Building a smarter London



9 August 2016

By: Andrew Fray


We’ve already talked about London’s long history as a centre of innovation, but what about its future?

As former Mayor Boris Johnson once put it, “London is a digital world leader…[that] has long been at the forefront of new technology”. With 40,000 digital businesses, 200,000 employees in its technology sector and a high-tech market worth £19 billion, the capital certainly looks well-set to ‘go again’ as Gareth Bale would say.

Designing utopia

As digital transformation continues to redefine what’s possible, the capital can increasingly harness the power of skyrocketing data and connectivity to solve challenges, empower citizens and enhance competitiveness. The foundations are already being laid for the smarter London of tomorrow, which will be able to orchestrate billions of connected things and react seamlessly and intelligently to new demands. While the emergence of truly ‘smart’ cities has been envisioned for a long time, today the pieces are starting to come together. By 2020, we can expect 50 billion connected things and global smart city investment worth US$16 billion.

The results will be as ground-breaking as the first Industrial Revolution; in fact, it’s impossible to predict the ultimate impact of this transformation. From more efficient power grids, to traffic that always flows smoothly and automated emergency services, the day-to-day lives of Londoners may change dramatically in a smarter capital.

This new London will depend on massive amounts of data. Generating it, analysing it, storing it and acting on it will be crucial to keep the city moving. With 40,000 Exabytes predicted to be flowing across global networks by 2020, the capital will need an extraordinary IT infrastructure. These systems will also need to be hugely robust: as smart capabilities become essential to daily life in every area from utilities to healthcare, Londoners will have zero tolerance for downtime.

Digital compromises

There are, however, barriers to realising this rosy vision of tomorrow and ensuring life in London doesn’t mirror dystopian sci-fi films like Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ or Terry Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’. In my view there are ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ which need to be faced and conquered.

The first is Big Data: London must be able to support the super-exponential growth of information, analyse it effectively and use these insights to inform action. Around the clock access to extensive, fully backed-up data processing engines and storage arrays will be needed.

The second challenge is Big Network: a smarter London must be able to deliver enough data, fast enough. Whether it’s smartphone users waiting to find a Pokémon, or the high frequency traders trying to cut nanoseconds from their financial trades, data must flow seamlessly to and from the locations and people that need it.

The Third Horseman of the smart city apocalypse is Big Power: London needs to have enough sustainable power generation and distribution to drive growth and support its infrastructure.

Lastly comes Big Security: the capital will need to mitigate the risk from hackers and avoid leakages of sensitive information to unauthorised individuals or organisations. As the capital’s critical infrastructure becomes ever more hyper-connected and exposed to cyberattacks, there must be certainty that bad actors cannot bring life in the city to a halt.

Thinking about the smart city’s brain

Data centres will undoubtedly be the ‘controlling brain’ of a smarter London, which needs to consciously addresses the risks posed by the Four Horsemen: analysing enormous datasets in real-time to derive contextual insights, while also transporting information between organisations, individuals, devices and sensors - seamlessly and securely.

Today, we’re getting used to ‘The Cloud’ providing everything we need as-a-service or on demand, but smart cities will need even greater scalability, security and flexibility. Big data analytics will have to run at unprecedented speeds on the network edge, allowing information to be fed back to local services in micro-moments.

Today’s capabilities are probably not up to tomorrow challenges. Data centres that are central to digital transformation will change and evolve to cope with the emerging demands of smart cities and nimbly capitalise on new ideas and opportunities.

Despite the digital revolution being a global phenomenon, the future will see more and more organisations choosing to colocate their data centres in the heart of the capital, rather than in regional locations, to support their most vital applications. This is the reality of data gravity as economic activity is drawn to the core.

New smart businesses will be perfectly placed to take advantage of the smart city revolution coming to London’ streets. Colocation offers the ideal foundation for flexibility: combining connectivity and proximity to customers with highly secure, scalable infrastructure. Of course, it also allows businesses to do more than simply innovate on a digital level; it enables them to develop new ideas and opportunities by interconnecting directly with partners, customers and suppliers sharing the same facility. This is the creative mix for which London is so respected and admired.

To survive and thrive in a smart future, organisations will increasingly need to harvest insights from the limitless interactions around them: informing more effective, data-driven business strategies and driving autonomous, machine-led decision-making. That’s why, with a smarter London on the horizon, being at the heart of digital innovation also means engaging the brain of the capital.