Cross-sector collaboration crucial to embed technological innovations, says Vodafone

The fourth industrial revolution looks set to introduce an era of technological disruption that will heighten the need for a "strong political hand" and enhanced cross-sector collaboration to drive efficiencies, according to Vodafone's senior environment manager Nicki Woodhead.

Rapid advances in technology are transforming the way businesses and individuals interact with society. Companies in the transport sector are moving to decarbonise their product portfolios, while technology firms are transitioning to services-based business model.

These products and models look set to interact as part of a ‘smart cities’ approach that governments are building towards, in order to account for a population boon and increased urbanisation. By 2050, there will be an additional 2.5 billion new people in the world, while urbanisation levels look set to reach 66%.

But, as we transition to smarter cities and smarter business models, companies involved have been urged to steer clear of a copy and paste model that embeds the same solutions across multiple cites – as PwC recently noted, “the dynamics of a smart city in Africa will differ greatly from those of Europe or America”.

One of the companies at the forefront of the smart cities transition is telecoms giant Vodafone, which is championing “energy innovation” and the Internet of Things (IoT) to slash emissions and build sustainable solutions.

According to the firm’s senior environment manager Nicki Woodhead, the ability to transition towards smart cities will depend on how well businesses can expand their scopes and build cross-sector relationships that strengthen technological solutions.

“In terms of innovation, the developments that we’re seeing across transport, buildings and other sectors is the need for cross-sector collaboration,” Woodhead told edie. “We’ll need collaboration with other big businesses, collaboration with governments to make sure standards are right, but also to work with smaller companies and start-ups, which are great for driving innovation.”

Connected companions

Vodafone helped save its customers more than 3.5 million tonnes of CO2e thanks to its ability to connect devices and share information through the IoT and save consumers 1.9 tonnes of emissions for every tonne generated by the company.

The company is the leading global provider of IoT mobile services. More than 50 million IoT connections are provided by Vodafone, such as smart bins in cities to transmit waste data to the local council. A partnership with telematics solutions firm Microlise has used IoT to improve fuel savings among commercial fleets.

These partnerships have seen Vodafone reach out to other sectors to acquire expertise that can provide benefits for the IoT technology. Last year, for example, Vodafone formed a new partnership with Philips Lighting which combines an IoT network with an integrated LED street light management system, which could see cities across the world slash energy use by 70%.

Philips Lighting believes that smart lighting systems can drive the circular economy, while Vodafone research found that 76% of surveyed businesses felt that IoT would be “critical” to their success. In fact, nearly 50% of those businesses are already using IoT in their operations.

For Woodhead, who discussed the role of IoT during an episode of edie’s Sustainable Business Covered podcast earlier this year, cross-sector collaboration will require sustainability professionals to approach initiatives with a different mindset.

“We’ll need a much wider appreciation of other sectors,” Woodhead said. “We need to understand how others are developing and progressing rather than developing an inward focus on the telecoms industry. It’s one of the key aims we’re looking at, and how the policy and regulatory framework across that broader dimension is developing and progressing as well.

“Smart cities are a great example of where wider collaboration is needed, because you need so many different actors and players to really see the tangible benefits. Transport is an obvious example and Vodafone has connectivity in public transport and in solutions like waste management collection, through to smarter building solutions and energy management solutions. You absolutely need the collaboration and innovation at a city level.”

PwC went to great lengths to map the ‘essential eight’ emerging technologies that reflect the development of increasingly autonomous, adaptive and connected machines, all of which can unlock new benefits for business and sustainability.

Elsewhere, Smart Energy GB, which runs the national advertising campaign for the smart meter roll-out, unveiled the REAL Ratio. Acting as a framework, the Ratio identifies areas that authorities should seek to improve and embed when delivering smart and connected projects.

Matt Mace

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