People have been living in communities for millennia, and our lives have been increasingly shaped by technology in recent decades – and there will be even more technology impacting our lives. Digital and smart are the foundations of the future. That is why modern society also needs smart cities and communities.
The trend of smart cities has been present for many years. The thoughtful implementation of technological solutions can bring many benefits to urban environments and the wider communities. In particular, digital and smart technologies can increase the efficiency of infrastructure and related services, which strengthens the resilience of cities and makes them more environmentally and people-friendly.
But smart cities are not just about infrastructure. A smart community is above all a set of interconnected and harmoniously coordinated ecosystems. Electrified urban mobility, smart roads, lighting, renewable energy, and extremely powerful mobile networks are essential in designing a society for the 21st and future centuries and communities where people, not technology, come first.
Of course, experts also warn against the pitfalls that cities can quickly fall into when developing smart infrastructure. Together with providers, they might end up focusing (only) on the technology and less on the people who will use it. That is why the key goal should be to connect people, data, services, and products that are created in individual areas of the smart city, and thus use the full potential of digitalisation in the context of smart cities. A focus on people and the harmonious development of the competencies needed for a coherent digital transformation, which is the cornerstone of the digital economy, are important.
NATIONAL DECLARATIONS OF INTENT
Based on my experience and insights, I will focus on European and Slovenian smart society developments here, but the challenges and opportunities apply to societies all over our globalised world, of course.
At the end of the Finnish presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) in 2019, the Living-in EU movement emerged at the political level; it is creating guidelines and commitments around developing digital solutions for smart cities and communities. The above-mentioned EU declaration provides a clear direction towards building connectable digital solutions and, consequently, towards creating the conditions for reusing data and boosting the digital economy.
Following the European example, a national declaration on accelerating the digital transformation of towns, villages and communities into a sustainable smart society was created in Slovenia by the Slovenian Digital coalition and other stakeholders. The signatories of the Slovenian declaration, including more than 60 companies and municipalities, are convinced that the digital transformation of society opens a unique development opportunity to provide better living and work conditions for all residents, better governance for municipalities, new areas of work and resources for researchers and academia, new opportunities for civil society, and it can serve as a springboard for the economy to enter new markets.
EUROPEAN DIGITAL INFRASTRUCTURE
Through dedicated investments, the Digital Europe programme will accelerate the building of a fairer European digital economy. It is based on Europe’s new digital infrastructure, which will form the basis of new value chains. It will ensure a fairer division of value between partners, service and data providers than that offered by dominant global digital platforms, such as Airbnb and Uber. Above all, this is an opportunity for local businesses and communities.
Europe’s digital infrastructure will be able to welcome completely new players, both countries and businesses, among the winners of the future of smart society – especially those who are able to perceive and seize this unique opportunity. Establishing business standards on a global and European level is key to building digital value chains.
In Slovenia, we have already made great strides in the field of smart society standards. For example, the horizontal ICT network, which is part of the strategic research innovation partnership for smart cities and communities (SRIP PMiS), coordinates the field of smart city data space design in the important European project GAIA-X. Slovenia was also among the first countries to reach a consensus on data and integration standards, which is an excellent foundation for the integration and compatibility of the various solutions and services facilitating smart cities and communities.
The EU requires its member states to direct a certain share of European funds towards digitalisation as it seeks to accelerate the development of the digital economy. Countries that seize this opportunity will give their economies an invaluable advantage. It is much easier to get involved in a development initiative right from the beginning than trying to catch a moving train later.
THE DIGITAL ECONOMY WILL PREVAIL
The digital economy is an upgrade of smart cities and communities. Economic policy therefore needs thorough consideration and measures that take into account rapid changes and huge investments in the digital economy. It is smart to invest in areas that will accelerate the creation of added value in the long run, something that smart city and community projects are definitely striving for.
More and more industries are being transformed and become part of the digital economy. Take the example of mobility: with the advent of efficient multimodal transport systems, self-driving cars, and similar solutions, value chains will be disrupted. Mobility will become a service, consumers will no longer buy cars, and the market for automotive suppliers will have to adapt or collapse. Already, technology and information companies, not vehicle manufacturers, are among the leaders in the development of self-driving cars.
Another example is the energy sector: communities are becoming energy-independent by sharing electrical energy produced from renewable sources and by optimising the consumption using AI methods for production and demand prediction. Completely new types of businesses are becoming dominant players to facilitate this digital transformation.
Becoming part of the value chains of the digital economy will be key. These are being re-formed now, and only those will succeed who understand the significance and far-reaching nature of the changes, choose the right market niche, and direct their investments accordingly. Now is the time to take action – tomorrow it will be too late.