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Digital Transformation Stories

Paving the way for a Smarter City - Manchester

As Dan Raven-Ellison continues his mission to show why sustainable cities need wild spaces as well as smart technology, his 18 mile walk through Manchester will bring him face to face with traffic, shoppers, commuters, runners, bikers, kids, and every aspect of life in one of Britain’s busiest conurbations. He will be giving a lot of thought to how technology can improve quality of life, positively influencing people’s mood, health, and happiness. It’s a question that we at Cisco have been actively exploring as well.

A city is much more than bricks and mortar: it is a living, breathing, evolving entity of complex interactions and constantly shifting requirements. Inevitably this brings challenges but it also presents opportunities. We believe that developing Smart Cities will not only overcome many of the most pressing problems associated with urbanisation, but will also help to create a truly positive city-living experience.

So what do we mean by a ‘Smart City’? Firstly, it’s not just about technology: a truly smart city is a needs-driven, benefit-led, tech-enabled unit. It has the potential to create endless possibilities, including new businesses and jobs; safer streets, better healthcare, transport, and education; and more engaged and empowered citizens. Put simply, we believe a smart city can make urban-living better.

It’s this belief that we are bringing to Manchester through CityVerve, the government funded Internet of Things (IoT) smart city demonstrator project. Cisco and 20 partners from across the public and private sectors are uniting the brightest minds and the most innovative IoT technologies to transform the city and enrich the lives of the people who live and work there. This project will enable digital technology to make services better and more efficient as we evolve Manchester into a citizen-centric entity that adapts and changes over time. And crucially, we will be creating a commercially replicable blueprint for Smart Cities everywhere.

CityVerve will start with developing an underlying technology platform, much like a body’s neural network, that will grow smarter as more connections are made while flexing to respond to the city’s changing needs. This will enable the intelligent collection, interpretation, and application of data, focusing on four key areas: Health & Social Care, Travel & Transport, Energy & Environment, and Culture & Public Realm.

In each of these areas we will make the most of the expertise of local stakeholders such as Transport for Greater Manchester and the Central Manchester NHS Foundation Trust. We will explore how technology can help Manchester’s Corridor hospitals to reduce their A&E attendances, hospital admissions, and mental health service costs by up to 13% while delivering significant benefits to healthcare providers. Working with the University of Manchester we will evaluate the impact of smart technology, such as whether using wearable technology to monitor and manage the early stage symptoms of some conditions could lead to fewer hospital admissions.

We will also engage with Manchester’s citizens to support the development of local communities. Digitisation enables us to not only measure quantifiables like money saved or time spent, but can also be used from a cultural perspective to positively influence happiness, well-being, and sense of community. By creating an intelligent and dynamic street lighting network we can improve public safety and influence positive behaviour changes, while minimising complaints to local authorities. Smart data on traffic and congestion could help people find parking spaces much more easily and quickly, alleviating a major stress-point in busy lives and giving people more time to enjoy themselves.

As part of CityVerve we will provide easy access to a social community platform that raises awareness of local events and outdoor activities. With a more efficient city giving people more free time you could take up yoga classes in the park, perfect your backhand at the local tennis club, or simply kick a ball around with friends. This is particularly encouraging because technology is often accused of building barriers and increasing isolation: we see the Smart City as the antithesis of this. We want to build Smart Cities that put people back in touch with their environments, enriching them and creating a happier connected community rather than a city of connected individuals.

Cisco believes that making a city smart is about more than just deploying sensors and connecting objects: it’s about creating the circumstances that enable citizens, organisations, and communities to thrive. It is through applying a combination of technology and business model innovations that CityVerve will create a real-life blueprint for Smart Cities worldwide. To the casual eye Manchester will still look much the same—we’re not building a sci-fi film set. But over time the benefits will become abundantly evident: cleaner, safer streets; more prosperity; less traffic congestion; a healthier and happier population.

For more information please visit to find out more about how we’re making cities smarter and to learn more specifically about the project.

Laying the Foundations of the Smart City

The world’s population is growing rapidly and is predicted to reach 8 billion by 2025. One consequence of this will be continued and quickening urbanisation. The UK will be no exception: already 81.5% of its population (or 47.5 million people) live in urban areas. This urban society brings numerous challenges, but presents many opportunities. Cisco believes that the development of smart cities can help to overcome many of the problems associated with urbanisation, but will also create a truly positive city living experience.

Fundamental to the idea of a smart city is that all of its systems are integrated, making connectivity crucial. Research shows that the number of connected devices in cities increased 39% to 1.6 billion between 2015 and 2016: that figure is expected to jump to 3.3 billion in 2018. Our cities are rapidly becoming more joined up, and the technology in place impacts our lives in big, bold, interesting ways as you’ll see through this expedition, but there is still a way to go before our cities become truly smart.

Some cities are already actively exploring how smart technology can tackle the biggest frustrations citizens experience. For example, around 30% of traffic congestion is caused by the search for a parking space. However, smart technology can use real-time data to guide drivers directly to available spaces, significantly reducing the impact of this much publicised problem. Connected sensors can also be used to monitor healthcare, energy, and environment systems—such as redirecting people away from areas of high pollution or monitoring water levels to provide advance warnings of flooding.

We are also seeing major advances in street lighting with cities looking to smart technology to drastically cut bills and waste. As well as moving to low energy LED bulbs, cities are embracing intelligent street lighting that only switches on when someone approaches. The next decade will also see significant advances in autonomous vehicles including buses, trams, and trains. The development of connected vehicles will enable city authorities to use integrated data to reduce congestion and improve air quality. CCTV cameras are almost ubiquitous, but using intelligent technology to combine information from video surveillance, social media, citizen reports, and other sensors, gives law enforcement a much richer view of urban safety making cities safer and more attractive.

Cisco is enabling these innovative solutions. As the UK steadily becomes a country where everything is connected, Cisco has committed a $1 billion investment to accelerate the UK digital economic growth. This will help to ensure that as implementation of cutting edge infrastructure and digital adoption quickens, will increase UK GDP, reduce spending and create jobs. It will mean the UK remains a digital leader on the global stage and support the drive towards effective, sustainable and truly livable smart cities.

Using Technology to Tackle Flooding

It may be a cliché to talk about the miserable weather in Britain, but the winter of 2015-2016 really was wet. Flooding was headline news, costing the country around £5 billion and strengthening demands for government action. What’s more, continued rapid urbanisation and the prospect of a warmer, wetter climate threatens to place a further 3.2 million people in the UK at flood risk by 2050. It is a serious problem and one which Cisco has set its talent and technology to tackling.

Looking beyond the traditional approach of building expensive and all too often ineffective flood defences, the team at Cisco’s CREATE laboratory began to explore how digital transformation technology could contribute to a solution. With funding from Innovate UK the CREATE team joined with a host of partners in designing, developing, and building a proof of concept that is now being trialled and tested in Glasgow, Scotland. The project, called CONSERVE, is an integrated platform that puts relevant real-time information into the hands of first responders to help predict flooding and co-ordinate more effective action—shortening response times to reduce flood damage.

The CONSERVE platform draws huge amounts of information from thousands of sensors and sources across the UK, including river levels, ground saturation, and weather data. Smart algorithms, custom built for the project, mine the data to accurately predict flooding events. CONSERVE then sends predictive alerts to the appropriate authorities. Being able to monitor and instantly respond to rising water levels at the national, regional, and local level enables the quick and confident deployment of the right resources to the right place at the right time—critical in emergency situations where speed can make all the difference to people’s safe escape. What’s more, CONSERVE is designed to streamline the flow of information, giving responders only the information they need to maximise operational efficiency.

The innovation that Cisco has put into developing CONSERVE is not only ground breaking in the field of data aggregation and analytics, but also in terms of security and the merging of private and public data for the greater good. In developing CONSERVE, Cisco was central to a cross-industry collaboration that has been celebrated as a shining example of how combining unique skill sets and expertise can proactively tackle a real issue that impacts on everyone. For Cisco, CONSERVE is about developing something new by taking the best available technology and evolving it into something even better and giving it a real purpose. This is the philosophy that lies at the heart of Cisco’s quest to create really smart cities that will make urban living even better. CONSERVE is actively protecting people and property from flooding, and is a shining example of how technology, smartly applied, is already making a positive improvement to people’s lives.

The UK and Ireland are making all the right connections

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the stuff of science fiction: the ability to interconnect nearly everything and therefore do almost anything at the touch of a button. It’s so futuristic many of us might struggle to fully appreciate its potential, but the reality is that the IoT is already transforming the world we live in as it starts to connect people and things on a previously unimaginable scale. Connected devices already outnumber the world’s population by 1.5 to 1, and at Cisco we see the adoption of IoT technology accelerating everywhere—especially in the UK and Ireland where the IoT market is booming.

To better understand the economic impact of this technological revolution, in 2014 Cisco commissioned research into IoT opportunities for start-ups across the UK and Ireland. We were pleased to discover a young but thriving IoT sector, spread across a range of disciplines in a variety of locations. It all looked very promising. Eighteen months later, this April, we decided to revisit the research to see how the IoT landscape had evolved. The results are extremely exciting.

Firstly, the overall growth of IoT has been huge in the UK and Ireland, with our research highlighting a significant increase in the number of IoT start-ups. In fact, they have grown by nearly half (48%), rising from 244 to 362 in the short space of 18 months. What’s more, we found that 91% of the companies we assessed in 2014 are still in business and almost one third (28%) have shown tremendous progress. In fact, six companies proved so successful that they have been acquired by larger companies and one other has even issued its first sale of stock with an Initial Public Offering.

Unsurprisingly some sectors have embraced IoT more fully and more quickly than others. Transport and health are especially vibrant areas, consider the explosion of the digital health fitness market led by the likes of Fitbit. We recognize that these sectors have the greatest opportunities to benefit from IoT in the short-to-mid-term, which helps explain why they are pulling so rapidly ahead of slower moving sectors such as agriculture, oil & gas, and government. But we expect things to change: with the UK government launching a three-year, £40 million funding plan, in 2015 there is plenty of time for major IoT innovation in these sectors.

And IoT innovation in the UK and Ireland is far from restricted to traditional tech hubs like London and Dublin. Of the IoT companies surveyed in England, 69 of the 196 were based outside the capital, with a particularly strong presence in Cambridge, Southampton, and Manchester. Indeed, Manchester experienced the most significant IoT upsurge across the whole of the UK and Ireland, growing from just a single company in 2014 to a mid-size cluster of seven IoT companies by this year. This includes i2i Pipelines, an advanced electromagnetic sensor start-up that won second place in last year’s Cisco-BIG Awards. In Manchester we also see the powerful influence of government investment with the city winning a £10 million government grant to become the UK’s first IoT city demonstrator.

What does this all mean? At Cisco we see these results as clear signs of extremely strong growth, putting the UK and Ireland on track to be a world leader in the IoT market. We believe that if businesses in the region step up and make the most of the opportunities we are witnessing, the UK and Ireland will be set to make a significant contribution to an IoT market that is predicted to be worth $14.4 billion by 2020.

About Cisco

Cisco is changing the way we work, live, play and learn through the latest, smartest technology. This world leader in technology is building the all-important infrastructure that will securely connect everything—making anything possible. This includes laying the foundations to create truly amazing smart cities. The urban areas of the future will implement technology to make metropolitan living not only more efficient and productive, but also far more enjoyable. Cisco is sponsoring National Geographic Emerging Explorer Dan Raven-Ellison on his quest to prove the value and importance of our cities’ open spaces. Far from being irrelevant to high-tech urbanisation, these green areas compliment smart technology to make our cities as sustainable as they need to be—and as liveable as we want them to be.

There’s Never Been A Better Time To Make Our Cities Wild

Find out how your environment affects your brain! Follow Daniel Raven-Ellison as he documents his neural activity while walking across 69 cities and 15 parks in the UK. Will green spaces prove to be better for his state of mind?

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Take a Deeper Dive

Explore our results page to compare Dan's emotions in cities to National Parks.

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Inside the Mind of
Daniel Raven-Ellison

Dan is on a mission to shake up our perception of urban living by making London the world’s first National Park City. With 8.3 million trees, 13,000 species of wildlife, and 47% of the land given over to green, Dan believes Londoners can make much more of these wild open spaces.

Visit Dan’s Blog