Turf Wars in the Smart World

Last week we blogged about The Economist Magazine’s recent special report on smart systems (read the intro here). The report examines some of the barriers to an increasingly smart world. No doubt you’re familiar with the technological hurdles (cost, antiquated IP address system, fear of hack attacks, etc).

Then there are the institutional barriers. City planners lack a common language or shared criteria for their vision of a smart city. Various government departments will need to cooperate, but some bureaucracies are accustomed to protecting both their data and their TEP: “turf, ego and power”. Indeed, the face of governments (particularly local ones) could change, coming to resemble computing platforms rather than a collection of bureaucratic islands. Most services would be provided in only one version and used by all departments, or by private firms that want to offer their own urban applications.

Another barrier: Utilities with lots of accumulated data may resist giving up that data, and understandably so. But some may be forced to relinquish control. And enterprising IT firms will likely find ways around that resistance. Consumers already give data about their power usage to non-utilities. For instance, private meters can now send data to web-based energy monitoring services such as Google’s PowerMeter and Microsoft's Hohm.

A fourth barrier – government regulation, or lack thereof – brings us to privacy issues, which we’ll explore next week.