A smart approach to smart cities
When looking at Europe’s smart city readiness, the UK is behind on its smart city targets and is at risk of falling behind other European countries, according to research from Citi Horizons. Over 80 per cent of the 187 UK councils asked to take part in this research had limited awareness and little to no involvement in smart cities. The report also warned “it is clear that councils are unable to make smart, connected cities a priority”.
But how does a community become smart? The process is no simple task. Budget constraints, identifying priorities, finding best practice, navigating intricate technology, and engaging business and the community are all challenge areas.
Clearly this is a major problem – it’s not just that communities are struggling to prioritise for future programmes; an underlying problem may be that the primary conditions for a successful smart community have been overlooked: It is essential to have in place the right people with the right mind-set. The prevailing culture must be data driven and apply scientific analysis, it must nurture new ideas, enable risks to be taken and be dynamic enough to hone in on adoption of what is successful. Only then can real progress be made.
GIS technology, which combines digital mapping and data analytics to present a dynamic view of the world, is helping redesign old services and develop new ones. It is enabling crowdsourcing from citizens, demonstrating progress on initiatives and sharing open data to enable businesses to develop and target new products and services.
Every day, millions of people all around the globe are using GIS to explore multiple layers of data, enabling them to analyse complex scenarios and make the right decisions. Ecology consultants, for example, are using GIS to tackle the difficult task of finding suitable land for sustainable housing development.
Given what can be a complicated process, communities need clear guidelines to help navigate them through the journey to becoming ‘smart’. Ultimately, organisations that understand the importance of connecting data will see opportunities where other communities may not.
Also, every smart community may be different, but they all share common operational traits. Each relies on real-time intelligence for evidence-based decision-making, more effective collaboration, and public engagement.
Using data to act in the community's best interest, proactive administrations need to embody the following five key characteristics:
- Forward-thinking leadership and strategy – To achieve smarter operations and deliver services that citizens need, civic strategies must be measured and remain people-centric. Data is what fuels the smart community, and its adoption begins from the top of the organisational food chain. Leaders progress ideas forward, build ecosystems that encourage innovation, and remove obstacles that might impede initiatives. The best leaders will motivate their entire organisation, inspiring a smart community to become optimised.
- Data-driven decision-making – The pressure to invest wisely and respond to situations effectively has never been greater. To avoid waste and public scrutiny, governments need data-driven decisions that are justified by facts from multiple perspectives. By sourcing authoritative data, emphasising analysis, and using evidence to determine actions, governments achieve their initiatives with greater success and support.
- Real-time awareness – Better decisions begin with current, accurate, and relevant information. With the overwhelming amounts of live information being observed and acted on, real-time data feeds are no longer a luxury. From mobile devices to networked inputs across the IoT, governments draw actionable intelligence promptly from streaming data. To make a meaningful difference, organisations must remain continually aware of community events to respond to critical incidents in a timely manner.
- Collaboration across departments – Smart communities unite the efforts of government and community groups through free-flowing information across departments and organisations. Once limited by data silos, integrated networks make intelligence accessible beyond traditional boundaries. When users share, and pull communal data through their applications of choice, efforts are better aligned, resources are allocated more wisely, and time is saved.
- Civic engagement – Beyond just publicly sharing information, governments must actively explore new ways to interact with citizens and provide them with contextual data. Including community groups in the process, which may be viewed as untapped government departments, promotes transparency and opens additional resources. Further, governments that embrace communication with the public make it easy for people to provide and find feedback. Through channels such as social media, citizens can contribute commentary that directly influences government decisions. When data driven rationales and logical thought processes are made clear to the public, governments better justify their priorities, budgets, and actions.
Using data in the correct way helps the drive towards smart cities and embodies the ideals of a smarter world. Whether these solutions facilitate smart analytics, smart collaboration, smart working, smart development or smart use of data, they can help to overcome the growing challenges of a growing population. Organisations who are using GIS to do this, understand conflicts of interest, make better-informed decisions and operate more efficiently to create this better, smarter world.
By Simon Weaver, Smart Communities Programme Manager, Esri UK
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”