Smart Cities are being DISRUPTED – Embrace it !!!

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Disruption has somehow become part of our vocabulary and part or our life. Finding a company or a sector being disrupted is now the new normal.

Stories of companies like Kodak, who invented Digital photography and was paradoxically disrupted by it, or sectors like Mobile phones, now smartphones – are part of our collective memory.

Smart Cities even being a pretty recent concept, still evolving, is already being disrupted by emerging technologies and new ways to think of organizations.

The vision for Smart Cities has been dominated by sensors and intelligent command and control centres that use them to make it more “efficient”, well … not the case ! Smart Cities are also being disrupted !!!

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Smart Cities: el futuro inesperado y el cambio que no llega

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Estos últimos años las Smart Cities han tenido una amplia presencia mediática en relación a la política municipal española. Todos hemos aprendido que el transporte, el consumo energético y hasta nosotros mismos podemos y tenemos que ser smart: smart transport, smart energy, smart citizens,… aunque muchas veces no hemos llegado a entender muy bien en qué consiste la cuestión de ser smart.

En la medida en la que el discurso se ha transformado en proyecto hemos ido aprendiendo quesmart significa, entre otras cosas, aprovechar las tecnologías de la información para mejorar la eficiencia en la gestión. A pesar de las explicaciones, muchos hemos tenido la impresión de que estábamos inmersos en una de tantas oleadas promocionales, un tanto hype.

Sin embargo más allá del hype empezaron a aflorar algunas contradicciones. ¿Es posible repensar el transporte desde una ciudad cuando ésta ha dejado de ser la ‘ciudad real’ en la que viven los ciudadanos? En Barcelona los ciudadanos transitan en una área que trasciende la propia Barcelona: Hospitalet, Cornellà,… (sólo wikipedia sabe dónde empieza una y acaba otra …) que también incluye el Vallés, … En Madrid, sucede exactamente lo mismo con Pozuelo, Alcorcón, … En Helsinki, la situación es similar: con Espoo, Vantaa, …

Repensar el transporte debe tener en cuenta la ‘ciudad real’ a la vez que la ciudad administrativa. Sin embargo, las competencias y los instrumentos que van más allá de la ciudad se encuentran en manos de una multitud de instituciones donde intervienen gobiernos nacionales, comunidades autónomas o estados federales, gobiernos locales y, en algunos casos, hasta programas de la Comunidad Europea.

A menudo, las urbes deben hacer frente al hecho de que los instrumentos necesarios para dar solución a problemas locales no están disponibles desde el nivel local. Éste es el caso de la movilidad, pero también de las políticas energéticas, la apertura de datos, los sistemas de contratación y un interminable etc.

Esto se evidencia aún más en aquellas políticas que intentan incidir en temas más transversales como la promoción económica; el derecho a la vivienda o las políticas de asilo. En el caso de las Smart Cities debemos unir a los conflictos provenientes de la yuxtaposición de competencias, aquellos derivados de la escala de la implementación cuando abarca más de una administración como es el caso del transporte, aparcamiento, energía, participación, etc.  El resultado final, desde el punto de vista del ciudadano, no es otro que un largo rosario de expectativas incumplidas, donde aquella implantación masiva que supondría importantes beneficios se ve substituida por proyectos piloto que pasan desapercibidos para la inmensa mayoría de ciudadanos.

Pero el mundo no está parado, nos sorprende con un futuro, muchas veces inesperado, que lo hace interesante. En medio de todos estos planes y marcos de actuación, donde todo estaba calculado y  parecía previsto, han aparecido los self-driving cars (coches autoconducidos), los coches eléctricos o el tren Hyperloop.

Por si fuera poco, estas innovaciones no nos auguran una mejora incremental sobre nuestra concepción de lo que es el transporte, sino que amenazan con transformarlo de forma radical. Los self-driving cars no son sólo el fin de los taxis, sino el final de un modelo de transporte tal y como lo concebimos hoy en día. Podremos llamarlos, utilizarlos para desplazarnos; después automáticamente se recargarán y estarán disponibles para otras personas. Las simulaciones apuntan a una liberación de un 30% del espacio de nuestras calles si seguimos utilizando vehículos individuales y hasta del 90% si nos decidimos por vehículos compartidos. Una verdadera revolución no sólo en el transporte, sino también en el modelo de ciudad.

Algo parecido pasará con el Hyperloop. Un proyecto de tren de alta velocidad que funciona en el vacío a una velocidad cercana a los 1200Km/h que promueve el fundador de Tesla. Al eliminar la resistencia del aire, su demanda de energía es mucho menor que la de los trenes convencionales, su velocidad mucho mayor y, por ende, sus costes más reducidos.

Sin embargo ya hoy, existen un buen número de innovaciones posibles que no se han llevado a cabo y quizás cabría preguntarse por qué. Todos vivimos a diario en un entorno donde las aplicaciones móviles han substituido una multitud de operaciones burocráticas y oficinas de proximidad, reduciendo de una manera drástica los niveles de gestión y de personal, al tiempo que se aumentaba la calidad de servicio en las empresas. ¿Por qué no ha sucedido lo mismo en la Administración Pública?

Las promesas, el hype, los cambios posibles y el futuro muchas veces inesperado configuran un escenario de oportunidades lleno de tensiones e incertidumbre. En este escenario, quizás más allá de concebir planes a largo plazo deberíamos tener la agilidad de aprovechar las oportunidades que ya existen a nuestro alcance, atreviéndonos también a repensar la administración local haciéndola un poco más smart.

 

El Periódico de Catalunya, 27 de Octubre de 2015

What’s behind Volkswagen’s scandal?

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Lots of ink has been wasted discussing the implications of the recent Volkswagen scandal. However, few articles tried to uncover its underlying reasons beyond a large investment in a new diesel motor that provided a fantastic performance but at a huge environmental cost (between 30 and 40x allowed emissions in the US).

Behind this battle is the battle in the automotive industry for being number 1. Toyota and its innovative Prius caught the whole sector by surprise and created a need to counterattack with a performing, high mileage  and environmentally conscious car. 

The new diesel engine looked like the best and easiest solution to counter the threat of a sweeping victory by the new hybrid models.

However, was it a simple fix for a bigger problem ?

The consequences of the fiasco go far beyond the cost of fixing the 11M+ cars involved, a number that increases every day. To list only a few,

1.- Car owners are not going to be happy with a much less performing car. How are they going to react to suddenly becoming proud owners of an “average” or “less than average” performing car.

2.- Ambientalists are probably going to sue Volkswagen with class action in the US and outside. The link between emissions and deaths is strong enough to demand huge compensations.

3.- Stockholders will also fill a class action to cover from the fall in the stock price. Stock price reached a 30% decrease in the recent days and nobody really knows where could be the the support line as the matter develops. 

4.- The consequences for the image of quality and trust of the German industry are not easy to quantify. German industry depends a lot on Germany as a brand strongly linked to trust and quality. This scandal hits its bottom line.

We are all becoming aware that this scandal is rapidly mounting to be the worst fiasco of the German industry ever with consequences well beyond car manufacturers.

Why all this happened? Was only a mindless shortcut in a hyper-competitive industry or we have to look deeper?

Volkswagen, like many other companies normally competes on price/quality. In cars the general awareness on environmental issues, the raise of the price of oil and the new technologies have disrupted competition with companies and models such as Tesla or Toyota Prius. German companies have been slow to react while some of these innovations aimed at their core business addressing many of the concerns and needs of their larger customer segment. This was the case with hybrid cars where competitors were able to create an image of a cool, modern car well beyond the savings in oil.

The new diesel engine was a way to counteract all this, but, as we know now, it was fake.

From the outside the whole story looks like the response of an incumbent that tries to compete with all weapons available into a new scenario that is being disrupted.

Was this the case?

In fact, competition in the car industry has been moving to innovation while Volkswagen and many other companies were still competing with efficiency – the price/quality ratio. This change in the way companies compete is at the core of this story.

Therefore, perhaps this is not only one case of a massive cheating but a failure to compete in a world where the rules changed and if so, it has implications for the company and the whole industry that go far beyond the scandal itself.

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The “sharing economy” as a lever for City transformation

sharingEconomyCity transformation is a major objective of every city planner. Whatever we refer to more livable cities, efficiency, economic growth, the regeneration of poor or industrial quarters, all these objectives need to engage cities in a process of transformation that addresses not only the urban landscape but also economic, behavioral and cultural structures. 

Traditionally, urban planners have addressed these transformations through direct interventions in the territory with large public works. This has been the most common mechanism used for reshaping cities and districts. 

However, it is no secret that this mechanism, though being highly effective has limitations and needs to be aided by policies that permit and incentive the regeneration of quarters. These policies commonly involve moving part of the population and business to different areas of the city, involving therefore a significant social cost.

Together with the reform of the territory, companies and public organizations are offered tax breaks or other incentives in an effort to motivate them to move to the new areas. However, not only an accurate targeting is almost impossible and sometimes backfires, but the whole process is costly and slow. We confront a typical chicken and egg problem, where companies don’t want to move until there is enough mass to justify it while public resources have to be diverted into the new area hoping for its success.

A major problem in this process is because of the size of the investments associated with the transformation. Certainly, building a hotel in a deprived area, moving a university or a museum are  major investments.

Also, even if a hotel brings tourists to the quarter, it offers many of the services that their clients need, particularly in terms of food and amenities, limiting externalities and hence its transformative capacity of the surroundings.

Are there other, maybe better, ways?

Possibly faster and with lower requirements of investment?

Can the so-called sharing economy bring new tools to the table?

If so, what should Cities do in order to benefit from its contribution?

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¿Cómo sobrevivir con éxito a la “gig economy”?

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La gig economy es esta transformación del trabajo que nos está cayendo encima en la que nos convertimos en freelances que trabajan por proyectos en vez de estar en empresas. Como tantas otras, tiene un mucho de inesperado y ha pillado a muchas de nuestras organizaciones con el pie cambiado.

Ahora la tecnología permite de una manera sencilla encargar y supervisar tareas sin necesidad de integrar a todos los actores en la organización. La razón por la que las organizaciones existen, argumentaba R. Coase allá por los años 30, es los costes de transacción. Si es más caro organizar un trabajo en el mercado – a través de freelances- que el valor añadido que aporta, entonces es mejor integrarlo dentro de la organización donde los “costes de transacción” son casi cero y por eso existen las organizaciones.

Pasa que ahora, mediante internet, los costes de transacción son extraordinariamente bajos, todo a un mail de distancia. Las consecuencias las vivimos cada día, las fronteras de las organizaciones se disuelven, cada día tenemos y tendremos más “autónomos”, pequeñas empresas, … y muchas de las labores de coordinación que antes realizaban personas se han trasladado a plataformas electrónicas. Es la gig economy.

Es una economía de oferta, de abundancia de la oferta, donde todo va muy deprisa y el trabajo se caracteriza más por una sucesión de proyectos más bien cortos que por “hacerse un hueco” en una organización.

Con ella muchos conceptos están cambiando de significado: tener trabajo, triunfar, sobrevivir, tener éxito, … ni se visualizan igual ni tan siquiera tienen el mismo significado.

A diferencia de otros cambios, la gig economy, afecta o va a afectar no ya a la periferia o a los gadgets sino a nosotros mismos como profesionales, a nuestro trabajo y a nuestra capacidad de generar y capturar valor con lo que hacemos.

Si piensas que no te va afectar, déjame desanimarte: ¡te va a afectar! … de una manera u otra.

¿Qué piensas hacer? ¿Cómo vas a afrontar esos cambios?

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Uber, Airbnb, … good or evil for cities?

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During the last years we had a lot of controversy around the sharing economy, particularly its most successful companies: Über and Airbnb were and are in the spot.

The list of examples is quite long, some of them even violent and dramatic such as über cars being burned, airbnb promoting highly successful citizen campaigns in NYC to prevent being banned or even top executives of über imprisoned in Paris.

Many of these conflicts originate with the existing incumbents: taxi companies, hotel chains, … trying to maintain their privileges against technological and/or business model innovation. This is not new, exactly the same thing happened when cars were taking the place of carriages or taxis (a quite recent invention in historical terms) began to establish in cities.

However, these are not the only source of conflicts, others arise from a lack of clarity on the objectives of a city, the type of society that they envision and the way to make it real. Many times, trying not to loose votes, politicians are ambivalent and say one thing, the opposite and the contrary at the same time and of course, this generates conflicts.

If we try to bring clarity to the discussion around the city that we envision, pretty soon we will find ourselves talking about regulations. This is so because they determine to a great extend the type of society that we live in. Do you think regulations are neutral ? or always in favor of the City overall ? Of course they are not ! they shape in many ways our society.

One good example of all this is to analyze the factors that contribute to the success of cities in terms of attracting visitors. Elements such as the brand of the city, its image displaying a vibrant life full of exciting proposals greatly contribute to make the city more attractive and become a magnet for visitors. All this is not created mostly by the government but by local actors.

How is the food there? Are restaurants offering new proposals? How is night life? Do they have interesting live music? How is accommodation there? Overpriced and completely boring hotels or exciting and full of variation coming from a variety of proposals? Is transport a chaos with angry taxi drivers that treat you badly or do you have a multitude of options where to choose? Can you do something else than visiting museums? Do you have theaters, day and night proposals for everybody? …

All these are questions that shape the attractiveness of a city for visitors are aspects where policies play a huge role. For example, live music was pretty common in the Barcelona of the 70’s, however after that period a new regulation was enacted protecting the interests of neighbors and nowadays only in very few places you can find live music, and when you find it, it is mostly illegal. Is this a good thing for the city? I guess we all can agree that it is not ! Enacting norms that effectively ban live music is the only way to protect the interests of a few citizens?

We can find many more examples of norms that backfire when they try to protect the interests of a few against the common interest of the majority.

Will it happen too if we restrict / ban airbnb or über ?

Why is this so important ?

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What to do with the gig – sharing economy?

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Freelancers in the US account now for around 15M people but the forecast for 2020 rises up to 40% of the workforce or around 60M people.

Two main factors are driving this transformation. On one side Internet and connectivity blurs the difference between employees and  external contractors. Your location and company status doesn’t matter as much as long as you do your job. On the other side, the digital transformation lowers the cost of the tools necessary to perform a job, a laptop or a desktop with an Internet connection is many times enough to start your own venture, whatever this is.

Transforming the hierarchical logic of employees into freelancers has obvious benefits for companies that can organize work in a more flexible way matching the competences needed with the requirements of the task in a more precise way, employing the people that they need only when they need them, etc. 

These incentives are powerful and they will certainly transform what we understand for labor market rendering obsolete many of our old conceptions and structures.

What about employees and the overall society?

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What is a watch ? My first weeks with an AppleWatch

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I am one of these early adopters that are responsible for financing the innovation of products and companies contributing to what we call progress. Therefore, I always believed that our social function should be rewarded somehow, at least with discounts or buy back options for all these products that end up pretty fast in the closet.

Of course, I bought an Apple Watch !! you knew that already, didn’t you?  and I thought it could be a good idea to share with you my thoughts about it. You will probably are going to end up buying one, so it might interest you and besides it, it’s a kind of nice post for summer.

Before we start, please take note that it is a great product for networking ! Maybe because its adoption rate is being slow – no data so far -, maybe because it is not widely known yet, I don’t know … but people ask about it … so networkers of the world, this is your product ! 

One of the most interesting characteristics of Apple is that it attempts to redefine the meaning of existing products and by doing that, they open new markets where they have the monopoly or almost, of the redefined product increasing its margin nicely.

Probably the clearest example of this is the iPhone. Phones used to be devices that we used to talk to somebody, not anymore, now we do with them everything but talking. The meaning of the term smartphone now could be something like a device to connect to the digital world but nothing about making calls.

Therefore, maybe it will be interesting to analyze the AppleWatch from the perspective of meanings and try to find one if and what will be the new meaning of a watch.

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¿Qué es un reloj? Mis primeras semanas con el Apple Watch

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Yo soy uno de esos “early adopters”, uno de los muchos que acabamos financiando los experimentos y  mejoras de un sinfín de productos en aras de lo que llamamos progreso. Por cierto, siempre he creído que nuestra función social no está suficientemente reconocida y deberíamos gozar de al menos un descuento de todo este sinfín de productos que acaban almacenados en el desván de casa con excesiva rapidez.

Como no podía ser de otro modo compré un Apple Watch tan pronto como estuvo disponible. Como algunos o muchos de vosotros comprareis o habéis comprado uno,  pensé que compartir mis impresiones de este casi un mes con él podría interesaros y seria un buen post de verano.

Antes de nada, ¡ el AppleWatch es fantástico para hacer networking ! Si queréis un producto por el que la gente se interese y pregunte, no busquéis más, es vuestro producto. Quizás debido a que su adopción está siendo más lenta de lo esperado, aunque no hay cifras, quizás porque es un producto que aún no es ampliamente conocido y sobre el que se interesa y pregunta mucha gente. Extrovertidos del mundo y fanáticos del networking: ¡¡¡ ya estáis tardando !!!

Una de las características interesantes de muchos de los productos de Apple es que intentan redefinir su “significado” (meaning) y con ello abren nuevos mercados donde poseen el monopolio, o casi, de un producto con un significado redefinido, por supuesto la cuenta de resultados refleja esta situación de monopolio o casi-monopolio.

Probablemente el caso más claro donde se refleja este cambio de significado es el iPhone. Antes, los teléfonos eran dispositivos que servían para hacer llamadas, su significado era dispositivo para hacer llamadas telefónicas. Obviamente con el iPhone y los smartphones hacemos de todo menos llamadas. Si tuviésemos que darle un significado al smartphone podría ser nuestra herramienta de conexión a la red o a nuestra vida digital.

¿Por qué pues, no analizar el AppleWatch desde esta perspectiva, la de los significados?

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Open Data is not working – how to fix it?

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Last April we organised together with the CTTI –  Generalitat of Catalonia (our regional gov) a workshop on Open Data. We have been working intensively on the subject for quite some years resulting in some papers, projects and a special article in the Communications of the ACM that will appear soon. We wanted to share our work with the Open Data community in Catalonia.

Since the early days when Marta Continente stablished the first Open Data portals in Catalonia we have witnessed an explosion an explosion of initiatives around Open Data. Lot’s of cities have their own Open Data portal with the ambition of ensuring transparency and stimulating the provision of services by third parties. Our reality though is not so different than the one in many other places, the scale and maybe the level of commitment is different, however results are mostly in the same line.

As in many other places, outcomes are a poor match for the vision, at most. Maybe it is time to acknowledge that Open Data is not working the way we expected and needs to be fixed.

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