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Businesses must recognise the future of cities

The growth of smart cities isn’t limited to places like Europe and North America. Africa is getting involved too, taking large steps toward investing in this future. To catch up, local businesses must recognise what this will mean.

First we should consider what smart technology in general means.

What is “smart” technology?

Technology’s progress is about doing multiple tasks more efficiently. In other words, it’s about using fewer resources to accomplish the same or more ends.

For example, phones today can run entire businesses, create videos and more. Who would’ve thought a device which only had one function would be doing this?

Similarly, we are developing functions for cities that seem to come from science-fiction. When it comes to the general notion of “smart” technology, it’s about relying on technology to do a great deal of tasks, simultaneously. As one technology expert put it: “What ‘smart’ really does is to take some input from somewhere, apply some ‘brainpower’ and take some actions.”

Smart is also about a piece of technology being connected to the internet. But, primarily, it’s about being informed. Smart devices inform users about their status as well as the status of other things they’re connected to. For example, a smart fridge can tell you when it requires cleaning, as well as when you’ve run out of milk.

How does smart apply to cities?

Everything in cities can be improved, according to city planners. Consider traffic lights. Today barely anyone realises these devices help maintain the ebb and flow of traffic, preventing congestion and build up. While not necessarily smart, it shows how cities have increasingly become automated, depending heavily on technology.

Smart cities are not different in kind, they are merely the logical end of this progress. As we’ve noted, what matters for smart technology is the ability to inform. This is what primarily will make up a smart city. Computer World highlights some tangible examples of what a smart city could look like:

“using sensors to monitor water mains for leaks (and thereby reduce repair costs), or to monitor air quality for high pollution levels (which would yield information that would help people with asthma plan their days). Police can use video sensors to manage crowds or spot crimes. Or sensors might determine that a parking lot is full, and then trigger variable-message street signs to direct drivers to other lots.”

This means everything in a city will be focused on for smart technology development. Whether it’s scrapyards or parking lots, progress means these will be increasingly automated and improved.

Africa is also investing in this, with a summit being held in October, in Rwanda. We can expect to see major African cities, like Johannesburg, take the leap to smart in a few decades. Businesses must be informed and begin transforming themselves to work in a smart city, too.