How businesses can unlock smart city success

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The relationship between businesses and smart cities is mutually reinforcing, opening doors to new possibilities only achievable under one harmonious environment. In being better connected to their surroundings, businesses - so often the service providers of smarter cities - will not only understand the landscape in which they operate in better, but also the people that inhabit them, offering more advanced technologies and solutions to citizens directly through a city’s infrastructure.

Collection and collaboration

The roots of success lie in the collaboration of data. Cities are collecting vast amounts of data every day, but it’s impossible to comb through all of it. That’s where businesses come in; each holding a piece of the big data puzzle.

The pervasiveness of connected devices and mobile networks in recent years has seen data’s footprint expand exponentially. With the likes of 5G networks being introduced as early as next year, this is only set to increase. And yet, while human and machine generated data is exploding, the richness is typically hidden due to the volume, velocity, and variety of it. That is why we need to look at the common element across all data sources - location.  

Location encompasses every aspect of a city: its buildings, transport, and people. Most importantly, cities have always been designed with mobility and geography in mind, whether that be the mouth of a river or along important trade routes. Benchmarking this collected data against location will allow multiple businesses to work together under a common language. For collaboration to prosper, therefore, there’s an imperative need for an open platform with location at the core.


Overlaying artificial intelligence and machine learning to such a platform - and then opening it up to developers and city planners alike - will speed up the pace of innovation and see inhabitants benefit from the seamless experiences within this smart city. From the optimisation of rail lines and roads, to the efficient delivery of packages and the provision of more intuitive public services, smart cities can only prosper through collaborative networks.  

With urban areas expected to hit 70 per cent of global populations by 2050, city mobility must be optimised through intelligent data, in order for autonomous vehicles and other future solutions to thrive. Automotive manufacturers have already kicked off the process with a whole range of intelligent sensors within their cars; however, for the likes of drones to operate to their full potential, businesses must work alongside cities to design more robust solutions.

HERE has worked on the world’s first 3D airspace map, which will enable drones to navigate low-altitude and city environments autonomously. While we’re able to control drones manually at the moment, and even programme them to fly along a direct route, this 3D airspace map would allow drones to adapt to changing city skylines and other vehicles in their vicinity without pre-installed prompters. This is just one example of how businesses can work together to introduce greater intelligence into cities. A digital blueprint of urban areas can help drones and other vehicles preempt physical change, instead of just reacting on an ad hoc basis to new layouts and structures.  

Actionable data

As the wealth of data collected by businesses and cities is shared more and more and entrusted to a comprehensive data repository technology will lead to smarter outputs that assist people in their everyday lives. As more businesses invest in shared data, the rate at which innovative solutions reach the market will quicken. Combine this with the intelligence of governments and local councils, and we can expect the likes of traffic models to improve commute times; the movements of cars and people to optimise city planning; and the application of tracking technology to locate shipments and reduce the financial impact of lost items.

So often with stories dominated by technology, it’s the human element where the real potential lies. Understanding the people behind our cities, from their daily travels through to their challenges in an increasingly crowded metropolis, will, over time, allow businesses to offer more informed solutions to those very same people. Businesses possess the resources and talent to develop the technologies that can change lives. And when the autonomous future does arrive, different businesses must combine their resources to ensure vehicles, drones and people interact safely and intuitively. Simply put - while location has always defined the city, it’s location data that will ensure smart cities becomes a viable reality.

Leen Balcaen, Sr. Director Industry Solutions at HERE Technologies 

Leen Balcaen

Leen Balcaen is the Sr. Director of Industry Solutions at HERE Technologies.  She is a global senior leader with 20 years of experience in the Geo-Location Content/Services Industry with an extensive technical knowledge of spatial databases, navigation product lines, and consumer-facing applications. During the last 5 years, she worked on Smart Cities, (Urban) Mobility and Transport & Logistics. Now, leading the global HERE Content Architecture team.