However, now, the fourth industrial revolution offers opportunities to overcome the difficulties of being an island. These are the issues being debated these days in Calvià, Mallorca, by experts from 120 islands around the globe in the Smart Island World Congress, a meeting aimed at achieving efficient islands, and then on to smart islands.
Tourism and coexistence
Islands are deserted in the winter and full to bursting in the summer. The mass arrival of tourists in the two months of summer causes problems of congestion, saturation and an unsustainable concentration of people. The Mallorcan tourist entrepreneur and COO of World to Meet, Patricia Rosselló, believes that "the smart island offers opportunities for managing these problems efficiently." Thus, technology allows for "decongesting car parks, roads or supply, among other things, to make the island sustainable."
However, Rosselló believes that the great challenge for islands as far as managing tourism is the gap between the public and private sectors. Marrying on the one hand the public initiative aimed at making islands efficient destinations and, on the other, the private initiative that, after years without reinvesting in its assets, now that profitability is higher, can do so.
Rosselló finds that the public sector does not go far enough in "supplying free Wi-Fi or tablets in tourist spots" and has to go much further to call itself a smart destination. To do that requires integrating "retail, hotels and sectors involved in tourism." According to the businesswoman, "they don't currently meet up."
Rosselló thinks that to bring the efficient island initiative to fruition requires political courage and working with the private sector to "reinvest, reinvest constantly and resolve or manage points of conflict for tourism like mobility, congestion or arrivals and departures from islands and even the coexistence between residents and visitors." For this reason, "here is where efficiency is imposed and the private sector has a lot of initiatives that the public sector can identify," says Rosselló.
The mass concentration of people in only a few months causes big problems in supplying resources, food, goods and water. That is why efficiency "has to be achieved in many other spheres," says Sergi Menéndez, product manager of Smart Water Solutions, a company providing smart management to the water of Suez. Menéndez explains that thanks to the ease of gathering and transmitting data in many spheres, the management of water, rubbish, waste, sewerage or mobility can be done in a much more efficient way in certain contexts -as on islands- in which the spread of the population is normally wide. The challenge is extracting benefit from these data.
In the case of water management, a critical resource for archipelagos, Menéndez says that there are two clear opportunities: on the one hand bringing value to the data gathered in the water cycle and, on the other, how to take advantage of current structures for other uses. In other words, the information gathered in production or consumption (with meters) can be used and analysed so that their service is more valuable: prevention, better distribution and maintenance, etc.
But also for other spheres, and Menéndez gives the example of the current GPRS and VHF communications network of Calvià for reading meters. "This network can be taken advantage of for other things that have nothing to do with water like measuring the amount of rubbish in containers with sensors and better managing transport in lorries or even improving the city's taxi service," says the expert.
|The first edition of the Smart Island World Congress is on Calvià.|
Keeping hold of talent
And while during summer it is packed-out, in the winter months the island empties and the people who live there all year round get on with their lives. Perhaps students are forced to leave to go to a university on mainland, but the professionals who do not find job opportunities are also forced to leave. Keeping hold of this talent and making sure it returns is one of the challenges of living surrounded by sea.
The engineer Marcos Martín has lived on Menorca for seven years. The cofounder and CEO of the first startup decelerator, Menorca Millenials, points out that, if someone wants to begin a business venture on an island, they are faced with the challenge of attracting and keeping hold of talent: "Normally professionals from an island leave due to a lack of opportunities and those that stay are in a lot of demand." However, the fact of being an island also provides great opportunities to offset this deficiency. An island is a paradise "and that draws people for the quality of life it offers," says the businessman, speaking at the Smart Island World Congress. Moreover, precisely because of an island's peculiarities, flexibility in the structure of the company and the way of working is usual. "Your meeting room is Skype and the archive is Google Drive. The rare company structure, flexible, but more modern, is a good reason to work on an island," points out the cofounder of the decelerator that every year brings together 20 startups from around the world to the island of Menorca.
Connectivity is the key
To work remotely and hold on to talent, certain basic aspects are required "that are increasingly more frequent, but also crucial," such as telecommunications. High bandwidth has now arrived on Menorca, but, for example, fibre optics only arrived in La Palma this year. "The problems of connectivity on islands are accentuated and we are always at the mercy of the market operators," laments Juan Antonio Bermejo, head of innovation services, projects and information society in Palma's island authority, the Cabildo Insular, and who is working to develop the concept of the smart island on the Canary Islands.
Bermejo is working to close the digital gap and improve telecommunications on the Canary archipelago where "the deployment is very costly due to its isolation and topography".
The project consists of a fibre network for the authorities so as to at least provide connectivity for public services around the islands. Also, there is an efficiency project centralising all the information from the island in a control centre so that the different authorities can interact with this node. This is the starting point to, later on "be able to provide the public with new services," but it also offer other solutions. "For the moment we are working with an emergency and tourism project and another about energy efficiency through LED lighting," says the technician.
Due to seasonality, not in every case does it depend on the floating population to make a business or investment profitable. Not all the world's islands have enough people to make bus or train lines, or even fibre optics profitable. This means that profitability of connectivity does not only depend on the telecommunications infrastructure: "From the Canary Islands it is cheaper for us to fly to Germany than Madrid," says Bermejo. Therefore, "we have to be as efficient as possible and we have to try to unify and share infrastructure, and work in an intelligent way so as not to duplicate efforts. We are small landmasses condemned to work together and technology gives us the opportunity to work in a more united way. Islands are ideal as small laboratories of innovation," concludes Bermejo.
And if the innovation of the fourth industrial revolution is based on data, that means that a means of transporting them is required. Benjamí Villoslada, general manager of technological development for the Balearic Islands government knows that the connectivity of the territory is the key. While the mainland is well connected with motorways, train lines, gas pipelines, etc., it is more complicated on islands. "The spread of the population is important, the islands are island-cities, and leaving a community unconnected is like depriving an entire neighbourhood of opportunities to work with data," says Villoslada.
Apart from this internal connectivity, underwater cables are required linking the island with the mainland to make the activity on the island competitive. "And if there is no clear help, companies will not take the risk, because, for example, it is not profitable to lay fibre in Formentera," warns the general manager, who adds that "it seems that the opportunity to be part of the 4.0 revolution depends on whether a remote community watches football on cable and so it is worth Telefónica laying fibre there." For an operator to reach 90% of a territory is a good number, but for Villoslada "the remaining 10% is a percentage of the population that is valuable." Without a good connection it will be impossible to work in population centres on an island where there are few tourists.
Who has to lead smart islands? They journey towards smart islands seems to be down to a marriage of convenience. Private initiative will get involved when the profitability is sustainable. For this reason and not to leave island people still more isolated in areas where business is not so lucrative, public initiatives have to take the lead so as not to be left out of the fourth industrial revolution.