There are many factors that contribute to a smart city project being a success, this article is going to look at two key areas that are not always highlighted as a priority, but which we believe have a big impact.
The first of these is the mindset. The mindset of city leaders, administrations, citizens and the private companies that cities are working with to deliver smart city projects. City leaders and administrations must have the understanding and belief that the smart city projects that they are embarking on are going to provide the sort of ROI that they expect from such an investment. A lot of the time when city administrations look at projects they look at ROI from a perspective that is not relevant in 2017.
I will use the example of smart lighting. An old way of looking at it is that the lighting needs to be replaced and all you are doing is lighting an area and making the citizens feel safe, but with all the new added technologies that can be placed on the lights this way of assessing a project is now defunct. The city administration must understand that by making the large investment in smart lighting that they are able to tackle a number of different issues, from predictive policing to understanding more about air quality across the city. By educating city employees about the possibilities that new technology brings it will allow them to really understand the true ROI of a smart city project.
There also needs to be a change in mindset of all city leaders and administrations, whether elected or employed they must have a vision of where the city can be in 30-40 years time. I will never forget when I was at a conference last summer on smart city development and one of the project leaders told a story about how they put together their smart city strategy. This strategy was then presented to the city board, one of the key points was that they need to look at this as a 30 year project that is continually revised and altered as technology and attitudes change, the response from one of the city leaders was “why should I care about this, I will not be here in 30 years”. Whilst I hope that this is the viewpoint of a very small minority it is vital that for any region, city, town or village to develop successfully it must have a forward thinking, open minded and can do mindset.
The second aspect I would like to highlight is skills. Over the past 10 years a lot of government and city administrations in the Western world have been shrinking, leading to the loss of a lot of talent and skills across all parts the public sector. This skills gap is holding up the successful planning and delivery of smart city projects. I was at another smart city event in London just a few days ago and panelist raised the skills issue. He said that one of the key problems in Romania is that the cities do not have the skills in-house to be able to evaluate a smart city project and make recommendations about which solutions would be best to implement. Without the ability to assess a project properly and put it out to tender how can a city really make forward steps in development.
Cities must start to employ people that have the specific skills that are required to understand a project or development from a technological, legal and regulatory perspective. Learning from other cities and working to a set of standards are two further things that cities can do in order to help bridge this skills gap. There are now a wide range of smart city standards that are produced on a national, regional and international level. These have been developed by city development professionals, taking into consideration all of the contributing factors and should be used by cities when they are making their plans.
Cities need to create a consistent platform for development that investors and private industry understand – this will help to start the process of building trust between the public and private sector. Changing mindset and plugging the skills gap are two big factors in building the sort of trust between all parties that will allow smart city developments to be a success.