A smarter Thames Valley
The Thames Valley is known as the Silicon Valley of the UK – and with good reason: some of the world’s biggest tech firms, including Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, Dell, O2, Vodafone, and Verizon have their European headquarters here.
High-tech resources and our reliance on technology have meant large-scale data generation, from charting the websites people visit to the digital mapping of bus journey times.
But what matters is what we do with that data – how it gets collected, shared with, and used by the public.
The right use and management of this data could really make a difference to a healthier, more sustainable future for the people who live and work here.
The smart agenda is effectively sustainability in its true sense, encompassing economy, environment and society, but enhanced and enabled by technology – and for now, other communities are further ahead in the practical application of that technology. In Vancouver, Canada, smart meters come with built-in electricity tracking, allowing energy customers to measure their electricity use down to the hour and demonstrably saving up to 15 per cent of consumption.
In Barcelona – known as “the smartest city in the world”, according to 2015 rankings – there are dozens of “smart” innovations: apps for shared bike use, for the remote management of the city’s irrigation needs and to give citizens the chance to suggest ideas and report incidents. There are road markings letting children know the safest way to get to school, and even an IT platform that allows the city council to make decisions in real time, using fully integrated data.
It’s this kind of holistic approach that we need in the Thames Valley – and indeed, across the UK – in order to maximise the opportunity to deliver more sustainable economic growth, and to make us the economic hub for new global business.
Clearly, an integrated approach by authorities across the region is key to achieving this widespread community and economic benefit.
Barcelona’s leaders see a smart city as one that improves the quality of life for all of its citizens, by providing them with the means to be enterprising, to engage directly with government and offering access to usable, real-time data. Without that access, the best data in the world will only be partially useful. It’s why in Helsinki, the city council facilitates regular meet-ups with developers to help them take full advantage of available open data.
Closer to home, in March of this year, Bristol City Council announced a multi-million pound joint venture with the University of Bristol: a smart city project known as Bristol is Open, to examine how big data could help address challenges such as air pollution, traffic congestion, energy supply, and the needs of an aging population. The goal is to create “an open programmable region” that breaks down the barriers between service providers and the public.
We are making some headway here in the Thames Valley: Reading, for instance, already uses predictive systems for assessing transport trends; systems that could also be rolled out across the healthcare, energy, and education sectors.
The potential is huge. Imagine applications that could help care for cardiac patients remotely; bridges that know when they need to be repaired, roads that can tell the council when they need gritting, or an energy network that never wastes any power.
We have the expertise and foundations to do all of these things, and by promoting the capabilities of the Thames Valley, we could help drive significant investment and deliver the capacity for development and growth. Together, we can create a smart city brand to rival Barcelona’s. The future is on our doorstep. Let’s make the most of it.
PBA Partner Scott Witchalls was a key speaker on the “Smart Thames Valley” panel at the Thames Valley Property Forum on 10 September, 2015.