How Well Do We Really Understand Smart Cities?

Less than a quarter of UK consumers claim to be aware of the term "smart cities." On a more optimistic note, however, our research reveals that UK residents have a greater level of understanding about specific initiatives that aren't described by the "smart" lexicon.

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Image of two smart cities posters mocked up in a London Underground station
Despite the relative maturity of the concept of smart cities—a term for which definitions have existed for around ten years—new research has revealed that only 23% of the UK consumers surveyed had heard of the term ‘smart city’.Our “Smart in the City” research report surveyed more than 5,500 consumers about their opinion on smart cities and their key features. It found that, despite the many initiatives already in place, less than a quarter of UK consumers claim to be aware of the term ‘smart cities’. Of those surveyed, it’s men, the young, and tech adopters who are the most aware.It’s a sobering thought for the industry, confirmation of the fact that a huge knowledge gap exists between what consumers know about and what they want from smart cities, and one that could have a serious impact on driving innovation and adoption. The good news, however, is that it’s not all doom and gloom. A deeper analysis of the research findings reveals a greater level of understanding and interest when respondents were questioned about specific initiatives.

On Smart Cities’ Real Life Benefits

When asked which specific smart city features were the most useful, those initiatives that provide a real-life benefit and that people can easily relate to were rated the highest:
  • Smart water (89%)
  • Smart construction (85%)
  • Smart energy (81%)
  • Smart health (79%)
Features considered the least useful:
  • Smart tourism and leisure (59%)
  • Smart retail (57%)
  • Smart finance (57%)
When specific initiatives were described in greater detail, they were better rated when people could clearly see and understand the benefits. For example, smart transport and mobility initiatives rated highly:
  • Smart traffic control (87%)
  • Smart public parking (83%)
  • Real-time personalized transport information (74%)
Smart transport initiatives could help solve real-life problems like that of the hidden cost of driving, such as sitting in traffic and searching for parking, estimated to cost around £1,924 per driver in 2017.Smart health also came high on the list of highly-rated initiatives. The survey found that 20% of consumers currently own a wearable device, with the most popular being smart health/fitness devices (14%). Of those consumers who don’t currently own a wearable, 55% would consider buying one in the future, so it’s likely that wearables will become the norm, making smart health initiatives, such as linking wearables to GP surgery records, for example, a reality for tens of millions of people. So what can be done to redress this lack of awareness? The survey results suggest that partnerships with brands and telecoms operators could be the way to drive innovation and increase consumer awareness.

Partnerships Are Key

The research explored consumer attitudes to brand involvement in smart city schemes and revealed positive outcomes for brands that support these initiatives. Over 60% of respondents said they would be happy to see advertising or branding funding smart city schemes, while 52% said they would think more favorably of brands that partner with organisations to provide smart city projects. Encouragingly, 42% of those interviewed also stated that they would be more likely to consider buying a product or service from a brand that contributes to the provision of a smart city scheme.Partnerships will be crucial in driving delivery of smart city schemes so the public’s positivity towards brands that support smart city schemes is of significant interest. Combining the commercial commitment and awareness of big name brands, the IoT capabilities of telecoms operators, and the infrastructure of councils and utility providers will enable the creation of initiatives which help consumers understand and embrace the benefits that a smart city framework can bring.A note of caution must be sounded about data use though. The survey findings highlighted that data integrity and usage will need to be given careful consideration in any smart city scheme. Fifty-three percent of respondents expect to have to provide personal information in order to buy or benefit from smart city services, while 42% said they were happy to do so in turn for services that are useful to them. What isn’t surprising, though, is that a significant majority (79%) expressed concern that brands and corporations may not use their data responsibly, suggesting that brands and scheme operators will need to work hard for consumers to feel confident in sharing their data.

Making a Genuine Difference

While initial analysis of the research suggests that there is little awareness or understanding of the smart city concept, digging a little deeper into specific features thankfully sees a different picture emerge. People are beginning to embrace those schemes that they see providing a real benefit or making a genuine difference to their daily lives, such as smart utilities, smart transport, and mobility schemes as well as, of course, smart infrastructure that provides services such as free WiFi or power. The appetite is there, but there’s a huge knowledge gap that must first be overcome with increased awareness and education of consumer benefits.Article by Nick Halas, head of Data and Innovation at Posterscope.