With the cities of tomorrow incorporating large-scale digitalisation, a new participatory eco-system is currently on the rise. Digital technology already offers citizens the possibility of taking part in city life. Very soon, it will become a means of inclusion. The smart city won't leave anyone behind.
By significantly increasing the capacity for communication and connectivity between individuals, digital technology is driving the collaborative economy and leading to the emergence of a new social model, less consumer-oriented and based on sharing. The city of tomorrow will not lose its soul because of the greater use of technology. Quite the opposite. Whether in matters of education, citizen action, supporting marginalised groups or even looking after the elderly, digital technology enables new solutions to be implemented.
Applications and platforms have become effective vectors for driving social innovation and making it easier to share. The key principles of collaboration and participation are intrinsic to the concept of the smart city, since hyper-connectivity links everyone together. It's a paradigm shift. If the smart city is to work well and fulfil all its promises, it must be built on a new, more inclusive model. Digital technology now offers a significant number of possibilities to make cities more cohesive.
The collaborative economy will reach 570 billion euros by 2025
Development of the collaborative economy has accelerated considerably over the past few years. It can now be found in all types of communities. Its evolution into a complete and separate economic model has been supported by digital platforms, which provide it with the ideal infrastructure. Moreover, by establishing itself as a parallel economy and an alternative to the crisis, more and more people are being convinced. Whether you want to find a job, offer your services or sell something, all you need to do is log in. Disrupting the economy is now as easy as getting on to the internet.
If you believe the statistics published by auditing firm PwC, it's a booming market. The total amount of transactions in the collaborative economy currently stands at 28 billion euros and could, according to the latest estimates, grow twenty-fold to reach 570 billion euros by 2025. Bold figures that attest to a real increase in power. Start-ups have recognised the many advantages to be gained from this new market and are developing more projects in this area, giving greater impetus to the emergence of the collaborative model. Hence the social network Smiile, supported by the French insurance company MAIF, offers its members a whole range of services, from car-pooling, to group purchases and sharing goods and skills, it was designed to be driven by proximity and exchange. Smiile currently has 340,000 members and aims to reach a million within a few months.
"We want to go beyond the purely virtual aspect of social networks by enabling those who live in the same neighbourhood to meet and create social links"
David Rouxel, Founder of Smiile
But this new type of social network is not simply restricted to connecting individuals. It is also an integration platform for start-ups and businesses in the collaborative economy. It has formed partnerships with almost 7,000 manufacturers and traders for their group buying offers, and also with companies such as Koolicar in order to secure a quality shared mobility service for its members. Even more significantly, David Rouxel, the founder of Smiile, is simultaneously developing Smiile City, which uses the same model but is aimed at town halls, local authorities and housing associations. It reinforces dialogue between residents of the same neighbourhood to make it easier for them to report specific problems, such as those to do with the road network for instance, by flagging information up to the mayor. Already piloted in several eco-neighbourhoods, Smiile City wants to become the indispensable tool for the smart city of tomorrow.
In the cities of the future, applications will have a special place. On the one hand, because their use will be made even easier and they will reach even more people due to hyper-connectivity. On the other, because they constitute a response to fears about massive job losses and the vulnerability felt by less highly-skilled workers. And there's more. Digital technology goes even further than reshuffling the cards in the world of work.
By digitalising its neighbourhoods, the Smart City will be able to better identify and account for marginalised groups. Digitalisation will bring considerable improvement to the living conditions of these groups thanks to an applications ecosystem. People suffering exclusion will therefore have a panel of specific Web 2.0 services at their disposal.
A very specific example: the English IT engineer and start-up founder Alex Stephany has just launched the Beam platform, short for 'Be Amazing', in order to help homeless people transform their lives. Beam is a social crowdfunding site which aims to raise funds and enable people who have their sights set on finding a job to get training or return to education. Beam uses the same model as all job centres everywhere: a manager is allocated to each member to take stock of their skills and professional aspirations in order to set up training opportunities. Then a budget is drawn up which includes all the necessary costs, such as accommodation, food and transport. Next the crowdfunding campaign is launched using targeted messaging supported by social networks, as well as distributing newsletters for each project.
Another relevant initiative that foreshadows what tomorrow may bring in using digital technology to care for the most disadvantaged is the Youth Homeless Databank, launched in England in 2016. It aims to provide accurate data on young rough sleepers so they can be cared for more effectively by social services.
Thanks to an application that pools data from local councils, welfare organisations and accommodation providers, it is possible to learn how many young people are living in vulnerable circumstances, and who and where they are. By sending this information to associations working with the homeless, the Youth Homeless Databank now plays a central role in helping to find them accommodation and reintegrating them into society. Here digital technology forms a link between institutions and associations, helping them to work more effectively in the field.
Finally, the increasing potential of the sharing economy and Web 2.0 solidarity undoubtedly only illustrates the transformations in the world of employment and social upheavals that Jeremy Rifkin foresaw in The Third Industrial Revolution. Better care can be provided for elderly people, both now and in the future, thanks to the internet of things and applications that monitor their health in real time. Vulnerable groups are better identified and more easily supported; the unemployed can find work thanks to collaborative platforms. African, Asiatic and South American countries can keep up thanks to Fab Labs which drive local social innovation and focus on 'co-making' and 'co-decision'. All this progress associated with the digital world represents the building blocks of the smart city, which, if it wants to fulfil its potential, must include as many citizens as possible in its project. The city of tomorrow will be collaborative and inclusive if it truly wants to become a reality.
Source : L’Atelier
Disruptive innovation: J.S. Bach versus The Rolling Stones
Established companies engage in incremental innovation; start-ups engage in disruptive innovation. It is a fight between David and Goliath, and we all know how that turned out.
Imagine a lush meadow under the spring sunshine. Two professional musicians in smart suits are playing Sonata for flute and harpsichord by Johann Sebastian Bach. Suddenly those sweet sounds are ripped to shreds by an electric guitar. It is the well-known riff from Start Me Up, the hit song by The Rolling Stones. When the bass and drums also join in, the classical music perishes in an orgy of electrically amplified instruments. Keith Richards' furrowed face is lit by a wicked grin.
The fantastic music by J.S. Bach symbolises the established companies here. Their approach is well-considered; their products are polished. They have built a longstanding relationship of trust with their customers. Everyone thinks that they can continue like this for a very long time to come. Is The Rolling Stones' music as great as Bach's? That is certainly up for discussion. In any case their music is different. Rough, less polished, aiming for a direct impact. And certainly not less commercial. The rock songs by Jagger and Richards symbolise the young start-ups here. They disrupt the peace of the established companies and sometimes even bring the biggest players down.
Playing by different rules
The Rolling Stones were innovative. They revamped the old blues, consciously cultivated their bad boy image and made good use of the mass media to put themselves out there in the market. They were disruptive – rupturing and devastating – before their time. Of course, classical music also uses modern recording and distribution techniques, but that is more of an incremental innovation, a gradual change. The product itself does not evolve much anymore. The difference between these two notions – incremental and disruptive innovation – is essential for companies, according to Cedric Donck, business angel and founder of the Virtuology Academy.
"Established companies engage in incremental innovation. They improve their products or services step by step, but they stay in the same business model. In the hotel sector, this means we make sure our rooms have Wi-Fi, we are on TripAdvisor, we have an attractive website and so on.
Start-ups engage in disruptive innovation. They play by different rules. One example is Airbnb. Another are the banks. They try to outdo each other with apps and other digital innovations, which are necessary, but not enough. Disruptive players such as Lendio offer peer-to-peer money lending to companies without the involvement of a traditional bank. This type of 'uberisation' is emerging everywhere. Disruptive innovation cannot be stopped."
How different is disruptive innovation?
- Disruptive innovation never emerges from the sector itself
Spotify was not established in the music industry, Uber was not created by a taxi company, The Huffington Post is not part of the conventional media world and Tesla is not the result of a car manufacturer. Disruption wiping the floor with existing companies does not arise from those companies themselves.
- There is a fundamental difference in the vision of technology
In conventional companies, technology supports the organisation's business or marketing and is often a source of irritation or frustration. The CTO is rarely part of the board of directors. Start-ups are actually based on new technology (big data, artificial intelligence, new algorithms, robotics, etc.) and wonder, what can we do with it?
- The innovation is accelerating
Innovative companies are sometimes beaten themselves. Apple did not see Spotify coming. Google was outdone by WhatsApp in terms of speed. Disruptive companies are not immune to disruption themselves, and this process is only getting faster.
- Start-ups are currently finding it easy to raise money
Starters who can prove that their good idea has great business sense are currently finding it relatively easy to raise money in order to develop their idea. Being large and financially strong are no longer advantages.
Disruptive innovation: the Build - Measure - Learn cycle
In the lean start-up method, an imperfect minimum viable product is quickly tested on the market, modified and tested again until it is right. Or until the product is dropped.
In established companies, internal innovation tends to be top-down. The directors make a decision and instruct middle management, which passes the task on to the staff. Then it moves up, back down and up again several times. No wonder innovation takes so long. What's more, the initiative is taken by the management. This does not always guarantee that the market actually needs it.
Start-ups approach things differently. They see things through the customer's eyes, think about their problems and wonder how they can come up with a solution as a company. This hypothesis is tested in the market as a minimum viable product (MVP). An MVP is not perfect, but that's fine – its aim is to show whether there is a need for it. By measuring the right parameters, the product can be modified quickly and tested again. And modified again. This development cycle is often referred to as the Build – Measure – Learn loop. The start phase mainly focuses on finding out whether the product has a future. In start-up methodology, this is called pivot or persevere: to take a different direction or to continue down the same path.
Working with the lean start-up method: the right approach
Working with the lean start-up method in an established company can mean questioning and if necessary aborting one's own business model. This is not easy, but there is little choice.
It is not easy to apply the lean start-up ideas at an existing company. They can cause disruption, and not many companies are willing to cause damage to themselves. However, there is no choice: those not engaging in disruptive innovation may end up being wiped out or eaten up by the competitors that do. In 2013, The Washington Post, a venerable institution with 180 years of experience and Pulitzer prizes galore, was simply bought by Jeff Bezos, the man behind Amazon.
The Washington Post, a venerable institution with 180 years of experience and Pulitzer prizes galore, was simply bought by Jeff Bezos, the man behind Amazon.
So what is the best approach? Cedric Donck, business angel and founder of the Virtuology Academy, lists five recommendations.
- Get a top management sponsor
Real innovation means doing things differently. The team engaging in a lean start-up will certainly cause conflict with conservative forces, resisting legal and compliance departments and established departments defending their territories. Not all business structures are in the company's best interest. When the going gets tough, the team must count on the support of the top management sponsor to put their foot down when necessary.
- Put together a dynamic, diverse team
The lean start-up team is preferably a mix of dynamic, internal and external people. The internal people know the company and the external people offer a fresh perspective from the outside. All company levels (production, sales and marketing, legal, etc.) must be represented. This allows any stumbling blocks to be examined and resolved quickly from all the necessary angles. A good relationship between the young and old and the different levels also helps.
- Start from a different place
Engaging in innovation outside the company has no impact, but inside the company, the whole thing might collapse due to all kinds of delay mechanisms. Sometimes it is a good idea to start in a different place until a critical mass has been reached. About fifty people are often a good gauge. After that the team can be incorporated and integrated again. Processes (compliance, quality, accounting, etc.) must then be established, which will certainly benefit from the expertise of a big company. Timing is crucial: too early and you smother the new team, too late and the growth will make it explode.
- Train the team in a lean start-up
Several lean start-up methods have been developed in recent years. Many of them are included in Cedric Donck's top ten books.
- Look for the most fertile ground for disruptive innovation
The objective of disruptive innovation is to have as much impact as possible with as little input as possible. To do this, you need to look for fertile ground.
We can quote Nike in this respect: just do it! Note, however, that you will have to dispel two popular myths.
- I must not make any mistakes
Create a culture in which mistakes are not penalised: innovation is impossible without failures. Do perform a post-mortem analysis on why something was unsuccessful and what you can learn from it.
- I can only present a perfect product
Do not be afraid to present an imperfect product. Customer discovery and product improvement are central to the whole exercise. Your customer will be pleased to help develop your product.
Disruptive innovation in 4 quotes
We conclude with some provocative quotes by business angel Cedric Donck. Food for thought...
"Disruptive innovation should keep all established companies awake at night. And they need to step out of their comfort zone. People are finally starting to realise this now. French telecom group Orange has joined forces with an insurance group to set up a mobile-only bank. And media company Medialaan recently acquired mobile operator Mobile Vikings. Who would have predicted this three years ago?"
"Everyone is always talking about Amazon or Zalando, but some conventional companies have been engaging in disruptive innovation for decades. IBM sold mainframe computers in the 1970s and personal computers in the '80s and '90s. After that they moved to consulting. In the next four years they will be investing one billion euros in the artificial intelligence of their supercomputer Watson. IBM is sometimes considered a dinosaur, but that's not the case: it's a company that reinvents itself every ten years."
"Some start-ups focus only on increasing their market share without making a profit. That is like playing the lottery. There really is a different way. An internet company such as Immoweb grew steadily in a healthy way without too much fuss in the press. A couple of years ago, German media group Axel Springer, publisher of Bild and Die Welt, paid 130 million euros for a majority stake. Congratulations, is what I say to that. Unfortunately, many journalists only praise start-ups that are raising millions, even if they have no decent business case to show for it. In my opinion, raising money is gaining permission to operate at a loss. Spending someone else's money is hardly something to be proud of. Swedish scientists have recently analysed how start-ups established in 2008 were doing in 2013. The conclusion was that the more capital they had, the less they had achieved five years later. If you have too much money, you start to believe your own story and your own fantasies. If you have little money, you need to listen to your customers very carefully, and that is the best way to achieve success."
"Belgium is not doing badly. Big players such as BNP Paribas Fortis are launching internal initiatives, with Home for Innovation one example. Rather than business angels like me, they have more leverage to support their start-ups. The government is also starting to do what it needs to do. The tax shelter for start-ups is a tax scheme to encourage young entrepreneurship. Investors in Belgian start-ups will receive personal income tax benefits. When things are done right, this certainly deserves a mention."