Last year, global communications company Avaya held a showcase in Sydney to demonstrate how its innovations in communications, Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain and other key areas are shaping customer experience (CX) in an increasingly interconnected world.
Leveraging its capabilities in these technologies, Avaya is working with financial services companies, government departments and healthcare providers in various cities that are making the transition to becoming ‘smart’.
To hear more about what makes a smart city tick and how Avaya is participating in the global movement towards the technology-aided enhancement of our urban spaces, Fifth Quadrant sat down with Avaya’s Australian and New Zealand Managing Director Peter Chidiac.
FQ: What is a smart city and why are we moving in this direction?
PC: What constitutes a smart city is currently quite subjective. The way I see it is that a smart city is basically the redevelopment of a city using information technology (or ICT) to provide better services, efficiency, connectivity, and safety.
Why we are moving in that direction is a very relevant and pertinent question. Over the next roughly twenty years more than 60% of the world’s population is going to live in an urban environment, so I think smart cities are going to be needed for a number of reasons. At a basic level, the cities will need to attract people and companies and on top of that, the cities will need to provide the services and efficiencies that make them more livable.
FQ: Is that subjectivity a problem?
PC: I think that's one of the challenges because today you have silos of smart cities. With the technology driving these transformations becoming more standardised it is becoming easier, but I do think there is a danger of different cities doing different things to achieve the same outcomes.
FQ: On a recent Fifth Quadrant podcast, you mentioned some work Avaya had done in Dubai. What kind of smart city work are you doing here in Australia?
PC: What we're doing locally is very exciting for us. For about the last 18 months, we have been working with a number of organisations to provide high levels of efficiencies and securities. While these are still in the concept stage and not fully deployed yet, I can give you a couple of examples.
One concept is about protecting our borders. Imagine a scenario in which a person of interest wants to enter the country. We can use a myriad of technologies to identify and then track that person. Things like face recognition, street cameras and drones can be used to monitor the person and even intercept them if necessary. This concept ties in with the smart city because we are using Internet of Things and our platform to enable collaboration between various departments.
Another concept is in healthcare. Equipping ambulances with smart devices like large screen iPads and having them send and receive high-quality real-time information via 5G. The ambulance can be told which way to go to avoid traffic while important information about the patient is streamed back to the hospital.
The interesting thing about these concepts is that they are not limited to one single type of organisation. There is a broad interest in ideas that will improve cities in the future.
FQ: What is the world’s smartest city? How are Australian cities progressing?
PC: We have customers all over the world and cities like New York, London, and Singapore are in the top 10. For example, New York has smart rubbish bins that have sensors that send messages when the bins need to be emptied. Through that, the city can measure waste habits and cycles and improve waste management.
Australian cites are outside the top 10, but not too far down the list. I think Sydney is in the top 20 and what is interesting is that there is already a smart city Community association in Australia and the Government is quite involved as well.
We're not there yet but there is certainly a lot of discussion to start doing things, albeit in silos today. So for example, you are starting to see a lot more smart parking in cities here. It’s early days in Australia but the Government has committed to developing it.
FQ: There are so many facets to smart cities that it is hard to do all at once, unless you are building a city from scratch.
PC: That is why I see smart cities as more of a redevelopment. We are starting to see that [starting from scratch scenario] in some countries which are building cities with those smart ideas and concepts baked into the infrastructure.
FQ: Maroochydore in Australia comes to mind.
PC: That’s right. That is an example of the “from scratch approach” here in Australia.
FQ: So what are some of the other challenges for smart cities to overcome?
PC: One of the big challenges for smart cities is the subject of privacy and what information the city can store and use. If you think about the storage of that data and storage in the cloud, there are security and privacy implications.
I think governments should not only be thinking about investing in concepts of smart cities but also considering regulatory requirements. I don't think it can be solved by governments alone, it will require the participation of private enterprise, the community and experts. The Government could just appoint an Ombudsman for example, but it can’t just be the Government because will be skeptical about the goals and motives.
FQ: When do you think cities will become truly smart?
PC: My personal view is that start smart cities will start to accelerate dramatically over the next five to ten years. We’re still in the very early stages, but it will become exciting in that 20 year plus timeframe.
There's legacy infrastructure that needs to be upgraded or replaced and new technologies that have to be implemented, so it is going to be a progression that will take some time. Again, it also depends on what you define as a smart city. I think this is where standards come in as well – for example, a city can only become smart once it has met a certain list of criteria.
I think another important thing will be setting the foundation for what smart cities should be. In my opinion, they should provide experiences and that can only be attained by connecting various siloed organisations.
FQ: For example?
PC: If you enter a shopping centre environment, a retailer could identify your car via car park cameras send you a special deal based on your shopping habits. If smart cities are going to provide energy efficiencies and so on, that is great, but I think the important part is you need an experiences platform that connects that all and delivers experiences that are contextual and relevant.
FQ: It feels like we are entering an era in which citizens are more like “the customers of cities”.
PC: Right, and smart consumers get frustrated when they are not anticipated. If you know me, why aren’t you anticipating my actions?
FQ: So hyperpersonalisation is important…
PC: Yes, so let's say you're in a smart city and you require customer service. The connection between the smart city, the IoT and the contact centr,e should be intelligent so when you contact them they should know what you need because of all the things you have touched and the places you have been in the city.
For example, you have a car accident and call your insurance company and they already know about the accident and can see it wasn’t your fault based on street camera footage.
FQ: And what impact will AI and 5G have?
PC: That experience platform must have AI because it is able to analyse all the data that is coming in and make sense of it. If you are using public transport in a smart city, an experience platform with AI will start to learn patterns of your behaviour and then use that information to provide you with a better experience.
I believe that AI will be the foundational tool. 5G makes everything faster and higher quality, it is like the superhighway. It can enable faster and higher quality data transfer such as imaging from hospitals to doctors.
FQ: Another example is driverless cars which will use 5G to transmit data fast enough to prevent car crashes.
PC: And again, using AI, the data from that car is going to a central database so after that accident, all the data is centralised, analysed and pushed out to other vehicles.
FQ: One makes a mistake and they all get better.
PC: It is amazing, isn’t it? Imagine that in a smart city or a contact centre environment - you can provide much better experiences. AI is going to be the fundamental engine that drives everything, the brains.
FQ: And if AI gets smarter than us?
PC: I think it will be a very very long time before that happens. This is not a 2001: A Space Odyssey situation. AI can be used very effectively in smart cities to improve the overall citizen and customer experience.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity. To hear more from Peter on AI, CX and the omnichannel, check out Fifth Quadrant’s four-part podcast on Soundcloud.