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City’s smartness is measured in inhabitant satisfaction

Plenty of data is available, but do we know how to harness it to promote wellbeing?

Mikko Pulkkinen / October 31, 2022

Smart technology enables cities to improve the quality of people’s lives by making it possible to understand the needs and behaviour of inhabitants.

In urban development, technology is a good servant but a bad master. It offers endless opportunities to build smart services but, in the end, solutions are smart only if they improve people’s wellbeing and enhance the quality of life.

The question is how well are inhabitants heard in urban development and how much do they use the smart solutions offered. Technology offers tools for this, too, but the use of existing data needs to be developed. Even now, roughly 80 per cent of the industrial data in the EU’s economic area is left completely unused and, at the same time, the exponential growth of data doubles the amount of available data every two years.

Public discussion is saturated with talk about the potential offered by digitalization, artificial intelligence and cloud services, but less attention is paid to how the opportunities offered by the constantly increasing amount of data can be optimally harnessed to promote people’s physical, mental, economic and social wellbeing. Without this common goal, there is a risk that data will remain scattered and fragmented into pieces that benefit no one. People’s phones are already full of applications, the features of which are not fully recognised or used. With this discussion opener, I'm shifting the focus from data orientation to inhabitant-centric urban development.

In search of a good life

Smart technologies enable cities to improve the quality of people’s lives by, for instance, streamlining mobility, facilitating work, reducing energy consumption and costs as well as increasing the freedom of choice, the availability of services and the safety of the living environment. To achieve this, however, service developers must be able to use the data produced by cities appropriately.

The freer the flow of data, the better different parties can make use of it in their decision-making and thus have an active influence on the creation of a smart urban environment. When both the public sector and companies can make decisions more broadly based on existing data, there will be more relevant insights, resource-smart implementations and high-quality urban solutions that benefit people’s lives.

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly accelerated the development of applications that make people’s everyday lives easier, and permanent changes in work culture have ensured an established market position for many services also under normal circumstances.

Under the exceptional circumstances, actions taken by companies included adopting a more active role in using the vacant capacity of their premises in more diverse ways and opening their premises also to their partners, for instance, thus providing people with opportunities to work in multiple locations. A happy urban life is built in a well-functioning ecosystem, not solely by the city administration. With this in mind, favourable conditions should be created for using data.

Easy mobility is an integral part of urban life

Smart cities are not a vision far off in the future but are strongly present already today, although there is still a lot of work to do. Good examples of tapping into the potential of data to make urban life easier are numerous, both near and far. Rated as one of the world’s smartest cities in international comparisons, Helsinki has attracted global attention with its extensive service digitalization and smart traffic solutions. In Barcelona, urban traffic development has been taken even further.

The Mobility as a Service (MaaS) application adopted by the City of Helsinki makes it possible to purchase seamless travel chains from your home to your destination, which reduces the need for private car use. Life becomes easier and commuting even in the busy traffic of the city centre is smooth when you can take an e-scooter from your home to the metro and then from the metro directly to the door of your workplace. 

In Barcelona, available data was used for analysing people’s mobility behaviour and routes. As a result, the routes of the solar-powered hybrid buses could be optimised so that up to 95 per cent of city traffic trips now involve a maximum of one change of vehicle.

The potential of smart technologies to improve urban mobility and energy efficiency also expands far beyond the development of public transport.

There are endless opportunities to make urban life easier. For instance, the efficiency of city maintenance could be improved by using machine vision in public transport. Sensors installed on buses would automatically observe and report maintenance needs, such as poor road surfaces or unclear traffic signs.

As an example of the diverse opportunities offered by solutions that enhance the comfort of the living environment, in Barcelona smart sensors are used in the street lighting system, which constantly measures air humidity, air pollution, temperature, the number of people and noise level and adjusts lighting accordingly to make it as people-friendly and energy-efficient as possible.

The transformation towards a smart city is built in a culture of experimentation, which encourages co-operation and bold innovation. Even actions that seem small on a broader scale may eventually lead to decisive insights and significant savings.

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Image: Mikko Pulkkinen - We innovate smart technologies in Keilaniemi, Espoo cherishing human values.

Independent decision-making is everyone’s right

From the perspective of the entire society, smart solutions may lead the way towards a higher degree of self-sufficiency, which is, as a consequence of the geopolitical situation and the energy crisis, a factor influencing safety, economy and quality of life.

Alongside sustainable development, the question of self-sufficiency with regard to natural resources has become increasingly important. Indeed, on a global scale, there are examples of buildings that adjust the indoor temperature automatically and of electricity networks that are entirely powered by solar panels.

On the other hand, the discussion about self-sufficiency and the right of self-determination is also linked with the processing of data. Data is power and power entails responsibility. In addition to innovating new smart technologies, it must be possible to ensure inhabitants’ privacy protection and ITC connections also under exceptional circumstances.

When it comes to data, Helsinki, for instance, adheres to the MyData principle, according to which inhabitants own their data. This is also the European principle. A data economy that adheres to European values respects people’s privacy and right of self-determination, but the EU’s regulation does not extend beyond its borders, where most data is nowadays processed. With server farms located on sovereign territory, it can be ensured that no outsiders can access sensitive data.

Safe and secure smartness

As a leading European IT company, Tietoevry is taking cities towards the adoption of smart technologies that enhance the quality of life while fostering people-oriented values. The experience of the leading Nordic company in its field and its advanced strategies for the inhabitant-centric development of smart cities have also been praised in an international industry evaluation.

IDC European MarketScape’s Smart Cities 2020 report highlighted Tietoevry as one of the most significant operators in the industry in innovating digital platforms and developing sustainable infrastructure, traffic and general safety and security. The purpose of the report is to provide cities and companies with objective information about industry expert services to support the technological transition.

Cloud services are a solution for tapping into the potential offered by data and a sovereign cloud is the answer to security-related questions. The multicloud makes it possible to process data flexibly depending on its nature. Security is ensured by processing sensitive data carefully within Finnish borders.

Author, Mari Korhonen

Mikko Pulkkinen
Tietoevry alumni

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