Digital snow over Stockholm

Yesterday, Stockholm had the heaviest November snowfall since 1905 — over 40 cms in one day. The result was a city in frozen motion. Buses and cars with summer tires got stuck on the roads. They blocked traffic for all the other vehicles including the snow plows. In the news we read about people who were stuck in their cars for 10 hours or more.

Was this a failure for our ongoing digital transformation, as Casimir Artman argues over at Disruptive Architecture? How could this happen in a city that aims to be a smarter city?

All of our smart devices gather information and predict what will happen. Some of this information needs to be sought out. Often the information comes to us as alerts. As soon as my train started, Google alerted me to problems in traffic on the road.

Google warns me about slow trafficSource: Owned by the author

After the train left the station, Google warned me about heavy traffic on the adjacent road.

No doubt information about the weather and traffic conditions was out there. Some people would have to seek it out. Many others would like me be alerted proactively by our tech. Why then did our digital technology not stop the chaos from happening? I can see several reasons:

  • A traffic system near capacity. The traffic system in Stockholm is stretched to capacity even on normal days.
  • A minority of cars and buses lacking winter equipment. It only takes a few cars getting stuck to perturb a traffic system that has no margins.
A diagram of levels of analytics.Source: Modaniel on Wikimedia Commons | CC BY SA 4.0

Descriptive, predictive and prescriptive analytics. Three levels of increasing value and effort in analytics.

Every year, a number of motorists are surprised by winter but they need to get to work and drive anyway. Why don’t people change to winter tires on time? Digital transformation and smart cities promise us descriptive, predictive and prescriptive analytics to help avoid problems.

A screen shot of Google warning me about trafficSource: Owned by the author

Google warned me about traffic – after I started.

No doubt, the descriptive and predictive analytics is there and it is being pushed to citizens. But just as obivously it does not get the desired effects. People still do things even though they know they shouldn’t. This doesn’t mean we should give up. It means we should get better at nudges.

Image sources

  • Google alerted me about the traffic chaos: Owned by the author
  • three_phases_of_analytics: Modaniel on Wikimedia Commons | CC BY SA 4.0
  • Google warned me about traffic – after I started: Owned by the author
  • Helenelund Station in heavy snow: Owned by the author

About Greger Wikstrand

Greger Wikstrand, Ph.D. M.Sc. is a TOGAF 9 certified enterprise architect with an interest in e-heatlh, m-health and all things agile as well as processes, methods and tools. Greger Wikstrand works as a consultant at Capgemini where he alternates between enterprise agile coaching, problem solving and designing large scale e-health services ...

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