Smart City – Bad City? Lessons from Games

Today, the topic of big data comes up again. VentureBeat talked a few days ago about Ubisoft’s upcoming Watch Dogs game. They raise some very interesting issues in the article that perhaps bear some further talking. If you are not familiar with the term “smart city” you have been skipping through some of IBM’s commercials (Smarter Cities YouTube Channel). Some of the videos there are compelling, but what about the downside and what can you learn from those downsides in your own big data efforts.

Predictive or Creepy?

In one of IBM’s TV spots a police office is standing outside a convenience store as a would-be robber walks up. The robber spots the police officer and turns around. This is good, right? What if the prediction was wrong and the guys in this commercial showed up:

I think it would be a bad day for folks just looking for a few munchies. If you do something like that as a brand, you will have definitely crossed the creepy line and more than likely lost a customer.

With great power (or information) comes great responsibility, right? Well, as you combine disparate data sets and come upon unexpected conclusions, be careful how you present those conclusions to your customers. Changing internal processes based on the data is probably where your brand has started. Better call processing for instance for those customers who are more valuable than others. If you don’t know how to do that, there is a company, eBureau from St. Cloud, Minnesota, that can help you do that. If you are one of those valuable customers, you probably love it. What if you are a less-valuable customer? What if because you are handled by an automated system instead of a human you don’t get access to the best deals? I think a nice lawsuit may be headed your way.

Back to the Game

The game sounds pretty interesting. A City Operating System (ctOS) is the heart of the smart city in the game and is tied into a myriad of information sources. A smart city, by definition, combines a smart economy, smart mobility, smart environment, smart people, smart living and smart governance. The smartiness of the city is determined by a city’s ranking on each of those axes. In Watch Dogs most of the smartiness is centered on crime and crime prevention, so it only looks at a small portion of this. It still raises hackles.

Is this where your brand’s big data efforts are going? Firmly into the creepy zone? Or, are you trying to push towards a better place for your consumers? Be honest when you do this self-evaluation and remember my axiom that you are probably incapable of seeing things through your user/consumer’s eyes. The promise of a smart city is sustainable economic development and a high quality of life. The promise of big data to the consumer is serendipitous interactions that are relevant and timely. They may be unexpected, but they can be explained.

Take your responsibility seriously and the opportunities will abound.

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