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Lindsay is a freelance journalist and editor with fifteen years’ experience working in print and online. She originally trained as a sub-editor on weekly newspaper The Kent and Sussex Courier, but now she specialises in b2b publishing and writes about a diverse range of subjects from convenience stores to internal comms and fundraising to pension funds.
May 22, 2015

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Smart-City Revolution: What Does Glasgow’s Transformation Mean for the Security Industry?

As visions of the future go, the smart city has to be one of the most enticing.

Imagine for a moment, a thriving metropolis where electric cars park themselves and street lights report their own faults – and you’re immediately transported into a technological utopia.

For an increasing number of cities across the globe, it is a future that has already arrived. Smart Cities are fast-becoming more than just a buzz word, thanks to extraordinary vision and a considerable amount of cash.

Here in the UK, Glasgow is leading the smart city revolution after beating 29 rival cities to win a £24m pot of UK government cash in 2013 to spend solely on technology. The grant from the Technology Strategy Board, was designed to transform the winning city into somewhere smarter, safer and more sustainable than anywhere else in Britain.

Two years on and the project has subtly, but significantly, changed the face of the city. Intelligent street lights get brighter for pedestrians and cyclists and dimmer when there is less activity.

They report their own faults and record air and pollutions levels and weather details. The CCTV cameras are high-definition, wireless and connected to a central operations room. Under the surface of the roads are more sensors that adjust traffic lights to reduce bottlenecks.

Data collection hub

At the core of it all is the data collection hub, run by Glasgow city council, which has health records, figures for footfall in each street, demographics, air pollution records – all of which the city can use to plan ahead for business developments, schools and health services.

Although hailed as a success by Glasgow City Council, the project has faced its fair share of challenges too. A reluctance of local government organisations to share data for example was something the project managers had to work hard to overcome.

The two-year timescale was equally testing with a huge number of interdependencies and specialists from a multitude of disciplines.

“We weren’t just rolling out hardware and software or putting in new infrastructure, we were using technology in new ways and – especially in the case of the data hub – this was world-leading,” says Gary Walker, programme director of Future City Glasgow.

Glasgow is far from alone in its endeavours to become a city of the future. Dubai, Singapore, Copenhagen and New York have all embarked on a similar journey in a big to work smarter, greener and faster.

Dr Simon Moores, a government advisor on information security, is a supporter of the smart city concept. He cites Dubai and Singapore as two cities where interconnectedness has reached new levels.

“If you wake up in Dubai or Singapore, it feels like waking up in the future. Hotels and shops recognise you and there are iPads on the table in Singapore – it implies a certain level of connectivity,” he said.

“It’s staggering what has been achieved in a short period of time there.”

Dr Moores believes the UK has the potential to follow suit, but the challenge is finding the right person or team for the job. He says larger cities across the country could learn from cities such as New York that are already ahead of the curve.

“I would like to see a Government department tasked with creating smart cities in London, Manchester, and Edinburgh. The challenge for a city like London will be to learn from other places. How do we leverage the data streams? How do we make our environment more cost-effective, safer, and more secure?” he says.

Skills-based jobs

Implementing technological change on such a large scale is certainly a big undertaking for the cities that chose to do so, but a secondary benefit is the creation of job opportunities.

As Dr Moores asserts, the jobs created are skills-based and require a level of education, so what does this mean for those already working in the industry? At the very least it indicates the move towards a divide in responsibility for installation and more complex engineering.

Matthew Brough, IT director at 4i Security Limited, predicts a two-tier system will prevail as technology continues to advance.

“Over the next 5-10 years I expect there will be a two-tier system in place. Installers will install the equipment, and the programming and more complicated tasks will be managed by an engineer,” he says.

“I believe the complexity in systems will only increase as it has done, and the skill base required to commission and support such systems will be done centrally via well-paid and talented engineers.”

Smart cities also require a substantial investment in security. While data sharing is undoubtedly an advantage for safety in terms of issues including pollution, flooding and road safety, threats like crime and terrorism must also be taken into consideration when it comes to planning.

Atec Securities managing director Simon Adcock, said: “Cities are dynamic, complex environments and securing their prosperity through protecting population, assets and reputation is a major challenge.”

A challenge it may be but, as with any major change, a period of trial and error is inevitable whether it takes place in Asia, the US, or closer to home.

Back to Glasgow though, whose smart city status is still in its infancy. Just two years out from the grant being awarded there’s still a little way to go before the project is fully up and running. But, it will be assessed over the next six months, both externally by market research company MRUK and internally by the Future City Glasgow team. If deemed successful, the model could be rolled out to cities all over the country.

Whatever happens, we certainly haven’t heard the last of it. As Clare Holland, a spokesperson for Glasgow city council says, the city is on the verge of something extraordinary.

“We are on the cusp of something here, the cusp of a new era of technology in the city and we want to take the momentum from that and build on it.”

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