Digital Town Hub Engagement Platform

1. The Opportunity

A Digital Town Hub will provide selected communities within the London Borough of Croydon (LBC) with a locally managed platform to support social cohesion, resident engagement and local economic growth.

Initially, this will be implemented as a pilot scheme to trial the launch of an app dedicated to local businesses and resident engagement across 3 High Streets within the borough.

This pilot will allow the SLP InnOvaTe Project to test the Digital Town Hub concept and refine the scope and technical details before rolling out to other local high street locations across Croydon, and possibly further across other SLP partner boroughs.

The objectives of the pilot outlined in this use case are:

  • to enable local businesses to directly engage with local residents and the community, and understand how the platform will be used by key stakeholders;
  • to generate useful insights and metrics;
  • to assess and quantify positive outcomes.

2. How will the solution be delivered

Based on preliminary soft market testing, a pilot to trial the deployment of a Digital Town Hub Engagement Platform across 3 different Croydon high streets (local communities), is being tendered. The trial of this use case is estimated to take up to 3 months to implement from order and will run for a period of 1 year to assess and quantify benefits.

Key Requirements

In order to meet the needs of the Council, a list of broad requirements have been collated below.

Essential requirements:

  • a means to connect local businesses to customers and residents
  • provision of real-time updates on local events, offers and messaging from businesses
  • local business directory and map
  • a platform which incorporates real-time footfall data for businesses in order to enable understand and predict demand for services
  • provide a communication channel for messaging to customers directly with real time offers based on actual available demand
  • use of IoT sensors within local business premises for assessing busy periods 
  • collection of anonymised data made available to businesses in real time, to help predict current and future demand

3. Technical Overview

The following technical details are envisaged regarding the use case solution:

Hardware

IoT footfall counters will be installed in local businesses to measure footfall.  Data from these will be fed back to the platform in useful ways for residents, local businesses and Town Managers to use.  

Software

A free-to-download smartphone app for users in the pilot communities will allow users to engage with relevant content and with local businesses directly. This will support local news, events, notifications, business listings, local offers, maps, mobility information, feedback and consultation tools.

Local businesses will manage their access to the Digital Town Hub by signing up independently to use the online platform. Business users will be provided marketing tools to help them sell goods and services to local residents who have signed up to the mobile app.  Business users will be able to upload content to the platform describing their business proposition, location, opening times, offers and details of events. Businesses will also be able to target promotional communications using contextual factors like user profile, location and weather for relevance. If Businesses opt to install an IoT footfall counter at their premises, they will also be able to view footfall analytics for their business.

Data Considerations

The following key data considerations should be taken into account:

  • The system does not store any personal data when it is not necessary.
  • Compliance with GDPR and latest government security guidance is essential.
  • Access to the system is secure and all data is secured at all times. 
  • Anonymised user data to be collected and analysed including demographics, user interests, location, offers collection, page views, sessions, users, footfall and subscriptions.

The sensor data should be accessible in at least three different ways:

  • online dashboards 
  • reports
  • API (application programming interface)

Regarding the API, the vendor should be asked to provide the following:

  • access to all stored data gathered by the sensors (live and historic) via API
  • comprehensive API documentation
  • serve data in modern JSON structures, allowing each sensor to output multiple data types simultaneously
  • enable the ability for 3rd parties to integrate directly with the API – this integration should be facilitated at no additional cost over and above purchase price
  • allow for the adaptation of the API to support integration with other systems

Immediate benefits will be realised by stakeholders in the community through greater information transparency, local service discovery and real-time notifications. IoT footfall sensors installed in local businesses will secure valuable data about local High Streets and this will be vital in assisting with the response to COVID-19. The long term goal of the platform is to become financially self-sustaining, potentially generate revenue and streamline council services over the next 3-5 years. 

4. Expected Benefits

The expected benefits of the project can be summarised as:

Local Economic Growth:

  • As a result of the global pandemic, small businesses and especially local high street businesses have suffered immensely.  Support is needed to help businesses get back on their feet and encourage residents to go back to the High Street and shop local.  
  • The Digital Town Hub will offer local businesses a direct way to engage with the local community, and through real time footfall data, the ability to generate timely offers to attract customers.
  • Many businesses are resorting to expensive intermediary platforms which have the impact of lowering profit margins or raising prices for local people.  The Digital Town Hub will offer a hyperlocal alternative to businesses to directly engage with their local customers.
  • This project will provide a marketing channel for local businesses which, over time, will have higher levels of local engagement and reach than other intermediary platforms.
  • This can be measured through offers claimed on the platform and increased footfall.

Social Cohesion:

  • Residents largely rely on social media sources for local information which is often inaccurate, incomplete and difficult to filter or search.
  • The project will provide a more completed and trusted source of local information for local residents, helping people to participate in local events, issues and their local economy.
  • This can be measured through a qualitative user survey.

Resident Engagement:

  • The Digital Town Hub would provide a hyper-local platform dedicated to the businesses and community and bring value through the real time dedicated information relevant to that community.
  • Residents are overloaded with information through existing channels like social media and email.
  • Residents require the right information, in the right place, at the right time. The project will increase engagement by recommending local information in a way that’s relevant to each individual e.g. events, local business offers, maps, mobility information.
  • Engagement can be measured through app downloads and use.

Future Investment Insights:

  • The project needs to evaluate options for future IoT connectivity.
  • This project presents a use case to generate the network specification required.
  • Different network technologies can be trialed in this project to arrive at an optimal solution assessing factors like range, frequency, battery life and cost. 
  • Local businesses sign-up & manage their own profiles, add video and attach offers
  • Publish info direct to people who have a vested interest in supporting them. 
  • Drive trade and footfall through a direct-to-resident marketing channel.

Value:

  • The digital town hub would provide sophisticated smartphone applications, a cloud-based data-processing solution, server management, hosting and bandwidth.
  • LBC could not develop or maintain a similar solution without incurring considerable additional cost for development and maintenance.
  • The value returned to the community can be assessed in terms of social and economic impact using the available metrics (e.g. demographics, usage and footfall statistics) on the platform.
  • It is intended that the platform will become financially self-sustaining in the future beyond the term of the pilot .

Expected Benefits to the Council:

  • Digital Town Hubs are central to LBC’s strategic vision for Digital Place. This project will accelerate the council’s vision by establishing a base platform which provides all the local tools a community needs to be connected.
  • This platform can be developed to accommodate other components of this strategy in the future e.g. EV charging, smart parking and payments.
  • The supplier’s business model incorporates data feeds and user-generated content (from businesses) to minimise operational overheads.
  • Retain control of customer data instead of this being given to national / multinational vendors.
  • There are potential cost savings from decommissioning software e.g. feedback software that can be replaced by the Digital Town Hub. LBC will also explore opportunities to streamline internal ways of working to benefit from the features offered by the hub.
  • Detailed insights gathered on each community.

Expected Benefits to South London Partnership:

  • Undertaking the project with SLP will ensure the project is implemented in a way which is transferable to other councils in the partnership.
  • Aligning standards and future requirements at this point will help other councils to initiate their own roll-outs of Digital Town Hubs in future.
  • SLP will be able to evaluate and recommend the Digital Town Hubs for interested participating councils further to completion of the project. 

Learning Opportunities:

  • Explore how using sensors can actively change public behaviour.
  • Support the implementation of a ‘social distancing’ solution using footfall sensors.
  • Help residents to ‘socially distance’ with (near) real-time information about how busy the premises of local businesses are.
  • Residents will see a measure of ‘how busy?’ each business based upon the max limit set by the business and how many people are in the store.
  • Provide town managers with an accurate picture of what’s actually going on at stores in Croydon’s high streets so they can support.

 

Get involved

Many local authorities have started to implement IoT systems for a number of reasons. Our approach
is to work with our residents and businesses to turn challenges into opportunities for improvement.

If you have some feedback or an idea of how we can improve our services through the use of IoT technology,
we’d love to hear from you. Email Andrew Parsons or Pierre Venter to share your thoughts.

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