There are plenty of smart city case studies that involve global corporations and governments – from smart lighting to telecom, from virtual reality to autonomous vehicles. But when it comes to the 32.5 million small businesses that comprise nearly 99.9 percent of all businesses in the United States, it can be difficult to find examples of how smart impacts small.
At its core, a smart city is about applying connected technology and data analytics to city systems. With the right information, city makers can make better-informed decisions that improve service delivery while increasing equity and quality of life for citizens and residents.
How a city functions has a direct and significant impact on small businesses and the significant workforce they employ. In fact, small businesses are often the first to experience the negative impact of when city systems don’t function properly. With smaller cash reserves and greater sensitivity to customer behavior, local retailers feel it first.
As a recent example, the City of Austin recently mandated a boil water notice for the municipality of 1 million people and more than 36,000 small businesses. This is the third city-wide boil water notice since 2018. Reeling from the week’s previous ice storm on top of almost two years of pandemic-related hardship, small business owners struggled with this latest wave of challenges. Many food and beverage-related businesses had to close or reduce their operations.
So how is this related to smart city technology? It turns out that the water quality issue that instigated the boil notice was likely caused by human error. Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros stated that, “in the process of clarification there were oversights and errors and had some turbidity issues and the process was not stopped and attended to.”
According to entrepreneur Seyi Fabode, CEO/Co-Founder of Varuna Tech Inc, sensors, data and AI-powered software could have avoided the catastrophe. “Our micro-infrastructure uses real-time data and actionable insights to build water resilience.” This Austin tech startup is one of many companies large and small that are using smart city technology to address issues that can extend from water quality to leak detection, aging infrastructure and more.
Water is just one of many urban operations that affect small businesses. Since small companies create 1.5 million jobs annually and account for 64 percent of new jobs created in the U.S., mobility and transportation is yet another important area where having smarter systems can positively impact small businesses.
Reliable and affordable transportation options are critical to ensuring a ready workforce whether workers are traveling to or on behalf of their employer. Traffic congestion, road quality and the availability of a variety of public transit options are all critical factors. Smart technology has a real role to play here. From data analytics on traffic flow to pavement quality, smart technology helps cities prioritize projects that can save small business time and money as well as wear and tear on company vehicles. When you’re small, every bit counts.
These are just a couple of the hundreds of use cases on how smart city technology can positively impact city operations, and therefore impact the small business that rely on that infrastructure. As the concept of “smart” gains more traction and attention, the hope is that the conversation evolves beyond government and large companies to also include the small businesses that power our communities and our country.