The road to a smart Paris Region

25 October 2018ContactFouad Awada

A multitude of public and private initiatives are transforming territorial entities in the Paris Region. Even so, the ability of local government authorities in this region to take their own “smart” destinies in hand varies considerably. The Region’s role should be that of an orchestral conductor who ensures the harmonious deployment of these changes and the collective emergence of a smart region.

The Paris Region (Île-de-France) is fortunate in that it hosts one digital job in two in France. It boasts 150,000 enterprises and more than 500,000 jobs and has become the driver of digital technology in our country. Behind the headline figures, there are many further initiatives and expectations driven by the corporate sector, employees or anonymous people who, each in their own way, are contributing to the digital transformation of our region and of France. This massive digital expansion is part of a global movement that is collectively giving birth to new modes of production, work, consumption and mobility. The dynamics of this movement are driving the development of platforms such as Amazon and Uber, the most accomplished forms of the two-sided economy, which may one day be superseded by blockchains. This trend has produced the most far-reaching forms of logistical optimisation, increasing tenfold the storage and handling capabilities per square metre. It has brought into being the factories of the future, 3D printing, nomadic working, third places, teleworking and flex offices. It has given birth to innumerable kinds of applications that help us with our day-to-day activities via our smartphones. It will probably soon make driverless cars a reality. 

Action is expected from the public authorities regarding the public availability of data, starting with official data.

Spawned by massive research and experimental efforts, many developments are now being adopted across society more generally in the form of new services and behaviours without institutional intermediaries, replaced by the so-called “citizen-focused” or horizontal dissemination of innovations. Other innovations have been taken up by economic players, who have developed them into marketable products and services.

Committed local government authorities

Local authorities, for their part, are discovering the many possibilities opened up by these innovations for implementing their development policies. The Smart City as a concept builds on these opportunities: the improved services to residents and users are based on all the possibilities opened up by digital technology. The Smart City concept may potentially be of interest to local authorities at all levels, from the municipalities to the regions, as well as to intermunicipal authorities and counties (départements). The Paris Region has taken up the issue by focusing, until now, mainly on mobility due to its jurisdiction over regional transport and the importance of daily journeys to residents of the Paris region and to the economy, another major area of responsibility of the Region. Hence Ile-de-France Mobilités, the regional transport authority, is working on a comprehensive offering of access to all modes of transport, as it is true that one of the major benefits of digital progress is that it favours the generalisation of intermodal mobility.

Regional support is required to ensure the overall consistency of municipal and intermunicipal initiatives, while developing digital services at regional level.

Regional support for local authorities

The ability of municipalities to gain control over their digital destiny varies considerably depending on their capacity to invest and their attractiveness to promoters of new initiatives. Central districts are the best served, being densely populated by the beneficiaries and devotees of forward-looking projects. The suburbs that are poorly served and have a low fiscal capacity are penalised, and the peri-urban and rural areas even more so. There is a real risk of seeing the precursors in the heart of the metropolis surging ahead, while the local authorities and stakeholders who are less prepared for change are left behind. De facto, the concept of the digital divide can be measured in the field. It correlates with the inhabitants’ disposable income, levels of digital equipment in households and their access to broadband. Another measure is the variable financial capacity of municipalities. These existing and potential inequalities justify the adoption of inclusive approaches, particularly at the regional level, especially when the region is an indivisible territorial unit, as is the case of the Paris Region. A regional approach is required not only to coordinate or set rules and standards, but also to support the efforts made by municipalities and to foster greater connectivity, drive a broader exchange of good practices and improve access to data at all levels, thereby reducing the social and intergenerational digital divide. The regional approach helps to train people in new job skills, to ensure the best conditions for adopting innovations and welcoming innovators, and to oversee the convergence between digital technologies and the imperative need for energy efficiency management. The Region would thus have a dual role to play: it should support the overall consistency of initiatives at the municipal and intermunicipal levels, while, at the same time, developing digital services on a regional scale, beginning with mobility (transport operations, ticketing, optimisation of physical traffic and data streams, information to travellers, etc.), supply chains (notably in relation to e-commerce) and new modes of production and working (collaborative working, teleworking, flex offices, the factories of the future, etc.).

Freeing up data streams and managing digital-ecological convergence

Strategically, the Region should also address two major areas of concern: issues of data availability and the convergence between digital technology and ecological imperatives. Much is at stake when it comes to data access, production, analysis and dissemination, because these issues are at the very heart of all the topics relating to smart territorial entities. In the case of most services introduced by a smart territorial entity initiative, well-managed data availability is an intrinsic part of the digital solution (for example, movement detection for more efficient lighting management), notably in the field of the Internet of Things (IoT). Data generated for a particular use can serve multiple other uses, so it is important that all the other services that can exploit such data should be able to benefit from them. The action now expected of public authorities is that they should facilitate the availability of data, starting with public data. Under recent legislation, a specific role is entrusted to the Regions, i.e. to initiate and run a spatial data infrastructure (SDI) that ensures the greatest access by all to publicly available data. But such data can be considerably enriched – compared with its current status, which is often static – by continual inputs of big data supplied by territorial entities. Such data enrichment needs to be further supported by ramping up big data expertise and processing capabilities. 

Digital technology can help the environment by more efficient matching of energy consumption to real needs

L'Institut Paris Region which is playing a major role in the establishment of a Spatial Data Infrastructure with the Paris Region, is actively working on achieving this goal. Much is also at stake in the digital and environmental transition. Technology can help the environment by more efficiently matching energy consumption to precisely assessed real needs. This involves their detection followed by the provision of energy in its most economical and economic form. Increasingly, this will be decentralised, so that energy is produced as close as possible to its point of use and limited to the time needed. Practical examples are digitally controlled and environmentally responsive heating systems, digitally oriented searches for car parking, waste energy recovery systems from data centres, powering of home facilities from energy stored in car batteries charged off-peak, etc. Nevertheless, until the advent of such energy-saving technologies forecast in the mass market around 2025-2030, digital technologies would appear to drive rising demand for energy. Data centres planned in the Paris Region will require as much power to run as for heating and lighting a city of a million people. Technology boosts the production and point-of-use delivery of products in greater numbers and variety. Technology has invented new services demanding unprecedentedly higher levels of energy for their delivery. Faced with this rising and technology-induced demand for energy in the short term, how can technology be harnessed to ensure energy sobriety in the longer term? Strategies are required in the short term coupled with designed-in long-term energy efficiencies through intensification following design optimisation. Action on the ground by local government bodies is of key importance in this field. It requires ever more focus on IT-enabled techniques of controlled energy supply closer to the point-of-use, which in turn underlines the importance of strategic oversight and the need for consistency. Here, the Region will actively play the coordinating role expected of it by local communities. 

Fouad Awada, L'Institut Paris Region

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