Part groovy revival meeting, part home shopping channel – welcome to Cisco’s Internet of Things (IoT) World Forum in Chicago this week (or it is Internet of everything (IoE) – there are different views).

You have to admire Cisco’s ambition and their sheer organizing capacity for such an event. Even though the sales pitch can sometimes feel a little clunky, the production values are still pretty high.

I can imagine the briefing session for the young people who appear everywhere asking whether you need help or it you have any questions. ‘Don’t miss an opportunity to say hello – even if it’s to the same person over and over again’.

Essentially the Forum is an opportunity to pitch the power of connected devices and how they are being applied in cities, manufacturing, logistics, retail and multiple other sectors. Even the organisers have probably struggled to shape the event to drill down to satisfy industry specialists while creating the scope the topic lends itself to.

Cisco’s cleverness is that they invite everyone in. It helps them be seen as the natural thought leader in this space. While pitching Cisco’s services they’re also gaining the benefit of the intelligence of their customers and competitors – and to make it even more clever – the Forum itself is a product sought after by cities across the world to demonstrate their credentials as smart cities.

I came to the Forum hoping to get myself up to speed – to get a sense of the state of the art of thinking around smart cities. I knew it would be a bit technical but I thought that might be interesting.

In relation to smart cities my feeling is that – even though we’re still in the middle of the conference – the content for a cities specialist (as I’d like to think of myself) is a little thin. While even Cisco has identified Barcelona as doing the most interesting work in this area we’ve not had the opportunity to hear from Barcelona. I suspect there are lots of people in the audience that could perhaps be allowed to self organize around topics of interest when the program is focusing on topics for other industries. However, I’m not teling Cisco how to run their show.

At the moment people have demonstrated a few interesting projects for cities– many of these are pilot projects sometimes created to avoid political risk. Even one project that captured the interest of attendees – Chicago’s ‘rat app’ – was created as an early pilot partly because ‘rats have no constituency’.

One of the most interesting was in the ‘pre conference academic workshop where there was a presentation on how Singapore is managing its rush hour travel population through incentives somewhat akin to a frequent flyer program. Using nudge theory, the power of social networks and real time analytics and creating silver, gold and platinum smart travellers.

Along with almost everyone here I feel this concept – already at the top of the Hype Cycle according to Gartner’s 2014 survey – will possibly live up to its hype. It’s just that the narrative around it – the way people imagine possibilities – will also need to move as well. Connected traffic lights and machines that let you know before they break down are incredibly important but already feel ‘last year’. What the future holds appears as yet unimagined. And that’s an interesting place to be.

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