Build an insights-driven org

A New Age For Smart Cities: Q&A

Jennifer Belissent, Ph.D.
Principal Analyst
October 6, 2017

Last week I presented a webinar “A New Age for Smart Cities” as part of Philips’ Lighting University.

Many cities have invested in new lighting initiatives replacing traditional lights with LED solutions including remote management capabilities.  But the talk last week stressed the need for these initiatives to be part of a broader strategy.  It drew from the experience in Buenos Aires, in which the initial response to the new LEDs wasn’t always positive.  To understand why, the city needed to tap into data from across the city systems and the story of how they did that is enlightening (pun intended).

To build smart cities, city leaders must first invest in the basics, building a solid foundation with integrated and open systems of record and systems of engagement, and only then expand to new “smart” systems of automation – which was exactly what Buenos Aires had done, as described in the Forrester Case Study: How Buenos Aires Became Insights Driven and presented in the Philips webinar.

Ultimately these components integrate to create a system of insight that provide cities with the tools to better understand citizens’ needs, design appropriate programs, and delivery efficient and effective services. In parallel, city leaders must work to improve overall data maturity – the capabilities, the competencies and a culture that recognizes the value of data and analytics – to realize the promise of smart cities.

A Q&A session followed the webinar, and I’ve included some of the questions and answers below:

Q: What is the most significant technology add-on for smart cities:  sound, traffic, environmental etc.?

A: The “add-ons” in the question refer to new sensors, or the systems of automation.  Cities must first ensure that they have the appropriate foundations on which to introduce these new technologies.  Instead of those listed, the most significant technology “add-on” is the data and the tools needed to put it to use in decision-making across the city.  Better data use — and the derived insights and prescribed actions — will help improve city operations, service delivery and “customer” experience – whether for individuals or businesses, residents or tourists.

Q: When do you think internet security issues will be sufficiently solved to allow true smart cities?

A: I don’t see internet security as a show stopper. If it is, we are holding cities to a higher standard than any other industry or domain. Most people do internet banking. We file our taxes online. We shop online. And, many people date online. Cities must protect their infrastructure and applications with the most recent technologies, and train their executives and employees in the latest best practices for data management and governance. Improving data maturity including data security in cities is a top priority and a pre-requisite to them truly becoming smart. The human element is as important as the technology.

Q: Which business models enable smart cities?

A: New business models have always been a pre-requisite for smart cities, something I wrote about at length back in 2010 in the Forrester report, Getting Clever About Smart Cities: New Opportunities Require New Business Models.  That still applies today. Many vendors have experimented with these new models. Several regularly use outcome based pricing, like an ESCO model, to facilitate technology adoption and smart city initiatives. They take a benchmark prior to deployment of the new technology and then monitor improvements in the metrics and costs over time.  The vendor guarantees the projected improvements and cost savings to facilitate 3rd party financing.  For companies like Schneider Electric who work with cities to retrofit inefficient municipal buildings, outcome based models make up most of their engagements.

Q: The stats around data maturity in government are dismal. Are they deficient in training of staff?

A: Agree that improving data maturity should be (and is for many) a top priority. Yes, many cities need to prioritize development of a data culture. And, many are.  I’ve written on how data leadership in government can drive government transformation and better outcomes. Training programs include formal and informal sessions, peer exchanges, online tools and mentorships.

Q: Which is the best smart city today?  Which city we could copy?

A: I don’t really believe in lists or rankings of smart cities.  All cities are different, and many cities have adopted smart city initiatives. The first step is to identify your “pain points” or the priorities of your citizens. One city started with a survey of citizens asking them (1) which services they used the most and (2) which ones were the most onerous.  The city prioritized the most frequently used and most difficult services to improve their citizen experience. There are many other strategies for capturing citizens input.  Before you pick a model “smart city” you need to know what kinds of initiatives you need.

And finally, more of a comment than a question, and more agreement than response…

 Q: It’s true that to build a smart city, collaboration across departments is key. That is the biggest challenge that we have.

A: Overcoming this reluctance to collaborate requires leadership – a top down mandate for change. Collaboration can take the form of shared application or infrastructure services, data sharing or the sharing of best practices across departments. Shared services deliver efficiencies must needed in cash strapped municipalities.  And, that applies to new “smart city” technology as well.  Take, for example, CCTV cameras. Emergency services, transportation, parking and others can benefit from a coordinated initiative, a shared service. Failure results in overlapping initiatives and duplicate spending.  Take the issue to the top!

Please listen to the Philips webinar.

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