The pods project creates a market for information that can be used for multiple reasons but initially it is focussed on providing a connection between people, their digital activities and their place on the high street. This will enable people to find out more real-time information about their location as well as allow retailers to learn more about people and their activities on the high street.   A blog on the Pods project is here.

KnowNow Information’s ‘Pod’ project is open for collaboration, actively seeking partners and investors.   More information on one of the Pod strands can be found in the EU marketplace for Smart Cities.

Brussels at night

Brussels at night


Trust in brands that use information provided by their users is another important factor demonstrating a growing maturity in the information age.   Companies will bend over backwards demonstrating that their brand can be trusted.

Should we trust them  though?  Without trust the brand disappears and you could argue that the collective endorsement supplied by users backing a brand will be the most powerful asset in the information age.

How you interact and treat your user will therefore become ever more important. Articulating, being known for and innovating best practice will be a new set of differentiators. This means that the power you have as an individual will actually increase over time, especially as more  transactions take place and each partner becomes better acquainted.

From our Pods Project perspective, what this is teaching us is that from day one, we will promise to clearly state what is being done with your information and the benefit this knowledge provides you and your wider community whilst also offering you opportunities to easily opt out.  The power of control is therefore in the users hands – the Pods project is not a big brother program.  Through user education, easy to use tools and clear language explaining actually what is happening with your information and how you benefit, the user stays in control.  Always.  A fear of big brother will not materialise and trust will grow.

Data Fusion

Smart Cities require a massive amount of citizen buy-in and interaction. If we could also ensure the citizen is rewarded whilst also trusting the outcomes being delivered, smart cities will have arrived. If we are seeing early adoptions of the right type of behaviour today then does this mean a more mature outlook for smarter cities?  Possibly.

Several data fusion experiences have really focused the mind on what is useful and usually ‘smart’.  KnowNow has been leading a cool open data project WuDoWuD.  The data we use, the data we can’t use, the actual data we need to get the best answer have all been some of the challenges to date. The story is generating significant interest because WuDoWuD will deliver a set of useful answers to a community that are waiting for them.  An example comes from a recent client conversation where we were trying to identify the useful element that would be required to monitor industrial machinery. The owner of this impact was also good indication of the person who would pay for the information engineering.

There are  two key lessons learnt so far. First, not all data is good data – data needs to have similarity for great fusion to take place (dates are a good starting point).  Second, follow the money, identify the value – ideally that will be the same person who will extract and then pay. We are now in a great position in that pretty much anything can be digitised and its data can be fused with anything.

The interesting thing is that Smart Cities are changing the focus on Who, where the who can actually be a ‘place/community/space’ and not just a person or business. In some respects, if we can use information to prove that the city is benefitting and people are listening, then this would be a more positive response than what has historically been difficult to achieve, especially in the UK market.  These types of benefits tend to support a more municipal services model which is coming back into fashion, but often now at a very local community scale. Think community scale smart grids.

In another engagement KnowNow is actively designing the blueprints for Smart City technology architectures.  What is exciting about these types of project is that they are business led with the business model shaping the requirement. This drives what type of service is offered and how the technology is expected to perform in end-to-end supporting that service.  How data and information is used is fundamental.  Tracking the use of this data and ensuring it meets the vision and objectives of the place is key, all the while remembering not to break trust!

What type of service is therefore offered and how the technology is expected to perform across the board are interesting design challenges. Luckily, KnowNow has plenty of experience in handling these conundrums.

Business Models

The business model supporting the technology architecture is also sustainable, ensuring that the assets of data collection and generation of open data are owned by the community. The intention is that community based outcomes improve interoperability across different services (e.g. transport and parking) and collective benefit  (e.g. air quality and mobility).  I predict though that we will see the experience of designing smart city blueprints change over time.  This is because in some respects they are a living experiment and as such learning what works and what doesn’t work means we need to maintain flexibility as well as be happy to bring in successful ideas from other cities and places.

The overall smart cities market seems to be shifting to a more mature and positive footing with more cross sector cooperation, more information centric and evidence base driven decision making and more citizen involvement. Business models are being developed that support an outcomes based world. The technology driven engagement is happening today and is starting to make a difference but it is not quite secure yet.

Further investment through the likes of InnovateUK & the EU is key.   They are providing plenty of funding opportunities for companies to launch and trial new concepts. The willingness of both the public and private sectors to collaborate and make a place ‘smart’ is also happening more often. Additional experience and references are proving that brands can be trusted with your information are required. It is from these foundations that a mature smarter city market will materialise.

Smart Cities, Youngster or Grown Up?

In conclusion, smart cities are growing up, fast.  Moving from stroppy youngster to a more reflective tween mode. I would say not yet quite a grown up though due to new services being offered that are starting to reach the market; outcomes centric services that are slowly being accepted as valid business engines; and citizens starting to understand they have a responsibility with their information and are responding accordingly.

Still to come is the truculent teenager, moody and irritable with only fleeting moments of brilliance. Swiftly moving to transform into a young adult, brimming with energy and innovation.

Thanks for reading, Chris