Catapult Network Report Published

What on earth are those UK Catapults? Stop wondering and read the new report of the Catapult Centres by our sponsor organisation InnovateUK. In case you are too lazy to read it all, the Future Cities Catapult cases are on pages 15 – 16 (Smart Belfast), and 28 (Connected Roadworks).

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Smart Belfast

In Belfast, we worked with the City Council to recognise critical challenges. Chief amongst these was the need to maximise revenue from business rates, which accounts for half the Council’s annual income. The assumption was that companies were operating in the city without declaring themselves to be businesses. This was due to a variety of reasons; some businesses were classified incorrectly, others registered as residential properties and more generally, the Council’s data sources were not up-to-date. Following an open call issued by Belfast City Council, prototype digital tools were produced which used information such as energy consumption to pinpoint potential business rates avoiders.

The success of the experiment was evident from the get go. With an investment of £150,000, the Council was able to uncover potential new revenue of £350,000 per year in just the initial pilot phase.

Connected Roadworks

In Straffordshire, we supported Amey to develop an interactive portal to host data from a wide range of utilities, contractors and developers in the area, enabling better coordination of roadworks. The benefits were both impressive and tangible: ten proposed works by different contractors were combined into one, requiring just a single road closure. This meant the roads could be kept open for an additional 25 weeks and saved the contractors c. £184,000 in terms of reduced materials and management costs.

Stay tuned:Internet of Everything challenge for developers & companies opening soon

Cities of Antwerpen, Copenhagen and Helsinki will open an innovation challenge for the European companies: how can the cities reinvent themselves as linked and large-scale Internet of Everything labs, which are open, standardized, data-driven, service-oriented and user-centric, and provide an easy access to developers and innovators to pilot, test and validate their solutions?
The project is called Select for CitiesThe challenge competition of 5,6 M€ which will be divided into 3  stages, between December 2015 and November 2018. It will be organised by using the Pre-commercial procurement (PCP) method.
The consortium is built around three renowned Smart Cities: Antwerp, Copenhagen, Helsinki, and comprises a balanced combination of six multidisciplinary partners across four European countries: Belgium, Denmark, Finland and the UK. These are Forum Virium Helsinki (the project coordinator), Digipolis, iMinds, Københavns Kommune, Stad Antwerpen, and 21C Consultancy Limited (partners in alphabetical order).
Stay tuned for the information sessions and market consultations starting soon across Europe. The first open call for the challenge will kick off early next autumn.

Loose coupling – the future of work

Just heard Esko Kilpi speaking about the future of work, and totally bought his vision.
To put it shortly: the jobs of the future is not any longer hierarchy-organised or process-organised, put network-organised. The model is the same as the Internet; things are done in loosely coupled processes.
Basically it is an idea expanded from the loosely coupled ICT, and the benefits are similar but wider:
(Source – Forrester Research, “Software Innovation Requires A Loosely-Coupled Application Architecture”)
Loose architectural coupling unleashes innovation – With not having to reinvent the wheel every time you start a new project, your team is more focused on developing innovations and relying on this architecture knowing that it will work as expected. Also, since this enables agility, faster time-to-market is possible and thereby encouraging bringing new innovations to the market.
Loose architectural coupling protects application investments. With business landscape constantly changing either due to M&A or just aggressive growth, it is pertinent for IT to evolve with newer IT systems but also remaining cautious about not breaking the system when retiring an old system or replacing it with a new system (especially relevant for the public sector!). Loosely coupled architectures make this process seamless.
Loose architectural coupling is a design discipline, not a technology. This is not a technology feature that any vendor can tout. This is only a design discipline that can be enabled with a mature ESB. Whether you leverage the publish-subscribe methodologies within the product or use SOA/APIs to construct such loose coupling, it is up to your architects to decide. But, ensure that you are working towards this model, if you already don’t have it.

Open Living Lab Days coming up!!!


Hope you had a great summer. We Finns have our holiday one month earlier than the rest of Europe, so we are already back to work. July was nice, but it’s good to be back. There’s only so many Finnish river crabs one can catch (in this case, 120) before wanting a change.

For those seeking new ideas & connection, come to the fourth annual Living Labs Summer School, renamed to Open Living Lab Days (because the program spans beyond normal “summer school” boundaries) to Amsterdam. Fantastic program, also this year.

The venue is the beautiful De Nieuve Liefde.  Register in time to make sure there’s space for you! See you in Amsterdam. 

Cities of Tomorrow, are they, really?

European more and less smart cities are gathered together in the commission Charlemagne building in Brussels.
Harry Van Dorenmalen of IBM wonders why we don’t proceed with making our cities smart, when we obviously know what we should do. I guess because “doing it” is still quite a distance from understanding, in such a complex field. And I most definitely would not want to see the cities adopt proprietary “smart cities in a box” from IBM or anyone else.
Next, Benjamin Barber is accusing Europe of democratic deficit. Coming from the US, I do feel that it would be good for him to buy a mirror… From the European perspective, the power position of the US president is frightening. You can ask Iraqi people to verify that.
Anyway, his view that cities should be more selfish and stand behind their position is good. Proposal for cities: establish a global mayors’ parliament.

Hi, wanna buy a smart city?

Back from Barcelona Smart Cities Expo & World Congress, I’m thinking about what makes cities smart. The sales pitches of companies operating in the field seem to fall into roughly two categories; you can either attach a sensor to everything and thus monitor it all, or then you can install an operating system to the city and then monitor it all.

Preferably, you do the monitoring of the city from an underground Control Centre.

I do have issues with this thinking, especially in the the context of the cities of the developing countries. They are being sold the same gadgets as to the western cities, packed together with to proprietary business models and long-term service contracts.

But what is the most valuable ingredient of a city? it’s people. Cities consist of people. Either they behave smart, or they don’t. Either they participate in making the city better, or they don’t.  Citizens are an untapped resource for the cities. If the cities really want to become smart, they must activate them to work with the city administration in service provision. Smart cities need smart citizens.

Proprietary, vertical silos and City Control Centres are a poor match with the citizen-driven distributed city. Mayors, please, take note: cities are too complex to be solved. Respect the complexity and don’t underestimate the city. If we want to “solve” the city, we need much more resources than just the taxpayers´ money. We need the taxpayers themselves.

The World Bank seems to get this better than most smart city service providers. The World Bank Institute supports collaborative models, empowering the people to harvest data, by opening service interfaces and processes. The CitiSense event brought together global cities, developers and open data advocates to discuss and learn. Let’s hope they can make an impact within the bank as well, as funds should not be wasted in closed systems – especially not in the developing countries.


Clora of @LabPLC speaking about making a difference in Mexico City. Pic by Pablo Collada.