A Smart City Needs Smart Payments

Last week saw London Technology Week where, once again, London’s leading role in global technology innovation was highlighted, debated and promoted. One of the major topics for discussion was the ‘Smart City’.

Smart cities are cities where ideas and technology combine to create an interactive, connected and engaged city and citizenship. The key technology in this is M2M (machine to machine technology), popularly known as the Internet of Things. Using wireless connectivity, M2M technology allows machines to “talk” to each other and exchange information with limited or no human involvement.

We are already seeing M2M technology making cities smarter. In Seoul for example, there are litter bins which inform the local authority when they need emptying. And in Pisa and Amsterdam, drivers are guided towards available parking spaces through the automated analysis of traffic flows and smartphone based applications like Mobypark.

These solutions are created to not only address significant problems in the urban environment, but to make life more convenient for its population. Traffic flows, parking and litter are just a very small sample of the challenges that M2M technology has addressed, but the full scope of its capabilities can barely be conceived.

Yet what is at the heart of every city is its economy. The seamless ability to make and receive payments in exchange for goods and services is critical to ensuring a successful and sustainable urban economy. So making payments truly smart is vital to realising the potential of the smart city and enhancing its liveability, workability and sustainability. The question is though, how can this be done?

The smart city isn’t just smart due to technology, it’s smart due to integral thinking and the existence of a collaborative and innovative approach from all stakeholders. One of the challenges with new payments technology, such as that showcased at London Technology Week, is that many innovations and proposed solutions are disruptive in nature, often requiring a complete replacement of existing infrastructure.

The smart city works best when solutions are elegant, efficient and unobtrusive. From the litter-bins of South Korea to the congested motorists in Pisa, smart city M2M technology fulfils its potential when it is, in essence, un-noticed. It works best when it is a smooth evolution using technology we trust and already know, but taken to the next level, rather than a revolutionary upheaval that can negatively affect a citizens’ behaviour and lifestyle.

The preferred innovations can be cutting-edge, but the user interface must be recognised and trusted. Investments should be future-proofed to the greatest extent possible. By bridging the existing infrastructure and processes with the results of collaborative innovation, the transition into a truly smart city becomes far more realistic and achievable.