Smart cities, sustainability and the importance of ecosystem thinking

Most cities historically evolved along similar paths and shared common factors in their development. Being close to natural resources, trade routes and defensible positions were early priorities. Today’s cities are fully-formed, interdependent ecosystems with functions and needs that must work harmoniously to enable sustainable growth.

Cities have often been described in biological terms. Cities have lifeblood, heartbeats, or a pulse; commerce is a city’s nervous system, and major roads are often referred to as arteries. The biological analogy extends even further today: modern cities are symbiotic ecosystems where all elements rely on one another in some way – much like the human body.

In the past, city operations typically operated in silos. Street lighting, parking, sanitation or waste management were largely standalone departments. However, a modern city with an interdependent system of systems needs to break down walls between silos and pull all data sources together to deliver the services people expect.

The evolution of smart cities

Ultimately, a city exists to serve its citizens. A city is more than a commercial entity or an abstract aggregation of systems: it’s an ecosystem that caters to its inhabitants and benefits from them in return. In a smart city, digital tools and systems are powered by the data generated by the city and its users. And we’re able to observe the interdependencies across the city via that data and decide how we can improve all those tools and systems continuously. It is a reciprocal relationship that informs how we design products and systems at Orange, where we focus on human-centric design.

With that in mind, Orange consultants work with city stakeholders to develop a human-centric journey. We build personas, use cases, business models and operating models that put outcomes first.

How do you go about this?

To go back to the biological analogy, it helps to think of connected networks of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and sensors as a smart city’s nervous system. They allow you to gather a city’s vital information together more quickly and easily than ever. However, that data doesn’t then just create value all by itself: you need to be able to sift through the data and work out the best decisions for your particular city, district, campus or building.

This is where the Orange digital consulting and integration skills come into play: our experts know the best ways to analyze your data and where it will get you the right outcomes, at the right cost and at the right times.

The sustainability imperative

Orange has put sustainability at the center of our smart city consulting work. We understand that designing a city’s systems of systems with sustainability in mind also makes good business sense. For example, using data and smart systems to reduce truck rolls or the volume of water used for irrigation. Furthermore, predictive maintenance can pre-empt potentially costly repairs or replacement of parts in city systems. According to McKinsey, organizations with higher ethical, social and governance (ESG) ratings consistently outperform those that don’t make it a priority.

At Orange we’re committed to being a net-zero company by 2040 as part of our Orange Engage 2025 strategic plan. This includes improving the energy efficiency of our networks through our Green IT & Networks initiative. We’re also implementing circular economy principles, using reconditioned equipment in our networks and data centers. Our dedication to sustainable operations led to us being ranked in the top 1% of eco-responsible companies by EcoVadis.

But beyond these initiatives, there is a wider picture: it is good practice to work with partners who share your views on sustainability and can support your own green initiatives with their own. We are committed to reducing Scope 3 emissions – those emissions not produced by a company itself but those generated up and down a value chain. It makes sense to us: an ecosystem is stronger when all its members are of one mind and pulling in the same direction.

The governance role

When it comes to data, what is the cost of doing nothing? Data that is collected but not used is referred to as dark data. Dark data represents not only a missed business opportunity but also has an impact on your green initiatives. According to Veritas, 52% of a company’s data is dark. If you consider that one petabyte of data costs $5 million for one year, then your company wastes over $550,000 on storing data that is not being used. That’s the financial side of the equation.

Then factor in that storing that dark data uses equipment and requires power to maintain it, and you can see the negative environmental impact of data that just sits there as unexploited potential. Dark data damages your green initiatives and ESG goals: a sustainable smart city must think about things like dark data and consider the cost of doing nothing.

Ecosystems and systems of systems: the way forward

Orange consultants put sustainable development goals (SDG) at the heart of our smart cities’ work. We encourage a systemic approach to sustainability, focusing on the importance of systems of systems in a city. The end goal is an overall approach that benefits the planet, drives sustainable development and simultaneously creates business opportunities through innovation.

We believe it is the right approach. According to the UN, cities produce around 75% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while taking up less than 2% of the earth’s land surface. Improving sustainability of cities is an urgent priority. Digital tools and solutions, organized into systems of systems and run by progressive ecosystems of partners can help us reach that end goal.

Read more about how Orange is driving smart city initiatives.

Toros Esim
Toros Esim

Toros has been leading the consulting practice for the MEA region and has worked in leadership positions at and prior to Orange. He has a passion for designing and driving purposeful change through digital technology that drives business outcomes, while contributing positive environmental and societal change.