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Author's profile photo Sean O'BRIEN

Rise of the City Mega-Machines

Cropped City Illustration.jpgImagine That !

By 2015 all new cars in Europe will have an ecall system, where all new cars will have a built in sensor which will automatically alert the emergency services if I have a serious accident. The benefits of this system could be that first responders response times are improved by up to 40%, it is predicted that this technology will save many lives due to an earlier emergency response.

In some countries If you are a high risk patient you will be able to wear an e-health  device will be able to monitor vital signs for high risk patients so the emergency services can arrive before a cardiac event. In many countries sensors are being integrated with many parts of our daily lives, in our home, our workplaces and our social lives.

Genie’s out Of The Bottle

One can assume that at least 50% of the world’s 6 billion mobile phones (  are located in our cities and urban settlements, if 50% of the population live in our cities today. Some predict that as many as 50 billion devices ( will be connected by 2020 , and with our cities racing to deploy intelligent systems for transportation, health, infrastructure, energy, retail and governments, most of these devices will be integrated within a broader network of sensors in the city. Our cities are rapidly becoming the mega machines of this century.

Many cities are competing both nationally and globally for investment, skills, talent and innovation.  Being able to sustain, improve and transform themselves can only bBest Run Urban.JPGe done in conjunction with technological innovation, which means cities are leading the way with mobile first and M2M first strategies. However unleashing the power of the ‘city mega-machine’ faces many challenges as the boundaries for innovation in this field will be far ahead of the ability to create models for governance, management and deployment.

For now our cities need leaders, consumers, citizens, communities, government and businesses to come together to establish the right strategy and approach which will enable mobile & M2M innovation to have the greatest positive impacts upon our daily lives in cities.

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No Longer Home Alone

Already sensors and smart devices in homes are creating complex networks of information, from household appliances to security systems from entertainment systems to energy systems they are all creating data, events and messages for someone to collect, analyse and process.

Families are increasingly using devices and sensors to do anything from a real time view of kids results to managing energy consumption, from optimizing home maintenance to improving safety & security. Increasingly aggregated and anonymised open data from my communities will be used to improve information flows, processes and even community safety alerts, we will use the advent of open data and open government to join together, maybe collaborate on negotiating better services, reduce bills,  securing better deals and improving public safety.


“What Are You Talking About HAL ?”

In 1980’s the film ‘Space Odyssey’ brought to life the subject of artificial intelligence in the negative sense, will the rise of the machines also lead to less control in our lives ?

These machine to machine sensor networks will be always on, creating billions of machine to machine conversations. From these information or event exchanges complex patterns may be identified, which create new message events which require urgent action, for example in a fire, crime or medical emergency situation.

Machines will have increasing artificial intelligence and will have a vast amount of data to process. The machines will be running our homes, our cars and maybe increasingly our busy lives, they will certainly be running many parts of our cities. Increasingly the way we interact with our families, where we work, government and our social network will depend upon mobile and M2M innovation. One of our key challenges will be governance as these innovations will be bottom up, a rise of the machines taking control of our lives if you like. 

Mobile to Machine: A,B,C ‘s

If we look at intelligent systems are being deployed more and more in Aerospace, Banking, Energy, Infrastructure, Government & Retail sectors. Mobile government (MGovernment) is already transforming how people access information, consume services, pay taxes, receive benefits, improve healthcare & have access to open government data.

This is only the beginning. For example,  I believe Mdemocracy will change the foundation upon which many city issues will be decided. The advent of real time polling for the majority ot citizen’s means politicians will gain a real time, instant view on key issues. Citizen’s will gain an immediate view of the decision and be able to track progress along the way, from money to parking,from transport to volunteering, from collaboration to shopping mobile, from public safety to green issues, city mega machines will be transforming the way we think about cities and how communities, government and businesses collaborate, innovate and act.

Its’ Data Jim, But Not As We Know It/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/273956_l_srgb_s_gl_142436.jpg !

However there is a BUT for government. When connected alarm systems for premises was introduced many years ago they had direct feeds to police stations, soon the numbers of calls and false alarms overwhelmed the ability of law enforcement officials to respond so they introduced monitoring stations or intermediary companies with a responsibility to manage these messages and data, only notifying the authorities when there was a genuine call.

Monitoring stations could not easily determine genuine calls so they deployed additional sensors to validate the call was bona fide. Another example is license plate recognition cameras,

I spoke to a police operations centre team who said the readers were great, picking up all the possible cars involved in offences, but there was no capacity to deal with the huge list of hits, they could only sift through and choose the most serious ones.

Everything To Go, I Want It Now!

I once had a customer who implemented a contact centre, 3 months after go live they were truly surprised about the fact citizen calls had gone off the scale, when they looked at the reasons behind the rise they found citizens in the past were left on hold and so gave up. Now they had a services that was high quality they were for sure going to use it. Will we see M2M cloud based monitoring service centres in the future to cope with the colossal data and service challenge. Early e-government projects that put up online website for services but did not address the process, skills or service issues suddenly were exposed and unable to deliver high quality services.


One of the biggest service challenges is being able to manage the inexorable demand that intelligent systems will create, billions of sensors sensing will lead to hundreds of millions of events which mean thousands of additional services being requested.

Often these were not possible before, so this is not just a different channel it is a completely new category or channel, for private sector this may mean charging for services but what about government. They have no choice in many instances and are obligated to deliver the service, inundated with data and events without correct planning, governance and resources.

This Time It’s Really Real Time

If we think back to the ecall system in the car or ehealth system on the person intelligent systems will not just connect with the operations centres but they will want to adapt in such a way to connect to smart devices in the vicinity, why wait 20 minutes for a paramedic if there is one working nearby with smart device, who your device can connect with and direct to your assistance.

The key is looking at this multi-dimensionally, as a network in a network of networks, for example a traffic incident in a fog bound freeway, automatically alerting oncoming drivers to slow down as impact to stationary vehicles high risk.

Real time services, information and data is a reality, for cities they will be at the cutting edge of this challenge with governments, retailers, healthcare providers, educationalists, transportation providers and public safety authorities making highly innovative use of these technologies.

Cities will have billions of sensors and smart devices, operating 24X7, they will create hundreds of billions if not trillions billions of events, data readings and information reports, creating a gargantuan data challenge and a real time service delivery challenge at the same time. Real time cities will need real time solutions will need to put in place governance, infrastructure & policies to manage mass scale early adoption, being able to sense, predict and act are the three vital elements, without one you cannot scale.

SAP Urban Matters has identified 10 government areas for real time and M2M.

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The imagination, innovation and ingenuity of businesses, citizens and government will be the key to bringing order to the possible chaos. If they can harness the power and unleash the potential they way we all live, work and play will be very different.

It will not be the mature markets that set the global pace many fast growing markets and emerging nations are leading the way with smart devices and M2M technology.

As part of our SAP Urban Matters strategy we are imagining the future of real time in cities and are deploying solutions that address city government needs today and in the future.

Being able to sense, predict and act in real time is fundamental to our strategy for real time solutions for real time cities. For example we will make a second release of our situational awareness solution for public sector next month, which provides a platform for real time information provision in cities.

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The pace is lightning fast, the intensity white hot, innovation and imagination are re-framing the city paradigm, it will be a bumpy ride but I believe the rise of the city mega-machines will improve people’s lives and help cities run better than ever.

I am not predicting machine-a-geddon, 😏 rather a need to embrace, imagine, innovate and deliver against the promise offered, to do this we need technologists, government, business and communities to co-innovate together. Without the ‘power of us’ we will fail to realize the full potential of the intelligent city vision.

SAP Urban Matters brings our story for mobile first and M2M in cities to life. 

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