Nascent Post-COVID Trends for Smart Cities

T. Cuzzillo

Summary Bullets:

  • Despite monumental uncertainties for smart cities, a few flickering trends of yet-unknown strength appear.
  • AI could gain even wider popularity and become a symbol of post-COVID optimism.

Though the new year dawns with monumental uncertainties for smart cities, a few flickering trends of yet-unknown strength and relevance seem to appear now on the horizon.

Remote work disperses workforce. Many employers have found that remote work works for them. A recent GlobalData report, 2021 Predictions for Enterprises: COVID-19 Coexistence,” predicts that the trend toward remote communication among co-workers that surged in 2020 will “solidify and expand.”

Conceivably, this geographic dispersal could support a movement now well underway in current tech hubs such as Silicon Valley. There, several chapters operating under Code for America, a national alliance of community organizers, developers, and designers who are putting technology to work in service of local communities, make significant contributions to local city livability technology.

Data became a vital touchpoint. Though COVID-19 infected millions of people – and many died from it – for most people, COVID-19 arrived as data. News media was full of charts showing the numbers. The rates of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths became everyday conversation.

Several data analytics vendors mounted admirable displays to inform and perhaps in some way to reassure their customers and others. Tableau and Qlik stood out with their extensive and well-thought-out displays.

Such efforts by these vendors and the nearly ubiquitous display in news media brought fear but also some comfort from at least knowing the score. It also brought comfort with data, and that kind of comfort will persist after the pandemic ends.

The public’s comfort with data will extend to data provided by governments and vendors. At first, the main line of questioning will be about privacy, but since so much can be reflected in data, the topics to be questioned will range widely.

Acceleration of AI. Even while the world economy suffered, the imperative on cities to improve livability never stalled. A few small city-oriented AI vendors report strong growth. CleverCiti is one such provider, a European-based startup with AI-guided detection of parking slots.

AI is the clearest trend among innovations helping to shore up smart cities globally in 2021. AI has been prevalent for several years now, but always as the backstage agent. However, 2021 will see AI further integrated into core infrastructure and cloud solutions that support smart city use cases. It will become the new fascination for a public hungry for a new era.

For many, AI will become the newest object of derision. A portion of a weary, traumatized public will be hypervigilant. Companies up and down the AI supply chain will hastily rename the technology. But as the year goes on and the public feels progressively freer of the virus, AI’s adolescent foibles will be laughed off. Only its promise will draw serious attention, and AI will become for some a new focus of a growing recovery.

For AI developments, keep an eye on several vendors: IBM Cloud will continue providing market-leading brand awareness along with strong hybrid AI capabilities. Microsoft Azure has been pursuing rapid evolution and significant investment in operational AI tooling augmented by a strong ecosystem of administration and communication tools. Google will harness its multitude of AI startups in a continuing push to advance artificial intelligence capabilities.

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