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660 posts categorized "Connectivity"

July 30, 2013

Supply Chain Trends: Are Things Going as Predicted?

TrendsRecently Adrian Gonzalez penned an article about supply chain trends. ["What Are Your Top 10 Supply Chain Trends?" Logistics Viewpoints, 10 July 2013] The inspiration for Gonzalez' article was a presentation given by Tom Linton, Chief Procurement and Supply Chain Officer at Flextronics, at the Crossroads 2013: Supply Chain as Future Enabler conference at MIT earlier this year. The presentation was entitled A Vision of Supply Chain Evolution. During that presentation, Linton offered his top 10 list of supply chain trends. Since we have crossed the hump for 2013, I thought it might be interesting to compare Linton's list with some of the predictions made about the supply chain at the end of last year. First, let's look at Linton's list as summarized by Gonzalez, with added commentary about some of the predictions made last year. I'm drawing on a 4-part series I wrote entitled The Future of Supply Chain Management (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) for those predictions.

#10: Cloud Computing: Low cost and reliable cloud solutions for global supply chains are starting to emerge; “apps” will transform supply chains.

Last year, Gonzalez predicted that "big data, social media, cloud computing, and mobile technologies will continue to dominate the headlines and that user interfaces for supply chain apps would get a social makeover. Those predictions have certainly proven to be true. Of all of the topics mentioned by Gonzalez, big data and mobile technologies have probably garnered the most attention.

#9: Business Process Convergence: Instead of automating inefficient processes, companies will eliminate them — e.g., replace inter-company business documents such as purchase orders with sense-and-response systems; companies will more seamlessly integrate inter-company functions.

Last year, Kerry McCracken, vice president of business solutions for the Integrated Network Solutions Segment of Flextronics, predicted that companies are going to get wiser in the area of business-to-business electronic commerce. They have to, she insists, because so many "industry giants" currently find themselves "lagging in the area." She stated, "Some folks can't even figure out how to set up an order electronically." She lamented that some "companies are still struggling to embrace the possibilities offered by modern technology." McCracken believed that many young companies were in a better position than large ones because they are more agile and not overburdened with legacy infrastructure.

#8: Global Labor Costs Equalize: Labor arbitrage is in decline as labor costs in Mexico match China's, and India, Ukraine, and Indonesia become more cost competitive.

McCracken asserted that the business world should "expect a 'rearranging of the deck chairs' by companies moving production around the globe to take advantage of the lowest-cost sources." As labor costs equalize, one would expect to see less, not more, rearranging of deck chairs.

#7: Raw Material Scarcity is driving innovation in materials, with companies replacing copper with aluminum, gold with copper, and steel with resin in certain cases. Companies will also need to better manage conflict minerals and rare earth metals.

The National Intelligence Council believes that resource scarcity is going to be a major shaper of the future. Analysts at KPMG agree. In a report published early last year, KPMG analysts identified "ten sustainability megaforces that will impact each and every business over the next 20 years." Resource scarcity was among the sustainability megaforces they discussed.

#6: Skill Specialization: New supply chain skills will emerge, such as managing supply chains in the cloud, and undergraduate and MBA programs will become more specialized.

Gonzalez predicted there would be "more programs and partnerships to address the talent shortage problem." This may be one of Gonzalez' safest predictions. A number of supply chain analysts, including Lora Cecere, have lamented that not enough is being done to attract, train, and retrain talented people. For more on that subject, see my post entitled More Supply Chain Talent Needed.

#5: Regional & Local Sourcing will expand and supply ecosystems will emerge as economies grow; "Made in USA" and "locally-sourced" will drive sourcing.

This is not a new trend but it is a growing one. For more on the subject, read my posts entitled Regional, Local, and Sustainable Sourcing and Local Sourcing Gaining Ground.

#4: Emergence of Control Towers as supply chains become more virtual (few or no factories). Supply chain winners will have a global footprint and be transparent, reliable, and flexible.

For more on this topic, read my post entitled Have You Heard about Supply Chain Control Towers? Control towers are all about transparency and connectivity. As a result, they play an important role in Linton's #1 trend non-zero supply chains (see below).

#3: Predictable Unpredictability: Predictability becomes a competitive advantage; supply chains break through barriers to become faster, more cost efficient, and safer.

Supply chain analyst Bob Ferrari agrees. Last year he stated, "The world economy continues to provide an environment of high uncertainty and 2013 will undoubtedly provide more reinforcement."

#2: Corporate Social Responsibility Becomes Fundamental: It won't be an option any more, policies expand globally, emerging country laws catch up, and foreign corporations will follow global norms.

Last year, Mark Buck, a global supply chain and procurement leader with Bio-Rad Laboratories, predicted that we would "see producers taking greater responsibility for launching and complying with green initiatives." Gonzalez predicted "increased adoption of alternative fuel vehicles." I anticipate that the trend towards sustainability will not only continue but accelerate.

#1: "Non-Zero" Supply Chains Win: In other words, supply chains focused on greater collaboration between everyone in the ecosystem will win. This will result in end-to-end supply chain solutions that will create new value for customers.

Collaboration is easier said than done. For more on this topic, read my posts entitled Supply Chain Collaboration and Dynamic Collaboration: Inside and Out.

Some of the predictions made by pundits at the end of 2012 weren't covered by Linton, including:


Craig Cuffie, vice president of supply chain and chief procurement officer with Clearwire Communications, predicted that "Cyber-security will be a growing concern in the coming year." Cuffie was right in both anticipated and surprising ways. Earlier this year, there was a lot of discussion about hacking being pursued by the Chinese military. More recently, leaks by Eric Snowden concerning NSA monitoring has grabbed a lot of attention.

Digital Path to Purchase

Devin Fidler, research director of the Technology Horizons Program, predicted that "within five to 10 years, the internet will become more of a tool for 'disrupting commerce.'" Robert J. Bowman, managing editor of SupplyChainBrain explained what Fidler meant: "Businesses will address the 'last-mile' problem by routing more product directly to customers. Even the U.S. Postal Service is getting into the act, with the introduction of same-day delivery in select cities."


Buck predicted the coming year would be an economist's nightmare, "a stagflation kind of year." Bowman explained: "The battle between the Obama Administration and Republicans over the federal budget, tax policy and the self-created 'fiscal cliff' will have a dampening effect on the economy. Prices will flatten or decline. 'No one's going to be investing cash,' Buck said. 'You're going to see things start to crumble. Maybe things will start to price up at the end of the year.'" Things haven't gone quite as badly as Buck feared, but the term stagflation is probably still a good descriptor.


Craig Cuffie, vice president of supply chain and chief procurement officer with Clearwire Communications predicted that there would only be "a 'limited' amount of re-shoring of manufacturing from China back to the U.S." It's fair to say that reshoring has been limited.


Fidler predicted that "robotics will play a huge role in transforming physical distribution, especially in the warehouse. ... [He] likened this moment in history to the transition from the Arpanet to the internet." Frankly, I'm surprised that this didn't make Linton's top ten list.

Additive Manufacturing

Jim Miller, vice president of worldwide operations with Google, predicted that increased use of additive manufacturing (or 3D printing) would change the business landscape. Bowman expanded: "Miller cited the science of 3D printing, in which digital technology makes possible the layering of materials to create solid, three-dimensional objects. Applications include circuit boards, apparel, medical equipment, automotive, engineering and construction. The implications are huge for manufacturers, who could turn out precisely tailored products for customers in extremely small production runs – even one or two items. The technology's full impact might not be felt in the next three to five years, said Miller, 'but there’s more evidence that 3D printers are going to [be] a pretty disruptive force.'"

All in all there appear to be few surprises when it comes to supply chain trends. Most of the trends that have emerged over the past several years are gaining momentum. Companies that haven't adjusted to these trends (believing that they are simply passing fads) should reconsider their positions.

July 25, 2013

The Future of Urban Transportation: Moving Goods

In an earlier post (The Future of Urban Transportation: Moving People), I discussed some of the solutions that researchers are considering to help overcome traffic congestion challenges in urban areas. Moving people around in urban environments, however, is only half of the challenge. "In the grand scheme of urban mobility," writes Eric Jaffe, "it's easy to lose track of commercial freight movement." ["The Forgotten Urban Transportation Problem We Should Be Trying to Fix," The Atlantic Cities, 22 May 2013] No matter where people live they require food, clothing, and other consumer goods; however, not many people think about how those goods are delivered into the city. The more congested the city, the more difficult the challenge. Jaffe continues:

Source: Delivering Tomorrow
"Commuters are the primary source of traffic coming into and out of the city, and parking causes much of the street-to-street congestion within it. Fact is, says transport scholar Genevieve Giuliano of the University of Southern California, it's so easy to forget about freight that metropolitan areas have done so for years — at their own peril. 'Any of us who live in cities and metropolitan areas are very dependent on urban freight, because that's how all of the goods and services we purchase get here,' says Giuliano. 'It's fascinating to me that it's never been a part of city planning.' The consequence of this historical oversight is that handling cargo has become the 'newest urban transportation problem,' according to Giuliano. While cities have been places of trade and exchange for as long as they've existed, planners have only recently begun to give freight its due consideration. Even the new wave of smart growth strategies — with its emphasis on reduced road capacity as well as mixed-use development — has created some unintended complications for commercial movement. 'The more that you follow these types of strategies without thinking about how freight actually gets delivered, the more problems you're going to generate,' Giuliano says."

In the previous post on urban transportation mentioned above, I noted that one of the problems with getting people to use public transportation is that the so-called "first and last mile" challenge. It has yet to be solved. The "first and last mile" challenge for freight can be even more problematic. In fact, Jaffe says that challenge is the first of three significant categories of problems that plague cities. Giuliano calls it the "metro core" problem. Jaffe explains, "Essentially, [the problem involves] the congestion and double-parking that occurs in city centers when trucks aren't well-managed during the first and last mile of delivery." The second category of challenges identified by Giuliano involves "the environmental impact of moving freight through the metro area." She labels the final challenge, "the hub dilemma — the additional layer of commercial traffic that accrues at international nodes like Los Angeles (for port shipping) or Chicago (for rail freight)."

Jaffe reports that a survey conducted by Giuliano and some colleagues concludes that cities outside of the United States handle urban freight management better than American cities. The abstract for the survey states:

"The authors use three categories to describe urban freight strategies: last mile/first mile deliveries and pickups, environmental mitigation, and trade node strategies. The authors find that there are many possibilities for better managing urban freight and its impacts including labeling and certification programs, incentive-based voluntary emissions reductions programs, local land use and parking policies, and more stringent national fuel efficiency and emissions standards for heavy duty trucks. More research is needed on intra-metropolitan freight movements and on the effectiveness of existing policies and strategies."

As you can sense from that abstract, a great deal of emphasis appears to be on the environmental impacts of freight management in urban areas. Jaffe reports:

"London ... recently established a low-emissions zone in the metro area. The zone targeted the worst environmental offenders, including heavy diesel trucks, and the early results are at least a little encouraging. One new study found a measurable change in fleet quality as well as a small improvement in air quality."

The video found below (which was created by Oliver O'Brien, a researcher at University College London) demonstrates why controlling emissions in London is critical. London is a magnet for workers who commute in and out of the city each day. The video "is an animation of Oyster Card (commuter smartcard) taps in and out of London's tube and rail stations. Taps are recorded in 10-minute intervals, and red represents flow into the system, while green indicates exiting a station." ["Get Lost in These 19 Fascinating Maps," by Lauren Drell, Mashable, 24 April 2013] Road traffic data (both private and commercial) only add to the commute.

Jaffe reports that Paris "is way ahead of the curve when it comes to experimenting with potential solutions to freight congestion." Although he admits that Paris' scheme requires additional handling of goods and increases costs. He explains:

"The city's most ambitious program may be its model of consolidating shipments outside the metro area then shipping them into the city center for redistribution. The plan isn't perfect — for one thing, handling goods an extra time increases costs — but it does address the classic urban freight problem of partly full trucks taking up space on city roads."

Frankly, I'm a bit surprised that solutions to the "first and last mile" challenge haven't progressed any further than they have. A couple of years ago I published two posts on the subject of the "Surmounting the Last Mile Delivery Challenge is Urban Areas." In the first of those posts (Part 1: Pipe Dreams), I discussed some ideas that used pipes (either new ones or existing underground systems) to move packages from centralized warehouses situated outside of cities at rapid speeds into delivery centers within the city. The beauty of these kinds of systems is that they don't congest city streets. The drawbacks to such systems include increased costs as well as the limited size and quantity of things that can be transported in this manner. In the second post (Part 2: Small and Clean Vehicles), I discussed some of the new zero-emission vehicle designs that are generally smaller than the trucks and lorries used to make deliveries today. Many of those vehicles are already in use around the globe.

Because cities are at the bottom of the legal pecking order (i.e., federal and state laws take precedent), Jaffe reports that "Giuliano believes the most promising approach to freight problems in U.S. cities will be pacts negotiated directly with companies and operators." I expect to see a lot more public/private cooperation in the years ahead. Companies that opt out of collaborating with cities may, in a very real sense, find themselves on the outside. This will be especially true if those public/private partnerships involve the construction and operation of transways (e.g., roads, rails, canals, tunnels, pipes, etc.). Giuliano told Jaffe, "As states we can't impose regulations because of protection, so the next best thing is to have these negotiations to see what we can accomplish by providing incentives. The models we see in Europe, they're always initiated by government, but essentially they're partnerships: "We have a problem, let's figure out how we're going to solve it".'"

I would expect automobile/truck manufacturers, trucking/delivery firms, and railroads to play a major role in helping figure out solutions to the three major categories of challenges Giuliano noted above; but trucking/delivery firms will probably play the largest role. Typically about 80 percent of freight with a local destination is carried by truck.

To be of most use, these solutions will have to be integrated and that means that Big Data will play an essential role in helping make the delivery of goods in urban areas as efficient and effective as possible. There are currently experiments ongoing in Europe to demonstrate how "automatic data capturing and information sharing will make it possible to harmonize the urban transport to achieve environmental and economic benefits." ["Project Demonstrations," STRAIGHTSOL, 3 January 2013] In the post about moving people in and about in urban areas, researchers concluded that there is no silver bullet solution to the challenge. The same is certainly true when it comes to the movement of goods. A combination of strategies will have to be employed if progress is to be made. City planners will continue to ignore the movement of urban freight at their own peril. Elichi Taniguchi writes, "The need is urgent for more efficient and effective freight transport systems that not only address costs but also fully tackle environmental issues such as noise, air pollution, vibration and visual intrusion. ... It’s time to create real visions for City Logistics." ["The Future of City Logistics," 29 October 2012] He agrees with Jaffe that "logistics providers have an important role to play in in all of this." He concludes, "In the end we need to see a change in attitude among all stakeholders if we are to facilitate City Logistics. They need to recognize the importance of working together in the initial planning stages. If they do, everyone benefits."

July 22, 2013

The Internet of Things Looks Like Big Business

The world changed forever when people started connecting over the Internet. The world is going to change again as billions of devices and machines start connecting over what is being called "The Internet of Things" (IoT). Brian Proffitt writes, "The rise of the Internet of Things means billions of physical objects will soon generate massive amounts of data 24 hours a day. Not only will this make traditional search methods nearly impossible to use, it will also create an environment where instead of looking for things in the world, those things will be seeking us out to give us all sorts of information that will help us fix, use or buy them." ["How The Internet Of Things Will Revolutionize Search," readwrite, 26 April 2013] Proffitt continues:

"When talking about the Internet of Things, it is important to get past the hype and explain exactly what it is: vast numbers of automated physical devices and objects connected to the Internet. These devices are usually routers, switches, phones … but increasingly devices like security cameras and remote climate sensors are being added -- and over time we can expect everything from cars to refrigerators to join the party."

Kenton Williston notes that as "embedded systems grow increasingly interconnected, fragmentation is becoming a major problem." He reports that Intel is trying to solve the problem "with a set of interoperable solutions that can scale across applications. The framework brings together hardware, OSs, and software for connectivity, security, manageability." ["Intel Intelligent Systems Framework Simplifies 'Internet of Things'," Intel Embedded Community, 11 September 2012] Intel sees the Internet of Things as depicted in the following graphic.

Intel IoT

Although the Internet of Things seems to be the name with the greatest degree of stickiness, it has been referred to by other names as well. Early this century, for example, my friend Thomas P.M. Barnett predicted its rise and called it the "Evernet." Others prefer the term "Internet of Everything" (IoE). General Electric (GE) prefers the term "Industrial Internet" since it will primarily connect machines. For more background, read my post entitled Machine-to-Machine Communication. GE also believes that the Industrial Internet is going to be good for business. "GE believes the Industrial Internet will spur accelerated economic productivity, potentially boosting GDP by an average of $4,600 to $7,000 per person in the U.S." ["'Industrial Internet' Could Boost GDP $2 Trillion by 2020," by Patrick Brogan, USTelecom, 14 June 2013] Brogan reports that a study released by GE last November concluded, "The 'Industrial Internet,' the growing network of machines and sensors across all sectors of the economy linked through Internet communications networks, could add an estimated $1.5 trillion to $2.3 trillion to annual U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2020."

General Electric isn't the only company that sees a big future for the Internet of Things. "The value at stake for the 'Internet of Everything' is $14.4 trillion that businesses and customers can capture in the next decade, according to Cisco. In other terms, Cisco is projecting that the Internet of Everything has the potential to grow global corporate profits by 21 percent in aggregate by 2022." ["Cisco: 'Internet of Everything' to yield $14.4 trillion in value," by Rachel King, CNET, 13 March 2013] At a Cisco-sponsored conference, Rob Lloyd, the company's president of sales and development, told the audience "that 99 percent of electronics in the world today still aren't connected to the Internet." King continues:

"The next step, therefore, is the Internet of Everything in which those devices will be brought online. 'If you look at those business imperatives and think of them in the context of those major technology trends, there is an entirely new role of IT coming out,' Lloyd said. 'The role of the network is critical to unlock these major market trends.' For the Internet of Everything, Lloyd said that means taking people, process, data -- all the things done so far in connecting the first 10 billion connected devices -- to unlock capabilities we haven't seen yet."

Brogan points out that most of the technologies required to make the Internet of Things a reality already exist. They include, radio frequency identification (RFID) sensors, real-time data analytics, cloud computing, machine-to-machine communications, mobility, and visualization of data. King reports that Cisco believes the Internet of Things will probably be implemented vertically before being connected horizontally. She writes:

"Cisco believes that there are at least seven verticals that will move more quickly, starting with manufacturing followed by the public sector, energy/utilities, health care, finance/insurance, transportation, and wholesale/distribution. But Lloyd stipulated that the Internet of Everything will be driven by business funding -- not IT funding -- as we embrace consumer devices (aka bring your own device, or BYOD), the cloud, and data analytics to drive insights. Cisco's chief strategy and technical officer, Padmasree Warrior, explained further, asserting that the next decade of work will be about making all of these processes more efficient. For the network, Warrior outlined some of the technology implications, asserting that networks need to be more programmable, automated, dynamic, aware, agile, and secure in the face of a growing 'app-based economy'. 'The network needs to be much more orchestrated rather than just being configurable,' Warrior added. Warrior also reflected that the discussion -- at least around big data -- is finally moving from data collection to data usage."

Once a robust Internet of Things is developed, pundits imagine all sorts of things will become possible. Bob Violino writes, "The most common examples are smart cars, IP-addressable washing machines and Internet-connected nanny cams." ["The Internet of Things: Coming to a network near you," Network World, 22 April 2013] Tom Soroka, Vice President for Engineering and Technology at USTelecom, sees huge potential in the industrial sector. "When we marry the power of a global Internet with the power of global industry," he writes, "one can just imagine the massive potential of an industrial-grade network built just for the purpose of developing, manufacturing, ordering, delivering and operating commerce around the world." ["Explaining the Industrial Internet," USTelecom Newsletter, subscription required] Proffitt envisions the day when the IoT will schedule maintenance work and direct customers to RFID tagged products. He writes:

"This world is not far off. Smartphones and other mobile devices can already tap into public search engines to discover more about the world around them. You can use augmented reality to see results displayed graphically on device screens. As more and more objects join the Internet, they'll create information that will be added to the potential data you can receive, raising the level of information available by orders of magnitude. This will be both a boon (more data to help make decisions) and a curse (so much data you could drown)."

Analysts at ABI Research agree that M2M networks and services are going to prove to be "golden eggs" of profitability for those who master the domain. However, they have found "porous security is exposing vulnerabilities in a large number of use-case scenarios" and that vulnerability threatens to slow the growth of the Internet of Things. ["Machine-to-Machine Application Market Grows, But Poor Security Is Major Issue, Report Finds," SupplyChainBrain, 13 February 2013] The analysts argue, "The horizontal evolution of M2M will require full end-to-end security. Significant efforts need to be invested into M2M application security in order for the M2M market to fully evolve. Whether this is through open source initiatives or standards development, the demand for increased M2M application security will have to be answered, and sooner rather than later."

Most analysts, however, are convinced that the Internet of Things will come about and that it will be big business. Earlier this year, Cisco CEO and chairman John Chambers, stated, "I believe that businesses and industries that quickly harness the benefits of the Internet of Everything will be rewarded with a larger share of that increased profitability. This will happen at the expense of those that wait or don't adapt effectively. That's why the value is 'at stake' – it's truly up for grabs." ["Economic impact of the 'Internet of Everything' will be US$14trn – Cisco's Chambers," by John Kennedy, Silicon Republic, 19 February 2013]

The U.S. Telecom Association expects its members to get a share of the trillions of dollars at stake. Brogan explains, "Central to this operation are the broadband networks that link machines and sensors together, connecting data centers hosting computers that collect data, process it into actionable information, and display the information in usable formats to end users or connected machines. To keep this system running, fiber-optic networks and systems will need to be built, and large quantities of routers and switches will need to be deployed." Obviously, there are still hurdles to be jumped and challenges to be met before a full-fledged Internet of Things emerges. The biggest players, however, are already involved and it won't be long before the Internet of Things is much larger than the Internet/World Wide Web used to connect humans.

July 11, 2013

Trends and Technologies that are Going to Change Your Life and Business: Part 4

McKinsey technologiesIn Part 3 of this 4-part series, I discussed the first six of twelve technologies identified as game-changers by McKinsey & Company analysts, James Manyika, Michael Chui, Jacques Bughin, Richard Dobbs, Peter Bisson, and Alex Marrs in a report entitled, "Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy. [1 May 2013] The McKinsey analysts used four criteria to select their 12 candidates. First, the technology had to be "rapidly advancing or experiencing breakthroughs." Second, the technology's "potential scope of impact" had to be broad. Third, the technology had to be to affect "significant economic value." Finally, that economic impact had to be "potentially disruptive." In this post, I'll discuss the remaining six technologies. The details concerning these technologies were drawn from the executive summary of their report.

7. Autonomous and Near-autonomous Vehicles

The author's write, "It is now possible to create cars, trucks, aircraft, and boats that are completely or partly autonomous. From drone aircraft on the battlefield to Google's self-driving car, the technologies of machine vision, artificial intelligence, sensors, and actuators that make these machines possible is rapidly improving." To put an exclamation point on this prediction, a Romanian teenager recently "came up with a low-cost autonomous car system. The idea brought Ionut Budisteanu the top prize, a $75,000 scholarship, in the Intel international Science and Engineering Fair." ["Teen Invents Low-Cost Self-Driving Car Concept," TechBeat, 21 May 2013] Below is a video about Budisteanu's invention.

8. Energy Storage

The authors write, "Energy storage technology includes batteries and other systems that store energy for later use. ... Over the next decade, advances in energy storage technology could make electric vehicles (hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electrics) cost competitive with vehicles based on internal-combustion engines. On the power grid, advanced battery storage systems can help with the integration of solar and wind power, improve quality by controlling frequency variations, handle peak loads, and reduce costs by enabling utilities to postpone infrastructure expansion." This is an extremely important area that will become even more critical as populations expand and become ever more organized. Economic progress rides on the shoulders of the power grid. Dario Borghino reports, "A new 'wood battery' could allow the emerging sodium-ion battery technology to fit the bill as a long-lasting, efficient and environmentally friendly battery for large-scale energy storage." ["Wood nanobattery could be green option for large-scale energy storage," Gizmag, 6 July 2013] He explains:

"Scientists are speculating that sodium-ion batteries, currently in an early stage of development, could suit large-scale energy storage much better than Li-ion batteries, partially because sodium is cheap and plentiful and because sodium is environmentally benign. But for Na-ion batteries to become a viable energy-storage option there are still many obstacles to overcome, the greatest of which is the phenomenon known as sodiation. With each charge/discharge cycle, the sodium ions cause the anode of the battery to swell by as much as 420 percent and then return to normal. This phenomenon, known as sodiation, can literally pulverize the anode after only 20 cycles, rendering the battery extremely short-lived. University of Maryland (UM) researchers Liangbing Hu and Teng Li found a way around this problem. The stiff bases often used in existing batteries are too brittle to withstand the swelling and shrinking caused by sodiation, so the researchers turned to the much softer wood fibers. These have evolved to withstand these forces extremely well as they use capillary forces to transfer the sodium ions from the soil around them to the leaves of their tree. The resulting sodium-ion battery that uses wood fibers increases durability twenty-fold compared with previous designs. ... Because sodium doesn't store energy quite as efficiently as lithium, there is little chance of this technology eventually finding its way to your next-generation gadget. However, because of their low cost and use of environmentally benign common materials, sodium-ion batteries could be used to store large amounts of energy from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar."

9. 3D Printing

Almost every list of trends and technologies that are going to change the world has additive printing somewhere on it. The authors write, "The performance of additive manufacturing machinery is improving, the range of materials is expanding, and prices (for both printers and materials) are declining rapidly — bringing 3D printing to a point where it could see rapid adoption by consumers and even for more manufacturing uses." Schmidt believes it will be the combination of new materials and new manufacturing methods that will bring about a new industrial revolution. This combination means, he states, "that it'll be possible to build very interesting things from very interesting, new materials, which have all sorts of new properties." Advanced materials is the next technology on the McKinsey list.

10. Advanced Materials.

The author's write, "Over the past few decades, scientists have discovered ways to produce materials with incredible attributes — smart materials that are self-healing or self-cleaning; memory metals that can never revert to their original shapes; piezoelectric ceramics and crystals that turn pressure into energy; and nanomaterials. Nanomaterials in particular stand out in terms of their high rate of improvement, broad potential applicability, and long-term potential to drive economic impact." In fact, the nanomaterial graphene has been called "the first wonder material of the 21st century." ["Graphene: Faster, stronger, bendier," by Clive Cookson, Financial Times, 27 January 2013] Cookson writes, "Its properties encompass an astonishing range of superlatives, including better electrical and thermal conductivity, mechanical strength and optical purity than any other material." It seems that new properties of uses for graphene are discovered every day.

11. Advanced Oil and Gas Exploration and Recovery

The author's write, "The ability to extract so-called unconventional oil and gas reserves from shale rock formations is a technology revolution that has been gathering force for nearly four decades. The combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing makes it possible to reach oil and gas deposits that were known to exist in the United States and other places but that were not economically accessible by conventional drilling." Robert Nelsen, co-founder and Managing Director of ARCH Venture Partners, agrees with the McKinsey analysts. He states, "The biggest trend is innovation in our core energy sector, more specifically fracking, and new technologies that can turn natural gas into oil. The first is a product of oil industry and academic research; the second is a product of biotech innovation. This is probably the largest change in our economy in 50 years, and will rival the existence of Silicon Valley in its importance. It will make the USA a net exporter of fuels in 20 years, will take the ability to price oil away from OPEC and thus reduce tension in the Middle East, and will reduce strategic energy competition between the USA and China and Russia by letting them all increase their own domestic production." ["Top 20 Under-the-Radar Trends in Innovation," by Gregory T. Huang, Xconomy, 30 May 2013] Environmentalists don't hail these new capabilities as breakthroughs; rather, they see them as expensive attempts to cling to the age of oil. They believe that the money being spent oil and gas exploration would be better spent on the final technology identified by McKinsey: renewable energy.

12. Renewable Energy

The authors write, "Renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro-electric, and ocean wave hold the promise of an endless source of power without stripping resources, contributing to climate change, or worrying about competition for fossil fuels." What has held back renewable energy from achieving greater market share in energy production is cost. The McKinsey analysts note, however: "In the past two decades, the cost of power produced by solar cells has dropped from nearly $8 per watt of capacity to one tenth of that amount." Despite advances, however, renewable energy generation in the U.S. still lags behind other fuel sources (see the following image).


The McKinsey analysts note that there are other technologies "on the radar" awaiting breakthroughs that give them the same kind of economic impact as the twelve candidate technologies they selected. The point is, there are amazing advances being made every day and we never know how they will change our lives.

June 17, 2013

Smart Cities 37 Years On

"If you work for a young web company," writes Jasmine Gardner, "you probably think your office is pretty cool. Maybe it has a pool table or even a roof terrace. Pah! Give it 37 years and, according to engineering company Arup, our office blocks will contain working farms, produce their own energy, be linked together by suspended green walkways and sections of each floor will be removable, upgradable and replaceable." ["Smart cities: what urban life will be like in 2050," London Evening Standard, 4 March 2013] Sounds exciting doesn't it? Well, don't get too excited. Futurists tend to exaggerate how much things will change in the future and seldom are their predictions fulfilled. The attached 1925 postcard is a good example of two things.Future New York City First, buildings last a long time. You can easily see recognizable New York City buildings that are standing today. Even though a few high profile buildings had been added to NYC skyline by 1962 (37 years after the postcard was printed), people traveling forward in time would still have been able to walk down the streets of New York and recognize where they were. The second point, is that the details are nearly always wrong. Aircraft never looked like those depicted; elevated trains never ran skyward through buildings; and so forth. Obviously, futurists don't get everything wrong; but, if they were given a letter grade for the bulk of their predictions they would probably get a "D."

Having said that, I really don't fault the futurists. Their job is to look at what's possible not really predict the probable. Everything that the Arup company predicted is possible. Buildings like those described probably will be built, but not a lot of them. I predict that if you travel forward in time 37 years to 2050, you would be able to walk down the street of any major city that exists today and find your way around using landmark buildings that are already in place. Cities change slowly -- at least established (i.e., brownfield) ones.

There are new cities being built, however, especially in the developing world. How those cities are built will make a huge difference in the lives of millions of future citizens. It is in those cities where one might see the kinds of buildings predicted by Arup. Gardner continues:

"This is the building of the future, imagined in a report released [in March 2013] by Arup’s 'Foresight + Innovation' arm. It is just one example of the elements that will make up our 'smart cities' of the next age. 'Smart cities' is the buzz phrase of the moment. It refers to energy-efficient and spacially economical urban worlds in which we'll live in years to come — all thanks to technology. Smarter cities are now a focus of both big business, such as Shell and IBM, and small entrepreneurs and scientists, such as the Dutch microbiologists who have developed a self-healing concrete. Cracks in the buildings of the future will be filled by calcium carbonate, produced by a bacteria feeding on nutrients, both incorporated into the cement. The bacteria are only activated when rainwater gets into a crack."

Some older buildings will undoubtedly be retrofitted with smart technologies to make them more efficient and others will gain new life by housing urban farms or 3D manufacturing plants; but, only in newly constructed cities are you likely to find "from-the-ground-up" smart technologies built into every building. Nevertheless, it remains important for urban planners and engineers to keep developing concepts. You never know when a true breakthrough will occur that will help us cope with the 9 billion people who will inhabit the planet in 2050 (most of whom will live in cities). Rick Robinson, executive architect for the IBM's Smarter Cities initiative, told Gardner, "In the West we've become accustomed to building cities outwards around cars. If more people fall into that lifestyle we're going to exhaust the world's resources very, very quickly." Robinson recognizes that it is the new urban dweller coming to live in newly constructed cities that will in large measure hold the key to planet's future.

But city dwellers living in brownfield cities are also going to put pressure on resources and energy. Adam Newton, a project manager for the Strategy and Scenarios team at Shell, told Gardner, "By 2050, between 70 and 80 per cent of the world's population will live in cities. How and where people consume energy will be very important." Frankly, I'm much more concerned about the future of brownfield cities than those that are yet to be constructed. Here are a few reasons why. Old water pipes leak. Sanitation systems are being overwhelmed (if they exist at all). Transportation patterns are mostly established. Inefficient electric grids are already in place. Finally, many of the building that will be around in 2050 are already built. Smart people and enlightened politicians are going to have to work with private enterprise if we want things to change for the better in many of these brownfield cities. Gardner continues:

"For IBM, smarter cities mean ones that harness data. It is already creating space on the cloud to share information such as water flow and distribution. 'By managing pressure on a water distribution network, you can serve additional houses without needing to expand the system — allowing you to support a growing population without spending hundreds of millions of pounds on infrastructure,' explains Robinson. Intelligent traffic lights are also high on the agenda. 'In Singapore and California we've used technology that can make predictions that are 85 per cent accurate about how traffic is going to develop over the next hour,' he says. In future the light sequencing might change automatically. For Shell, it's all about energy efficiency. 'The low energy prices that drove cities to sprawl may not exist in 20 years. Fewer roads and better integrated public transport is likely to be the way forward,' says Newton."

But better and more integrated public transportation systems costs money (which cities don't have) and will only be sustainable if the cultural mindset of urbanites and suburbanites change significantly. Rick Robinson bluntly states, "No-one is going to pay cities to become Smarter." [Sustainable Cities Collective, 30 November 2012] He goes on to discuss "four ways in which money is already spent" and then recommends way "to harness that spending power to achieve the outcomes that cities need." He concludes, "We should not wait for new, large-scale sources of Smarter City funding to appear before we start to transform our cities – we cannot afford to; and it’s simply not going to happen. What we must do is look at the progress that is already being made by cities, entrepreneurs and communities across the world, and follow their example."

The economic sector that is most likely to see deep penetration of smart technologies is the electric utility sector. Gardner reports, for example, that the U.S. energy data analytics company Intelen has begun a project "which monitors energy usage in office blocks with smart meters and has created a social gaming application where employees compete for low-energy scores." That's a great initiative because it addresses both technology and culture. Gardner admits that "these don’t seem [like] outlandish developments," such as those described in the Arup report, and she wonders if its "futuristic building [is] just science fiction." Josef Hargrave, the author of Arup's report, acknowledges that some of the predictions made in the report are unrealistic (like the flying robots which remove and re-insert building sections), but he believes that smart electricity grid integration is very realistic. Having said that, Hargrave told Gardner that "all the ideas are based on current prototypes and development — flying robots are actually being developed in Zurich, Switzerland, and can build a six-metre tower out of foam bricks." Gardner concludes:

"Given the exponential rate of technological advancement, it's not hard to fathom that skyscrapers coated with photovoltaic paint will indeed come to pass — and sooner than you think. Indeed, the floors of Arup's building occupied by algae-filled biofuel pods are not unlike a current project by French biochemist Pierre Calleja. He is building algae street lamps that eat up CO2 in the atmosphere. Combine this with another algae lamp that produces its own light using energy created by photosynthesis and you get self-powered, anti-pollution street lamps. Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) just announced their creation of a graphene supercapacitor — essentially a battery but one that charges up to 1,000 times faster than the normal kind, and that can be composted. The future promises instant phone chargers and petrol stations with plugs that can charge cars faster than they currently fill up on unleaded. ... The real smart aspect may come down not to the technology which we know exists but to foresight and willingness to change. 'There have to be new models of collaboration for businesses and decision-makers in cities and government to have the positive impact we know the technology could support,' says [Shell's] Newton. The city that leads in this department may just end up the smartest in the class."

Cities will change over the next 37 years. Change is inevitable. Whether that change is good or bad remains to be seen. The one thing that worries me most is the fact that almost all Smart Cities initiatives address problems associated with connected citizens. Many of today's largest cities have large, unconnected ghettos associated with them. Individuals who live in those ghettos are survivors; but, getting them connected to grids and networks would make their lives much more productive and their futures much brighter. In all the talk about smart cities, we can't forget about them.

June 03, 2013

Supply Chain Analytics

"Now that we're all connected and responding 24x7 via any number of devices," writes Jennifer Baljko, "of course there would be a loud corresponding call to have a 'real-time supply chain,' too." ["Betting on Analytics as Supply Chain's Next Big Thing," EBN, 3 May 2013] A number of supply chain analysts have noted that the clock speed of business has been accelerating for several decades. That's why the term "real-time" is finding its way into more supply chain discussions. Baljko asserts that the vision of real-time, "follow-the-sun supply chains" is coming closer to becoming a reality; but, "a necessary foundation for moving efficiently at real-time speed -- supply chain analytics -- is still very much at the beginning stages of development at many companies, and will take time to build out."

Big Data supply chain clearI found it interesting that Baljko singled out analytics as the foundation of an improved supply chain. When you think about it, however, it makes a great deal of sense because each company faces different challenges and has different concerns. Analytics has the potential to address uniquely each of these challenges and concerns. The Strategic Sourceror website puts it this way:

"Each business faces different challenges; some companies may be trying to expand global reach in new markets while, others are attempting to optimize sourcing and manufacturing networks. ... As consumers feel they have more say, other organizations are meeting the challenge of multichannel distribution." ["Betting on Analytics as Supply Chain's Next Big Thing," 8 May 2013]

Even though Baljko began her article by discussing the real-time supply chain (i.e., "there's evidence of increased interest in real-time supply chain support tools to address things like supply chain traceability, multi-level inventory optimization, demand signal repository, sales and operations planning, and leveraging point of sale data"), she spends a lot of her column talking about forecasting. Citing a recent survey, Baljko writes:

"Forecasting improvement remains top of mind for a sweeping majority of the 318 executives polled [in a recent survey]. Seventy-seven percent of respondents said demand and supply forecasting and planning tools were very important in achieving their company's 2012 objectives; and 80 percent said forecasting will be important in 2014."

The Strategic Sourceror adds its voice to Baljko's in noting "supply chain software may need to adapt further before managers can see the benefits of analytics. Technology upgrades and implementing new systems takes some time, and it can be a large investment that companies are unwilling to risk. ... While supply chain executives understand the increased need for analytics as manufacturers and suppliers change, the data capabilities have not caught up to the industry yet. .... Many companies do not currently have accurate data, so new analytics software will not quickly repair supply chain gaps." Baljko concludes:

"Bill Roberts, a consultant for Bloomberg Businessweek Research Services, Triangle Publishing Services, had this to say, adding insight from a survey-related interview he had with a semiconductor executive:

You need to get the underlining systems right before you can build analytics capabilities on top of them. I'm going to quote him [the semiconductor executive] at length here because it's interesting: 'Analytics is the culmination of years of investment in the basic tools. You need the underlying databases; they need to be maintained and structured in a methodical and rigorous way. You need technology that allows basic reporting. These are all key to get value from analytical tools.' He added that he and his staff for the last year, year and a half, have spent fully half of their time building analytics capabilities on top of their existing supply chain tools. I thought that was an interesting way of [noting] his priorities.

With that in mind, analytics (and, importantly, analytics done well) could be a big leap forward in terms of supply chain innovation."

Despite all of the challenges and hurdles that face businesses as they try to obtain better analytics, both Baljko and The Strategic Sourceror are optimistic and believe that supply chain analytics could be the next big thing. Robert L. Mitchell offers an interesting example of how predictive analytics can help boost a business. The example is interesting because it comes from sector not normally discussed in supply chain circles -- sports. ["Putting predictive analytics to work," Computerworld, 27 June 2012] Mitchell specifically discusses how the NBA's Orlando Magic used predictive analytics to improve ticket sales. For his article, Mitchell interviewed Anthony Perez, the franchise's director of business strategy. He writes:

"Perez's team began by using analytic models to predict which games would oversell and which would undersell. The box office then took that information and adjusted prices to maximize attendance -- and profits. 'This season we had the largest ticket revenue in the history of our franchise, and we played only 34 games of the 45-game season due to the lockout,' he says."

Perez indicated that the team was so pleased with how analytics helped "optimize ticket sales" they also use analytic tools "to help the coaching staff predict the best lineups for each basketball game, and which potential players offer the best value for the money." Despite impressive results like those achieved by the Magic, an unexpectedly low number of businesses have jumped on the bandwagon. "The use of predictive analytics is common in industries such as telecommunications, financial services and retail," Gareth Herschel, an analyst at Gartner, told Mitchell. "But overall it's still a relatively small percentage of organizations that use it -- maybe 5%." One of those elite companies is Procter & Gamble. Mitchell writes:

"P&G uses predictive analytics for everything from projecting the growth of markets and market shares to predicting when manufacturing equipment will fail, and it uses visualization to help executives see which events are normal business variations and which require intervention."

Guy Peri, director of business intelligence for P&G's Global Business Services organization, underscored the point that analytics can be used to address a lot of challenges; nevertheless, it's critical you that you identify exactly what you want your analytics to address. He told Mitchell, "'Be clear on what the question is, and what action should be taken' when the results come back. It's also important to keep the scope focused. Mission creep can destroy your credibility in a hurry, Peri says." Peri made another critical point, "Analytics is only valuable when you take action on the insight." Mitchell writes:

"P&G once developed a model designed to provide an 'early warning' on how each business was going to perform. 'It was actually quite accurate, but the warnings were given in such a way that people didn't understand how to take action on them, and so we didn't get the proactive decisions we wanted,' [Peri] says."

Although people can intellectually accept the fact that analytics are important, Mitchell notes, "People can also feel threatened by analytics." That fear normally arises because they see analytics as a threat to, rather than a supporting tool for, their job. "Users need to understand that the predictive model serves as a decision support tool," Mitchell writes. He also stresses that they need to learn "how to use the output in their own decision-making processes."

There is plenty of empirical evidence to support the notion that big data analytics provides value to businesses and their supply chains. The fact that 95% of companies have yet to adopt significant analytic approaches is the reason that Baljko can reasonably predict that predictive analytics is likely to be the next big thing in supply chain management. There is simply a lot of room for growth.

May 31, 2013

A Thought Probe Series on Tomorrow's Population, Big Data, and Personalized Predictive Analytics: Part 6, Getting Personal

In the final segment of this series on tomorrow's population, big data, and personalized predictive analytics, I want to get personal. The series has primarily focused on cities because that is where the majority of the world's population lives. We must remember, however, that the world's cities are occupied by millions of individuals. Too often we lump all city dwellers together and treat them as a homogenous group (e.g., we say, "He's a New Yorker"). New York City residents know, however, that the city is a melting pot of cultures and individuals. Understanding these differences is at the very heart of what makes a city smart -- and only big data analytics can provide that understanding.

Big data can be empowering and transformative. Individuals, corporations, and governments all over the globe are generating zettabytes of data every year as they connect to networks using their computers and cell phones. People all over the world can search for and purchase consumer products; make dinner reservations at their favorite restaurants; perform research; conduct banking transactions across country boundaries; interact socially with their friends; perform activities associated with their careers; and deepen the interactions of their lives. And, as recent events have demonstrated, newly connected individuals in the developing world can also transform countries and drive social change using mobile telecommunications and social media. As these developing countries grow and millions of more people come "on-line," the next large marketplace in the global economy is being created for consumer goods and services that cater to the needs and desires of these newly connected consumers (who are estimated to be more than 2 Billion in number). ["Capturing the world’s emerging middle class," David Court and Laxman Narasimhan, McKinsey Quarterly, July 2010]

However, big data presents challenges for today's networks and computing systems. Major challenges include: data comes from everywhere, is mostly unstructured, is in many shapes and forms, and is far too large to move. Historically, data has come from traditional structured sources, such as corporate and governmental computer systems. Today it increasingly comes from unstructured data sources such as the Internet, mobile devices, social media interactions, GPS location information, weather models, RFID, transportation and logistics scans that do not reside neatly within the tables and columns of traditional uniform databases and computer systems. What this means is that big data is too "Big" and too "Unstructured" to be currently leveraged by most organizations.

Even if the data could be centralized, today's computing systems still have difficulty making sense of the data (i.e., understanding and learning) from the interactions between both related and seemingly unrelated data elements. Using current analytic techniques, most decision-making frameworks are challenged to process and understand volumes of data and then instigate actions that foster desired outcomes within timely decision cycles.

That is why it is essential in today's business and government environments to employ technologies that process and analyze big data in a way much like the human mind senses its environment and processes data. For example, an individual assesses the risks of crossing a street when a car is approaching. The mind processes variables like car speed, distance, obstacles, personal motor skills, and so forth, before making the decision to cross or wait. Like human thought processes, cognitive reasoning ingests and transforms data into prioritized information; creates rich referential connections between data elements; enables understanding and learning; and is then presented as actionable intelligence (within relevant timeframes). This kind of cognitive reasoning can be used by businesses and governments to take on some of today's most vexing challenges. Many of these challenges are cross-industry and cross-discipline in nature. They require complex simultaneous analysis on many levels that can model real, or open, world considerations. Some of these interdisciplinary challenges that apply to the global Consumer Products/Food and Retail Industries include, amongst many others, how to:

  • Feed and provide water to a hungry and thirsty planet;
  • Efficiently develop and deliver energy to a highly consumptive population without increasing the carbon footprint;
  • Motivate consumer-centric outcomes with differentiated insights to maximize value for the consumer, Consumer Packaged Goods companies, and retailers alike;
  • Personalize recommendations for global consumers about the products they purchase;
  • Develop and deliver new drugs to cure disease and increase quality of life;
  • Manage the global supply chain efficiently and with fewer risks; and,
  • More accurately predict weather and its impacts on the environment.

As noted in previous posts, each of the world's 50 largest cities is unique. Some have deep historical roots as large cities and others have only recently joined the list as a result of massive building efforts in places like China (see the attached map -- based on a map from Free World Maps). As the global population continues to grow, new "greenfield" cities are likely to emerge. Regardless of whether a city labeled a "brownfield" (i.e., older) or "greenfield" (i.e., newer) city, some challenges they face are universal (e.g., infrastructure, sanitation, education, healthcare, food security, and so forth). Meeting those challenges, however, can differ significantly. That is where big data analytics plays its most important role.

50 Largest Cities v02 w cities

Making smart decisions about urban growth and lifestyles is important. I agree with Parag Khanna, Director of the Hybrid Reality Institute and a leading geo-strategist, that cities will play a leading role in world affairs. ["Cities, Not Countries, Will Once Again be Key to World Order," The National, 26 March 2013] He argues, "Urban corridors are a force multiplier, a source of great strength." Such corridors can exist within a country as well as between countries. These corridors exist because they link the largest number of people and, therefore, provide the most opportunities (and challenges) associated with life's endeavors. At the international level, most of the traffic along these corridors involves the flow of information, goods, and services. Ensuring that these flows are optimized is going to require cooperation and technology. Khanna believes there are seven activities that cities must embrace if they are going to provide a good quality of life for their residents. They are:
  • First, use technology to empower the population. ...
  • Second, the use of scenario planning to forecast diverse possibilities and strategies for a turbulent world. ...
  • Third, complement urban master planning with economic master-planning. This means investing in the vocational training systems that prepare the labour force for rapidly shifting supply chains.
  • Fourth, use data and social media as a tool of governance to more efficiently deliver public services and manage traffic.
  • Fifth, constantly upgrade infrastructure to meet sustainability standards.
  • Sixth, expand the economic footprint through investing in special economic zones in neighbouring countries.
  • Seventh, and finally, think of all residents of increasingly multinational/ethnic cities not as citizens versus non-citizens, but as stakeholders.

For the remainder of this post, I want to concentrate on three of those activities: Using technology to empower people and companies; improving "rapidly shifting supply chains"; and upgrading infrastructure.

Using technology to empower people and companies

Since most of the new consumers that form the global middle class are found in cities, companies want to connect with them. Because business, like politics, is local, global companies need to act like local enterprises, regardless of their size, if they want to succeed in this new business landscape. That's because cities are so diverse. Each neighborhood has its own character, lifestyle, and preferences. From one street to the next, the culture can change dramatically. If companies want to get in front of the money, they need to understand neighborhood differences and tailor their offerings to meet local preferences. Although some of those offerings will be made available in local brick-and-mortar stores, tomorrow's business landscape is going to be dominated by mobile devices. This makes the digital path-to-purchase a critical element of any company's business strategy. The most successful companies will find a way to seamlessly weave together multi-channel sales opportunities.

In order to sell a product or service, however, manufacturers need to ensure that consumers know about it. That's where technology can empower consumers, manufacturers, and retailers. In mega-cities, the ability to target consumers will be the sine qua non of successful business strategies. For a more in-depth discussion of targeted marketing, read my posts entitled Personalization and Targeted Marketing, Part 1 and Part 2. Even areas that are supposedly "off the grid" have been penetrated by mobile phone technology. The so-called "bottom billion" who live in these areas still require products and services. There are profits to be made selling to the bottom billion, if the products and services can be tailored to their circumstances. Big data analytics can help companies and governments better understand the requirements of people living in these "off the grid" areas so that they are not destined to live forever in poverty and squalor.

Improving "rapidly shifting supply chains"

At Enterra Solutions, we believe that companies must obtain full visibility into their supply chains -- from the issuance of a purchase order (PO), continuing through production milestones, transportation (i.e., ocean shipping, rail/truck), to warehouse delivery, and ultimately shipping to a customer. In order to achieve this, they need to implement what we call Global Network Synchronization. For a company, Global Network Synchronization refers to the ability to understand the complex interactions and dependencies within its supply chain. If a supply chain can be synchronized, it can quickly adjust to disruptive events (e.g., production delays, raw material shortages, weather, port delays, labor disputes, and other events). Global Network Synchronization can also reduce systemic risk by looking for supply chain risk exposures and pre-planning to mitigate those exposures. A company's global sourcing strategy requires real-time supply chain visibility and understanding the perturbative effects of any delays, so that action can be taken to mitigate any negative consequences. Understanding the perturbative effects of a supply chain disruption is a complex multi-threaded analysis that must take into account the entire range of critical supply chain issues and risks.

Upgrading infrastructure

Cities are not going to get smarter if their infrastructure remains dumb and outdated. The single most important infrastructure a city needs is a good electrical grid. Without a stable and reliable source of electricity, cities can't attract businesses, create new jobs, or become an "always on" hub of activity. The next most important infrastructure requirement is a good water and sanitation system. Without such a system, the population is likely to remain unhealthy and exposed to disease. With water forecast to be in short supply in the future, having a state-of-the-art water system could mean survival for some cities. For more on this topic, read my posts entitled Water, Water, Every Where -- What Can We do About It? -- Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Transportation infrastructure is essential for economic growth. Goods cannot move on dirt roads during severe storms. Container-laden ships cannot offload at ports whose harbors are not deep enough or whose docks can't handle the containers. Some analysts believe, however, that the greatest infrastructure shortfall in the developing world is found in the so-called "last mile" of distribution. For example, Andrew Youn and Nicholas Fusso write, "Today’s greatest need is not for scientists and engineers to create new tools. The real need is for better distribution of solutions that already work." ["Distribution, the Key to Unlocking the Development Toolbox," Next Billion, 25 April 2013] Although developing countries suffer from significant infrastructure shortfalls, even countries like the United States have infrastructure issues (see my post entitled Infrastructure, the Supply Chain, and Economic Growth. You cannot discuss transportation-related infrastructure issues in isolation. The logistics world has always been intermodal, but the complexity of orchestrating intermodal shipments is increasing. Only technology can deal with this complexity; which leads to the final infrastructure that is becoming essential for economic growth -- an information grid.

Analysts are predicting that we will shortly have an Internet of Things that will primarily involve machine-to-machine communication. Smart buildings, smart grids, smart robots, smart cars, and every other "smart" machine will be communicating on the Internet of Things ensuring that systems are functioning efficiently and effectively. Technology has always made progress easier and improved the quality of life for millions of people. I don't see this trend ending any time soon.

May 24, 2013

A Thought Probe Series on Tomorrow's Population, Big Data, and Personalized Predictive Analytics: Part 5, Beyond Smart Cities

I borrow the tagline for this post from Dr. Tim Campbell, author of a book entitled Beyond Smart Cities. Explaining the premise of his book, Campbell writes, "To really achieve smart cities — that is to create the conditions of continuous learning and innovation — this book argues that there is a need to understand what is below the surface and to examine the mechanisms which affect the way cities learn and then connect together." [Beyond Smart Cities] Campbell argues that the same technologies that will make cities smart will also help make the planet smarter -- something, he claims, the world desperately needs. He explains:

"Over the last few decades, nations states and bumped up against real limits in their ability to solve problems in global goods. The failures on climate change and trade in Copenhagen and Durban and Doha, respectively are only the most visible of many such issues, such as environmental sustainability, peak water, and renewable energy use. All have failed to gain much traction among national governments and international organizations. At best, progress has been slow and disappointing. Yet we cannot and should not surrender our ability to tackle global goods issues until all options are given a hearing. One unexpected source of new ideas is coming from below, from cities."

He claims his book reveals "a flowering of city-to-city exchange[s] in policy and practice that may hold promise for some global issues and many local issues of global significance." He continues:

"Cities can never solve globally significant problems by themselves, much less pay for the costs. But they are beginning to act like self-sponsored laboratories of invention. At the same time, they are establishing a new edge in best practice that can lead to more readily adoptable standards by nation states. Perhaps more important, cities are forging a system of learning and exchange that stretches right around the world, north and south, rich and poor. As national policy makers debate intractable problems of global goods, the solutions for some problems might be popping up where we least expect them."

I believe that Campbell is correct in his assessment that solving many of world's most pressing challenges begins in the city. As researchers at MIT note, "In the future, cities will account for nearly 90% of global population growth, 80% of wealth creation, and 60% of total energy consumption. Developing better strategies for the creation of new cities, is therefore, a global imperative." [City Science website] To peel the onion one more layer, if cities are important in the effort to solve many of the world's challenges, then the people living in and governing those cities are even more important. Andrea Di Maio, a vice president and distinguished analyst in Gartner Research, claims that too much attention is being given to technologies and processes and not enough attention is being given to the people involved in smart city initiatives. ["Technology Is Almost Irrelevant for Smart Cities To Succeed," Gartner, 10 August 2012] Technology," he writes, "is mostly irrelevant unless policy-makers, city managers, heads of department and city CIOs get the fundamentals right." He must have realized shortly after writing that sentence that it was too constrained in the list of people that matter. He continued:

"What really matters is how different sectors (not just government) cooperate and, how they can exchange meaningful information. Of course there is technology involved, but that's not enough to make cities smart. Cooperation requires solid governance and a roadmap that is respectful of (1) the different – and potential diverging – business objectives and timeframes of different stakeholders involved and (2) the inevitable resource constraints that affect most urban areas. Actually many people still associate smart cities to environmental sustainability and carbon footprint reduction, but the truth is that the main challenge going forward is financial sustainability and the ability to deal with an increasingly turbulent and uncertain future."

The MIT researchers quoted above mainly discuss building new infrastructure to handle the swelling number of urban residents expected in the future. As I pointed out in Part 4 of this series, smart city initiatives must deal with existing infrastructure as well as new construction. Di Maio agrees that "greenfield" projects aren't going to be sufficient to make cities smarter. He notes, "The vast majority of cities that need to become smart are developed in a brownfield environment. So there are major constraints as far as the physical infrastructure, the availability of budgets and how flexibly or cooperatively they can be used, the entrenched governance processes and the different ways in which city governments provide different services." He is spot on with that assessment.

Because smart city initiatives must be applicable to the real world in which we live, their implementation is going to require cooperation and partnerships amongst an array of stakeholders. It's going to be messy, but necessary. Di Maio explains some of the challenges:

"In some cities most public services are entirely operated by the city government: there are government-owned energy companies, transportation companies, water management companies, telcos, or they are even part of the city government itself. In other cases, city government is just a payer or a supervisor of services provided by external service providers. In either case, the roadmap to make – say – transportation smarter in conjunction with public safety is very different. If the city government owns both, it can ideally establish a common program or a common enterprise architecture or a common interoperability framework that both domains (transportation and public safety) will apply when cooperating on their smart objectives. If the city owns only one of the services and outsources the other, the cooperation must be built through a more careful negotiation process, where vendor management and governance play a much greater role. So, while technologies that can be applied to capture, process, exchange information, to control sensors and actuators, to analyze and visualize performances are pretty much the same around the world, the roles that city governments play in each and every one of the domains that must cooperate to make the city smart vary a lot. Early focus on how these roles can contribute to help or hinder smart city objectives is far more important than looking at technologies and vendors."

Concerning the changing urban landscape, analysts at Pike Research state, "The social, economic, environmental, and engineering challenges of this transformation will shape the 21st century." ["Smart Cities"] They continue:

"While there are many innovative pilot projects and small-scale developments that are looking at the smart city from a holistic perspective, there are no examples yet of a smart city that supports hundreds of thousands, never mind millions, of people. The smart city offers a coherent vision for bringing together innovative solutions that address the issues facing the modern city, but there are many challenges still to be faced. If the smart city is to truly become a blueprint for urban development, then a number of technical, financial, and political hurdles will need to be met."

For those interested in this topic, Pike Research offers a downloadable report about smart cities. The Smart Cities project, whose goal "is to create an innovation network between governments and academic partners leading to excellence in the domain of the development and take-up of e-services," also offers a number of downloadable publications on its website. All smart city initiatives rely on the collection and analysis of big data. Rather than seeing this as a "big brother" effort, MIT's Professor Alex "Sandy" Pentland believes that a win-win situation can be established that benefits individuals as well as their communities. As you will see from the following video, he also explains why targeted marketing has such a promising future and why that future is intimately connected to smart city initiatives.

I share the sense of optimism displayed by Professor Pentland. Big data analytics have the potential to change individual lives as well as cities and the planet. And if Professor Pentland is correct, and I believe he is, most of us will be voluntarily and cooperatively involved in making our cities and the world better places in which to live.

If this series of discussions about smart cities has convinced you of one thing, it should have be that the collection and analysis of big data is critical. It should also be apparent that no one company is capable of addressing all of the challenges or providing all of the insights that will be necessary to achieve smart neighborhoods, smart cities, smart regions, smart nations, and/or a smart planet. That is why I'm suggesting that an open-architecture framework be created that can integrate information from diverse databases, apply big data analytics and artificial intelligence reasoning, and develop reference ontologies for the myriad of activities that combine to help explain the complex structure of neighborhoods, cities, regions, states, and, eventually, the planet.

I'm not suggesting that such a framework will be easy to create in the short-term. I suspect that it will take decades to develop properly so that actionable insights can be drawn from the repository of knowledge that will be created. As the knowledge repository is populated, I believe this framework can be built in such a way that it provides incremental benefits to neighborhoods, cities, regions, and nations. Because the knowledge repository will be linked to ontologies and artificial intelligence technologies, the system itself will provide new insights, discover new relationships, and research and test promising hypotheses that could significantly improve how people live and interact.

There is much we don't know about cities and the data needed to help us know more is not readily available in some cases. For example, author Robert Neuwith recently discussed on NPR's TED Radio Hour why squatters and slums are going to be critical to the planet's future in the decades ahead. Neuwith believes these slums represent the "cities of the future" because by 2050 one out of every three people living on the planet will be living in them. Neuwith notes, that while it may appear to outsiders that slums are lawless areas filled with poverty and crime, there actually are rules and organizations to be found within these "cities." Understanding the relationships in these areas (as well as their relationship to more formal urban networks) won't be easy because, by their very nature, most of them are "off the grid." Only the kind of framework I suggest above can help provide the kind of bottom-up insights that will help make the lives of those billions of people better. Improve their lives and you improve the world.

May 17, 2013

A Thought Probe Series on Tomorrow's Population, Big Data, and Personalized Predictive Analytics: Part 4, What Lies Ahead?

To get a glimpse of what lies ahead for smart cities, one need only to look to Singapore. As Mark Fischetti reported last year, "LIVE Singapore uses real-time data recorded by myriad communications devices, microcontrollers and sensors to analyze the pulse of the city, telling residents how they can reach their homes fastest, reduce their neighborhood’s energy consumption and find a taxi when a rainstorm hits." ["The Smartest Cities Will Use People as Their Sensors," Scientific American, 17 April 2011] The following short video, created by MIT's SENSEable City lab, gives you a glimpse of the future.

Looking to the future, Jemima Kiss, writes, "From transport to entertainment, work to education, our lives are already being transformed by high-speed internet that will help create the fully wired city. Within 10 years, faster, comprehensive, wired and wireless networks will not only become the norm, they will become free, says Gerd Leonhard, chief executive of the business thinktank The Futures Agency. The reason? The enormous benefits to government and education." ["City design: A digital revolution," The Guardian, 2012] While I agree that networks will continue to grow in importance, especially in urban environments, I'm not as sanguine as Kiss that ubiquitous connectivity will be free a decade from now. As connectivity increases, concerns over privacy issues will also rise, but Leonhard told Kiss, "While the debate about appropriate use of our personal data will continue, consensual services could be to our benefit." Among the benefits referred to by Leonhard is targeted marketing. "You'll walk past a department store and the window will show a personalised display with your size and preferences," says Leonhard.

Most smart city initiatives are not primarily focused on shopping experiences. Carlo Ratti and Anthony Townsend report that a number of countries are trying to create utopian urban environments. The furthest along is "Masdar in the United Arab Emirates, a walled community intended for 50,000 residents in the desert outside of Abu Dhabi, in which every building, streetlight and personal electric 'pod' vehicle has been preplanned and preloaded with high-tech gear, largely to maximize energy efficiency." ["Harnessing Residents' Electronic Devices Will Yield Truly Smart Cities," Scientific American, 17 April 2011] To learn a bit more about Masdar, read my posts entitled Abu Dhabi's Masdar Plan and Update on Masdar City. Ratti and Townsend continue:

"At Masdar, as well as New Songdo City in South Korea and PlanIT Valley in Portugal, real estate developers, global information-technology companies and governments are attempting to build urban centers from scratch that are filled with technologically enhanced infrastructure and services. The designers say their grand conceptions will determine how future cities will be built. But as models, these top-down projects pale in comparison to the emergent form of intelligence that is bubbling up from millions of newly cyber-connected residents. Truly smart—and real—cities are not like an army regiment marching in lockstep to the commander's orders; they are more like a shifting flock of birds or school of fish, in which individuals respond to subtle social and behavioral cues from their neighbors about which way to move forward."

Ratti and Townsend claim that this bottom-up view of smart city evolution represents "an immensely powerful, democratic and organic alternative vision of the smart city." They explain:

"Rather than focusing on the installation and control of network hardware, city governments, technology companies and their urban-planning advisers can exploit a more ground-up approach to creating even smarter cities in which people become the agents of change. With proper technical-support structures, the populace can tackle problems such as energy use, traffic congestion, health care and education more effectively than centralized dictates. And residents of wired cities can use their distributed intelligence to fashion new community activities, as well as a new kind of citizen activism."

Ratti and Townsend call this effort "going beyond urban efficiency." They note that "over the past decade digital technologies have begun to blanket our cities, forming the backbone of a large, intelligent infrastructure." They believe that this backbone holds the key to the future for all cities, not just planned developments like Masdar. They explain:

"Broadband fiber-optic and wireless telecommunications grids are supporting mobile phones, smartphones and tablets that are increasingly affordable. At the same time, open databases—especially from the government—that people can read and add to are revealing all kinds of information, and public kiosks and displays are helping literate and illiterate people access it. Add to this foundation a relentlessly growing network of sensors and digital-control technologies, all tied together by cheap, powerful computers, and our cities are quickly becoming like 'computers in open air.'"

Rather than embedding sensors in infrastructure, for many daily activities, Ratti and Townsend believe that mobile devices and cooperative owners will drive smart applications. They write:

"An ideal beginning is to leverage the growing array of smart personal devices we all wield and recruit people as the sensors of a city rather than relying only on formal systems embedded into infrastructure. The traffic function on Google Maps is a good example. Instead of building a costly network of dedicated vehicle sensors along roadways, Google constantly polls a large network of anonymous volunteers whose mobile devices report their up-to-the-minute status, which reveals where traffic is flowing, slowed or stopped. The information is delivered to drivers via mobile mapping applications in various ways—as colored overlays indicating traffic speeds, as estimated driving times that account for delays or as a factor in determining alternative routes. ... Bottom-up approaches to sensing can also provide rapid, cheap deployment of new kinds of sensors that measure and record data about people's activities, movements, surroundings and health."

Michael Durham claims that "Smart cities have always existed in people's heads." ["City design innovation," The Guardian, 2012] He asserts, that from the time that Plato wrote his Republic, "people have dreamed of the perfect community, where citizens live in harmony, life is good, technology is harnessed and everything works. Today, big ideas about improving city life continue to pour forth from futurologists, academics and thinktanks." Terry Kirby provides his own view of a future smart city. He writes:

"Imagine life for the citizen of the smart city: you awake in your sustainably built home, and take your morning shower in recycled industrial waste water, cost-efficiently heated overnight. Eating breakfast, you scan the flat screen, fed by maximum bandwidth internet, where the special, easy click local neighbourhood menu allows you to compare your daily energy use with other houses in the area, confirm your webcam appointment with your doctor, top up the balance of your all-purpose travelcard, order your groceries and leave messages for your child's teacher. You can even watch television on it. Outside, your electric car is waiting. On the edge of the central congestion zone, you park in a charging area and, paying with your travelcard, get into a three-wheeled utility vehicle which, via a network of special lanes and sensor-controlled pedestrianised areas, delivers you to another parking dock at your workplace." ["City design: Transforming tomorrow," The Guardian, 2012]

To me that sounds a bit like something out of The Jetsons cartoon show; but Kirby claims that "this is not some Dan Dare meets Minority Report fantasy of life in the future, where we all walk around in metallic jumpsuits. Smart thinking is here already." The problem, of course, is that cities aren't going to start over. London, for example, has had the same basic street layout (and some of the same buildings) for hundreds of years. We need to make sure that smart city initiatives help real people, living in existing dwellings, and carrying on with normal daily activities. Fortunately, Kirby is correct that smart thinking is already here and thinking about those challenges as well. He admits that smart city initiatives are "not simply about integrated transport or sustainable housing." He writes:

"The accumulation of electronic data online, digitally accessible and searchable, creates other opportunities for the consumer to know more about their neighbourhoods and the wider world we live in, and to use that information on a daily basis. It also allows local government, architects, transport bodies and utility companies to work together in partnerships to make the most of these technologies."

Simply accumulating and accessing data doesn't provide the answers or insights needed to make smart city initiatives successful. Big data analytics and other cognitive reasoning technologies are required to make sense of mountains of data being generated every minute of every day. Michael Durham claims, "In 40 years' time cities will not just be smart, they will be so brainy it hurts." ["Forty years from now ...," The Guardian, 2012] Most of that brainpower will be supplied by artificial intelligence. Among the smart people contemplating how to create smart cities are scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT's City Science website notes:

"The world is experiencing a period of extreme urbanization. In China alone, 300 million rural inhabitants will move to urban areas over the next 15 years. This will require building an infrastructure equivalent to the one housing the entire population of the United States in a matter of a few decades. In the future, cities will account for nearly 90% of global population growth, 80% of wealth creation, and 60% of total energy consumption. Developing better strategies for the creation of new cities, is therefore, a global imperative. Our need to improve our understanding of cities, however, is pressed not only by the social relevance of urban environments, but also by the availability of new strategies for city-scale interventions that are enabled by emerging technologies. Leveraging advances in data analysis, sensor technologies, and urban experiments, City Science will provide new insights into creating a data-driven approach to urban design and planning. To build the cities that the world needs, we need a scientific understanding of cities that considers our built environments and the people who inhabit them. Our future cities will desperately need such understanding."

The following video discusses some of the interesting and exciting things that are being developed at MIT.

Achieving the objectives of smart city initiatives won't be easy (and probably won't be cheap). That is why public/private partnerships will be required. Smart city initiatives begin with people because their goal is to make cities more livable for people. If smart people fail to get the fundamentals right, technologies and processes that support smart city initiatives won't be able to overcome that shortfall.

May 10, 2013

A Thought Probe Series on Tomorrow's Population, Big Data, and Personalized Predictive Analytics: Part 3, Where Things Stand

"What makes a city?" That is a question asked on IBM's Smarter City website. The company believes that a city is "an interconnected system of systems" that rests on three pillars: infrastructure, operations, and people. The site goes on to state that a city is "a dynamic work in progress, with progress as its watchword. A tripod that relies on strong support for and among each of its pillars, to become a smarter city for all." That definition may be a bit too cheery for some because they know that for years many inner cities have not progressed but languished or deteriorated. That entropic trend must change, because the world is becoming more urbanized every day. If tomorrow's cities are not going to become vast areas of poverty and decay, we have to be smarter about how they are planned, managed, and maintained. In a special issue about smart cities, the editors of Scientific American wrote:

"Many otherwise lucid thinkers, from Tho­mas Jefferson to Frank Lloyd Wright to President Gerald Ford, tended to think of cities as centers of poverty, crime, pollution, con­gestion and poor health. In recent years, though, the thinking has shifted along with the demographics. Many experts have come to realize that people are better off when they live in a city. This is not to dismiss the problems of urban life; cities, particularly fast-growing ones in the poorer parts of Asia and Africa, can be places of great human suffering. But even a city slum has benefits that you won't find on the farm or in the village. The move from the country leads, for instance, to dramatic changes for many women. As Kavita N. Ramdas of the Global Fund for Women notes in Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Discipline (Penguin, 2010), 'In the village, all there is for a woman is to obey her husband and relatives, pound millet, and sing. If she moves to town, she can get a job, start a business, and get education for her children.' Indeed, the city has come to look less like a source of problems than as an opportunity to fix them. Investments in sanitation and water have turned many cities in the developed world from places of disease and pestilence into bastions of health. City folk are at lower risk of death from motor vehicle accidents and suicide by firearms (although they are overstressed). From the stand­point of the metropolis, climate change also seems less intractable. Because city residents rely less on cars and live in more compact dwellings than suburbanites, they tend to leave smaller carbon footprints. The challenge is to extend the efficiency of the urban center to the wider conurbation, embracing the city center, suburbs and satellite towns. Although climate is bigger than any one fix, how we build our cities, and how efficiently we live in them, is going to factor large in our response." ["Street-Savvy," 17 April 2011]

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed suggestions from experts on how to begin smart city initiatives. One of those experts, Dr. Boyd Cohen, created a model he calls the Smarter Cities Wheel. IBM has also developed a model that is reminiscent of Dr. Cohen's Wheel. The IBM model shows how it believes the three pillars of a city discussed above are interconnected.


Like most organizations involved in smart city initiatives, IBM believes that data collection and analysis is the undergirding that makes such initiatives useful. IBM's site states:

"As demands grow and budgets tighten, solutions also have to be smarter, and address the city as a whole. By collecting and analyzing the extensive data generated every second of every day, tools such as the IBM Intelligent Operations Center coordinate and share data in a single view creating the big picture for the decision makers and responders who support the smarter city."

In Part 2 of this series, I noted that participants in a study published by the Institute for the Future expressed some concern that companies like IBM are trying to establish data monopolies that could be used to hold cities hostage in the decades ahead. IBM obviously sees itself as providing a much-needed service that cities can't provide for themselves. The company offers a nifty interactive Smarter Cities experience that can be explored at your leisure. Of course, IBM isn't the only global company that sees business opportunities in helping cities operate more efficiently. Oracle has its own interactive website that highlights its solutions for smart cities. The launch page for that interactive site also shows how Oracle sees connectivity within an urban setting (with business and citizens being the focal point).

Oracle smart cities

Although the site explains that "Oracle offers a complete, integrated set of solutions to meet the complex needs of local government," some people, like Greg Lindsay, believe that companies like Oracle, IBM, and Cisco are "offering 'smart city in a box' solutions" that don't take into account the nuanced complexities that make each city unique. ["The Battle for Control of Smart Cities," Fast Company, 16 December 2012] See Part 2 of this series to learn more about Lindsay's concerns. Cisco's offering is called Smart+Connected Communities. Cisco's Shane Mitchell explains, that "the main barrier to adopting [smart city] solutions is the complexity of how cities are operated, financed, regulated, and planned." ["Smart City Frameworks: A Systematic Process for Enabling Smart+Connected Communities," Cisco Blog, 10 October 2012] Rather than offering a set of solutions, Cisco begins with "a 'Smart City Framework' designed to move the Smart City debate from merely an academic or esoteric discussion to a call for action." The framework is shown below.


Mitchell explains, "The Smart City Framework ... describes a potential process that will help key stakeholders and city/community participants 1) understand how cities operate, 2) define city objectives and stakeholder roles, and 3) understand the role of ICT within physical city assets." I agree with Mitchell that all stakeholders must be involved in smart city initiatives. As I wrote in Part 2 of this series, the only way to move forward is to embrace public/private partnerships that benefit both sectors." Terry Kirby agrees with that position. He writes, "When it comes to achieving the high-tech, sustainable, and smart cities of the future, there is one word that sums up the pathway to success: partnership." ["Getting smart cities connected," The Guardian, 2012] He continues:

"Imaginative and collaborative partnerships between local authorities, utilities, universities and the private sector – whether it is bus companies or software providers – are the defining characteristics of 'smart thinking', according to leading figures in cities around UK and Europe. All agree that so-called 'smartness' – which at its most basic level is about using new technology to improve lives – is necessary to adapt to the demands of urban growth. ... These kind of partnerships can range from multi-agency infrastructure ventures aimed at transforming the lives of millions, to simple projects improving digital access for everyday users of public services. They include new ways of using mobile phones and smartcards to pay for a wide range of goods and services, to schemes designed to recycle waste water for heating."

The editors at Scientific American conclude:

"The most hopeful impact of city life may be its effect on the mind. Humans are social animals; we draw stimulation from other minds close at hand. Plato and Socrates both lived in fifth-century b.c. Athens, a city-state. Galileo and Michelangelo lived in Renaissance Florence. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak grew up in a western U.S. conurbation that includes Silicon Valley. The young, agile minds at work on the next Big Thing are probably tweeting—they live, as author William Gibson points out, ... in a kind of digital meta city. Chances are, they are living in a physical city, too. Technology is reshaping city life and making it more intellectually productive, but it will not soon replace the easy interchange of ideas that comes from casual proximity, the cornerstone of city life."

While some pundits believe that smart city initiatives may drain city centers of their vitality, I agree with the editors at Scientific American that making cities more livable will actually increase the vitality of cities and make urbanization a boon rather than a bane to mankind. Gerd Leonhard, chief executive of the business thinktank The Futures Agency, agrees. He told Jemima Kiss, that "the more digitised our lives become, the more we will value real experiences. 'The landscape of the cities of the future will be a huge place to do the things that don't work in digital form – food, culture, contemplation. Digital tools drive us to want to have the actual experience much more than before.'" ["City design: A digital revolution," The Guardian, 2012] The thing I appreciate most about the smart cities movement is its optimism. There are enough Cassandras in the world warning us of impending doom. Optimists bring about progress and, as the IBM website states, progress is the watchword.