By: Tony Sceales
Smart cities is a term that is at once familiar and yet still a puzzle to be solved because of the breadth and depth of technologies, services, and challenges it encompasses. Amid the myriad of service trials and rollouts around the globe, the most important part of the equation can sometimes be neglected: that is, ensuring that the customer or citizen is at the heart of any new smart city solution.
Service providers of all types, and in all industries should be putting the customer experience in front and centre of their smart city projects and asking how they can welcome the customer into the “Internet of Everything”.
Indeed, as “smart” services broaden out into energy, healthcare, financial and transport, it’s important to ensure that the services themselves are not setting the agenda, but rather servicing the agenda.
One thing is certain: the customer experience is at a different order of magnitude compared to anything we have faced before.
Many industries now face the challenge of adopting a whole new approach to customer engagement and the provision of services and support.
Sectors such as the telecoms industry already have a direct connection with customers through mobile phone contracts, for example, and are able to track customer experiences through different channels.
Although it’s probably an understatement to say that telecoms operators could do much better on customer service, a personal connection does already exist here. The challenge is to create the ability to understand and measure that relationship, and this has already started to change the way people think about the systems they use.
At the other end of the scale are the big online retailers such as Amazon, which deal with customers only through the online channel. Their interaction with a customer starts when the customer logs in and ends once the product or service is delivered. Although the online giants use analytics to predict what a customer might want to buy next – and they are very good at deploying that – the process tends to be impersonal.
Then there are industries such as banking and utilities. Banks have noticeably improved their interaction with customers through the introduction of new tools such as online banking. Utilities, on the other hand, continue to have a remote relationship with clients with very little real customer engagement.
As smart cities evolve, that can and must change. Customer experience orchestration is really important, and it governs the entire customer lifetime value.
Interestingly, service providers also find that the more services they can offer to a customer, and the more those services are reliable and predictable, the more a customer will trust a particular service provider. Once they have bought four or five services they are far less likely to move.
That has certainly been the case for telcos, which experience greater “stickiness” and spend from customers that subscribe to mobile, home broadband, TV and home phone services from the same service provider.
This multiple services trend can be further enhanced through the Internet of Things (loT). Service providers will have a far greater opportunity to partner with others and offer a portfolio of services through the use of shared technology platforms and the creation of the “middle office”.
Telcos are already offering electricity and financial services products, among others. Now, other types of service providers from different industries can adopt similar strategies.
Smart energy is an important part of the smart city picture, for example. Providers of IoT solutions such as SunTec and its new partner Freestyle are starting to collaborate with large energy utilities to resolve common issues — such as revenue leakage from prepaid services — and improve customer engagement.
Applications that could emerge from these types of collaborations include the provision of new smart energy meters that enable utilities to engage with customers in a whole new way and move away from the monthly bill.
Looking ahead, IoT platforms could also be used to support services that are complementary to smart energy, such as home automation. For instance, automatically turning off the gas supply in the event of a fire alarm; notifying householders and enabling them to remotely control locks; and providing remote access to security cameras.
For utilities and other types of service companies, a primary benefit of this type of integrated approach is that they will be able to replace “analogue” customer interaction processes with a responsive and flexible digital platform that can be used to deliver many different services from multiple providers.
They will also be able to manage a broad portfolio of services in a more flexible way, deploying new applications quickly and easily without having to send out an engineer or deploy new hardware.
In summary, there are countless use cases connected to the smart city. Smart energy solutions could also help protect vulnerable citizens such as old people by tracking energy and water use and notifying relatives or the police if a marked change in behaviour signals that a person may be in difficulty.
The ultimate goal is to “connect the dots” among different service providers to provide a unified experience of smart services ranging from smart energy to home automation and smart building services.
As more service providers come together to address this new and collaborative way of working, a fundamental question is: who will pull all the different strands together?
Local authorities will have a role to play here – as an enabler of services or in the governance and management of common platforms. Indeed, cities can be both a beneficiary of services such as smart healthcare and a service provider, with associated revenue-generating opportunities.
This is the beginning of an avalanche of IoT opportunities.