03 Nov 2017 15:21 IST

The new crucibles

Smart cities are set to become a better medium than the smartphone for advertising

Smog, poor sanitation, over-crowding – the perils of contemporary urban living may soon be a thing of the past. With new ways to address these inefficiencies, city planners are leveraging technology to create smarter connected cities.

Welcome to the era of smart cities, where a number of digital capabilities related to managing health, transport and utilities are gaining traction, offering ways to repair faults, correct anomalies, and ultimately create more efficient distribution and charging systems.

The digital economy is reshaping business. Arvind Sethumadhavan, Chief Innovation Officer for Dentsu Aegis Network Asia Pacific, says the digital revolution has transformed the way in which consumers relate to brands. People tend to expect a richer, more interactive relationship with all the organisations that matter in their lives, including the city in which they live. With connectivity becoming more pervasive, observes Sethumadhavan, “digital media has made brand communication more of an exchange”.

A new white paper by Dentsu Aegis Network, in collaboration with MIT Technology Review, examines the progress of Asia Pacific’s smart cities. The series on Asia Pacific’s digital disruption is in its third year.

Sethumadhavan adds: “Smart cities are empowering consumers as the ‘fabric of the data surrounding them at all times’ makes them aware of the things they need without even searching. New business models which sit at the intersection of the online and offline worlds can be rapidly developed and tested.” Smart cities are not just set to create more touch points with consumers. “The availability of new data will herald the onset of pervasive personalisation of marketing messages.” Say someone is walking past a digital billboard — an ad could be tailored to his specifications and shown to him for 10 seconds. Another passer-by could be shown another ad, for something customised to him.

Smart cities are set to become a better medium than the smartphone for the advertising industry, as connected devices will support smart city solutions. The same infrastructure can be used to serve the advertising industry. Billboards that deliver advertising could generate revenues for, say, municipalities, and telecom companies whose technology might be involved in the display and consumer response. Digital real estate could even have peak rates for peak hours, like TV slots.

India story

Smart cities will be the cities of the digital revolution. By making its cities compete for state attention and resources, India too hopes to fast-track a nationwide smart city programme, states the paper. Ashish Bhasin, Chairman and CEO South Asia - Dentsu Aegis Network, adds that India is currently moving towards massive urbanisation and that its need for building smart cities is far more immediate as compared to many other countries.

Beginning January 2016, India’s Smart City Mission began awarding investment funds to various municipalities, a mix of State capitals, commercial hubs and tourism centres.

While India’s city modernisation efforts often have more rudimentary infrastructural objectives than those of more advanced economies, the paper states that the government has a long history of employing advanced technologies to address basic challenges, such as the ID programme Aadhaar, and push towards mobile banking.

Bhasin notes that few countries need smart cities as much as India does to achieve economic transformation. Though its infrastructure challenges are huge, an equally large consumer base that is well-connected and is mobile-enabled, is clearly going to serve as a critical enabler.

(The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine.)

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