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Albert-Seubers

A city for citizens

Albert Seubers

Atos Director, Global Strategy Smart X

While many reports and discussions explore the concept of the connected citizen by focusing on a specific aspect of day-to-day life, few focus on what “being connected” means for the citizen as an individual.

Connecting communities

The ability to access online eGovernment services such as paying taxes, applying for permits and so on is a form of connected citizenship. The focus here is on easy access to processes and information, often to save costs of delivering public services.

Connected citizen programs that focus on traffic flow and energy consumption levels provide the data required to update citizens who are connected via dashboards or apps. The connected citizen could also mean membership in online communities or social media, or participating in the education system by enabling children to do homework online. In this case, “connected” means prioritizing spending on devices and connectivity above other family expenses. In many of these examples, the citizen is connected via the smartphone they carry. As the number of smartphones keeps rising and mobile networks expand across the world, this “connected citizen” model becomes more powerful.

Just remember the crisis in Haiti in 2010 and the Philippines in 2013, when mobile connections with citizens enabled rescue and crisis management operations to start rapidly.

Reaching more widely

For me, the connected citizen is also the citizen who may have no smartphone but needs assistance, such as elderly people who are living independently for as long as possible. I know that many elderly people already use smartphones and this number will only grow, yet a smartphone may be out of reach at the moment they really need help. This is where other means of connectivity should be available (and I don’t mean by implanting chips). Older people, vulnerable people and those with medical conditions should be able to get connected so vital information can be shared through a secure connection that can vary depending on location, type of information and network availability.

Connectivity can be through wearable devices or sensors embedded in the steering wheel of a car, for example. A device could even be designed as a piece of jewelry, so the person carrying it is not instantly associated with it. Data from the connected person can be captured and monitored constantly, prompting immediate responses to provide personalized care by the most appropriate provider. In this way, cities can provide more personalized care at lower costs to citizens in need of support.

Today, elderly people who need to be connected are often confined to their homes because that is the only place where connectivity can be provided. This situation will soon change. Cities can also benefit from the data captured, which might reveal — for example — that traffic or transport systems are not suitable for all citizens.

Ensuring trust and security

As always with connected citizens and smart cities, “data” is the keyword that triggers questions about privacy and security. Who can access the data? Can we always trust the data, since sensors may malfunction or networks might not be available? What actions can be triggered?

Data therefore must be monitored and used in the context of the citizen’s profile, triggering actions accordingly and notifying the people who can provide help. Secure data collection can be ensured through devices such as wristbands that authenticate the wearer by using their heartbeat — an innovation that is already on the market to help people who need support.

Being a connected citizen has many different facets. We each must be able to create our own way of connecting — possibly through multiple technologies and networks — to ensure we derive personalized benefits in an appropriate, trusted and secure way.

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