Kasper de Graaf's picture
London: smarter working
Kasper de Graaf, 11 October 2015

Published in: Smart Cities Applications and Deployments V1 (VITAL Consortium), October 11, 2015


Driven by progress in mobile technology and by structural developments in advanced economies, working patterns are changing rapidly, with self-employed workers, startups and SMEs, but also employees of larger organisations, increasingly more likely to work on the move, anchored in networks and actions and not in physical locations. 

While the new mobile economy is powered by the capabilities and usability of personal mobile devices from laptops to wearables, its needs are poorly served by working environments that present barriers to entry or are sub-optimal in terms of their networks, their services, their facilities or their suitability to the needs of the worker. The growing availability of realtime and open data presents an opportunity to develop much better support for the mobile economy, in ways that reduce costs, improve productivity, enhance innovation and promote sustainability.

Why London?

London is a suitable environment for developing IoT-based responses to this opportunity for a number of reasons:

  • As a meeting and networking centre both locally and internationally, London has “a floating population which is both much larger and more rapidly growing than in any other urban area within the UK”. [Gordon07]
  • There is a vibrant incubation economy, tech sector and financial investment infrastructure. [Clark15]
  • The creative industries, predominantly early adopters of new technologies and with a high proportion of mobile and remote workers, form one of the key drivers of UK economic growth and is the fastest growing provider of employment. [DCMS15]
  • The Greater London Authority and UK Government are committed to development and use of open data to support innovation and growth and this has led to the creation of sophisticated end user applications using previously restricted realtime public data, notably but not only in regional and national public transport, made available through portals such as London Datastore.

The smarter working use case application is being developed in the Camden Town district of London, which has further advantageous characteristics:

  • The district has been developed and promoted by the local business and enterprise community, through its representative organisation CTU – which is a partner in the VITAL Consortium – as a hub and destination for creative technology businesses and startups.
  • Camden is home to leading universities (UCL, Central Saint Martins), the Digital Catapult and the European headquarters of Google and Facebook.
  • The London Borough of Camden is an active innovator in developing digital local government and is the current holder of the UK Digital City award.
  • A 1,500-desk co-working facility is being launched in October 2015 by the new owners of Camden Market, one illustration of the continuing market trend towards mobile working and business incubation.
  • CTU operates a number of co-working and incubation spaces, both independently and in partnership with UCL.
  • Smart tech venture 53 Spaces has been established by VITAL partners CTU and Images&Co to develop new technologies for space providers, venue management and smarter working.

Workspace optimisation

The use case proposition is that mobile workers require optimal working environments to be available at short notice and without barriers to use. Owners or operators of suitable environments require optimal occupancy and may also benefit from attracting particular user profile networks for other business reasons.

To meet these requirements, the prototype VITAL-powered Smarter Working application will:

  • enable workspace providers to publish data, including realtime live information, about available working spaces and the surrounding location
  • enable mobile workers to create profiles and set preferences to support identification of optimal choices
  • provide contextual realtime data from a range of systems and sources described below
  • integrate with other applications to provide additional data and services
  • offer intelligent options based on aggregated pertinent data selected and ranked in response to user query and consistent with user profile

At its simplest level, a smart worker queries the application to identify an optimal workspace in a chosen time window and location and specifying other specific requirements from available attributes – e.g. 3D printers, microscopes, laser cutting, gluten-free catering, nearby dialysis centre – which may be specific to the query or general in the user profile. The application searches all workspaces in the system that meet the specified criteria and shows them on a map and/or list. Each workspace shows additional information, e.g. about anticipated air quality, temperature, humidity and footfall in the requested time window and location, types of users and networks in the spaces, other users booked in the space at the same time (provided they have chosen to publish this information), as well as journey planning information and connections before and after. The user selects and books the optimal workspace from the information provided.

It is anticipated that the application will continually develop with the use of additional IoT data sources and systems through the VITAL platform as well as learning from user and provider behaviour through the application and feeding any relevant data back into VITAL for richer and more pertinent solutions, subject to suitable data and privacy protection. In the longer term this is likely to lead seamlessly to wider life choices and city usability than only smarter working, but in the context of the VITAL project use case, the application will demonstrate the use of the VITAL platform in development of the aggregated realtime data model for smarter working in London.

[Gordon07] Ian Gordon, Tony Travers, Christine Whitehead: The impact of churn and migration on population estimates for Central London. LSE / Central London Forward 2007: 5.

[Clark15] Liat Clark: Fintech drives record hike in London startup VC funding. Wired.co.uk 6 July 2015.

[DCMS15] Creative Industries Economic Estimates. UK Department for Culture, Media & Sport 2015 – http://tinyurl.com/q44up49.