Smart grids and smart cities are supposed to make our lives easier and more efficient in the future, but what exactly do they promise...

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Smart grids and smart cities are supposed to make our lives easier and more efficient in the future, but what exactly do they promise for small and midsize businesses?

Many entrepreneurs are already getting a taste of what smarter business could look like thanks to the cloud. Cloud-based applications and services like Google’s Gmail, Podio’s online work platform or IBM’s SmartCloud for social business make it easier to get things done wherever, whenever. You don’t have to commute to the office to meet with employees, or be tied to a desk and PC to check your emails.

Apps like these make it possible for more people to telecommute at least some time, which is a great way to reduce big-city traffic congestion … as well as gasoline consumption and carbon emissions. And those are just some of the goals that so-called “smart-city” technologies aim to achieve.

Here’s how the people and companies behind the various smart-city projects under way around the world picture it:

“Smarter” technologies bring together many disparate systems into a single network, where continuous streams of data from sensors of all kinds can be analyzed and put to use in real time. So, for example, dispatch systems could be set up to automatically reroute buses and taxis to avoid certain intersections where the power is out and traffic signals aren’t working, preventing monster traffic jams and costly travel delays.

Really smart cities will be able to help business owners do a lot more than avoid the occasional traffic tie-up. Systems that monitor public parking availability, for example, could help you find the open space that’s closest to your 2 pm client appointment, for example. And city-wide high-speed broadband will make it far easier for you to have virtual, online teleconferences with contractors, partners and customers around the globe.

While these types of systems are still in their early days, a growing number of cities are beginning to test them and roll them out in various pilot programs. Among the innovations that could make future business much more nimble, efficient and competitive:

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.


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