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Smart City Technology Opens Up Employment Horizons for HEC Students

Technological leaps, notably linked to the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem, are accelerating the number and size of smart cities globally. Specialists agree that the impact on travel, energy and waste will be huge, opening up undreamt of opportunities – and, arguably, risks – for major companies and their employment strategies in these sectors. HEC Paris invited representatives from some of the biggest actors to unveil their vision of a smart city future and describe the potential role HEC graduates play in this urban transformation.

Smart City Technology Opens Up Employment Horizons for HEC Students - HEC Paris march 2018

The March 22 Smart Cities Conference on the HEC campus was the third in a series co-organized by the Society & Organizations Center, SnO. It attracted students from a variety of school programs as well as external participants, all keen to explore job openings linked to this phenomenon, born in the Sixties in Los Angeles (Uncovering the Early History of “Big Data” and the “Smart City” in Los Angeles, Boom California, June 16, 2015). “We had a great panel with experts from businesses that deal with urban challenges,” said co-organizer and executive Director of SnO, Bénédicte Faivre-Tavignot. And she introduced them: “There was Thibault Ben Khelil from Greenflex who directs the conception of green and inclusive smart cities, Pierre Brunet the VP of Smart Cities at Veolia, Olivia Conil Lacoste who is the VP of Sustainability at Bouygues Immobilier, and Franz Beznik, the R&D Innovation Leader at Procter&Gamble (P&G). They all underlined how the urban challenges linked to smart cities do indeed affect careers within their companies. For example, the changes foster the need for new human, technological and business skills within existing jobs. Add to that, we see the emergence of new job activities like data scientists, data analysts, App creators, and so on.”

How Soiled Diapers Factors into the Smart City Equation

The four panelists insisted on the wealth of opportunity offered by a concept which has found a home in 25 urban settings in France so far. P&G, which, according to Franz Beznik, has five billion clients worldwide, is convinced the future is in smart cities, for no better reason than the critical need to reduce humanity’s footprint. “The statistics are horrendous!” he told the audience in the Bellon auditorium. “When I hear the news on the radio I want to turn it off, put my head in the sand. But at P&G, we have decided to face the challenges and instigate ambitious programs. And so we’ve been bringing down that footprint through less transportation, waste and packaging, in sectors like laundry, shampooing, and so on. Then, a couple years ago, we came up with this crazy idea: let’s recycle soiled diapers, they’re very visible, odorant. Well, believe it or not, it’s making a lot of progress and we’re setting up a pilot program in Amsterdam next year.”

Whilst still relatively new to her job, Olivia Conil Lacoste has plunged with relish into the challenges of creating sustainable and inclusive habitat for Bouygues Immobilier. The Sustainability Director mapped out the work done since 2011 by the real estate branch of the industrial group. “We have worked in cities like Lyons to bring together local dwellers, partners and companies, largely thanks to our platform,” she explained. “This collective effort which we are planning to complete by 2021, involves around 70 companies and 14 partners, including WWF. To achieve such projects, we need the talents found at HEC to create new business and economic models, ally them with sociological realities and urban agriculture, with an awareness of alternative energy resources. Above all, I hope today to share with the students our enthusiasm and a deeper meaning to this huge mutation.”

Mapping Out Smart City Landscapes

For Pierre Brunet, it is essential to find talents who will help create perspectives which are not linear but circular. Furthermore, the Vice President of Smart Cities Solutions Veolia hoped to find future collaborators at HEC capable of working in teams and partnerships with other companies bent on creating new ecosystems. “We initially rooted our work on new technology because of the large number of engineers we have at Veolia,” he said. “This created great systems but there wasn’t the kind of impact we hoped to provide through the services. That’s because we lacked knowhow in change management. So we’re seeking people to help break the traditional change management paradigm. However, the right profile does need to have some technological expertise, with blockchains and AI being the buzzwords.”

Thibault Ben Khelil confirmed the vital need for new smart city business models but stressed the importance of adaptation to each individual case. The Director of Consulting at Greenflex insisted on the expanding job market linked to this urban revolution: “A lot of organizations are working on new ways to build smart cities, and services as diverse as selling vegetables, diapers and infrastructure. New recruits must analyze the firms’ business plans and assess the real impact on CO2 emissions and other environmental issues. It’s a difficult task but it has to be done.” His company is specialized in energy efficiency since it was founded in 2009, and has been a European leader in the sector, combining data intelligence and equipment management to help clients manage their energy consumption. It was recently bought by Total.

Students Reflect on Scalability and Consumer Issues

HEC students acknowledged the dynamism of the smart city concept but some questioned the problem of scalable models. “I’m a strategy Major,” said one during question time, “and my research keeps coming back to this issue. Each project is unique and depends on location and partnerships created. But there are no scalable models to answer this reality.” A point which both Frantz Beznik and Pierre acknowledged as being one of the major challenges of the future. The former insisted that major political forces are working on pooling their experiences: “Take the C40 network of megacities. This consortium has grown to 97 and has published a report called Deadline 2020 which is a true roadmap for smart cities of all sizes and types. Scalability is at the heart of its mandate.” MBA student Coralie shared her experience of experiments in Boston with smart meters, whilst Laure, an MSc sustainability student believed that not enough attention is paid to educating the consumer who is largely responsible for the footprint. “Isn’t it the role of the companies to change people’s behavior?” she asked. To which the panel answered in unison that educating the consumers is vital for any progress to be made. “How can we make people accept the challenge of taking showers in cold water, for example?” asked Beznik rhetorically. “Our innovations have helped reduce the footprint, but there is at least 80% that still needs doing and the ball is in the court of home-owners essentially.”