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Governments all over the world are becoming “smart.” All this activity adds up, too—Persistence Market Research predicts the global smart cities market will reach $3.5 trillion by 2026. Yet for all this momentum, no standard “smart city” definition exists and city leaders (and the technology executives hoping to partner with them) can find it difficult to identify projects to build a business case around. However, some clear trends are emerging.
Here five key take aways from local governments who are leading the way.
Takeaway#1: Define for Yourself What It Means to be “Smart”
Cities vary greatly. They can be big, small, urban, rural, modern, quaint, and everything in between. As such, a one-size-fits-all approach to defining smart cities doesn’t work. To be effective, each local government needs to understand its population, its values, its constraints, goals and objectives, and then be able to translate these into technology projects that support them. The National League of Cities suggests that cities focus on outcomes with clear objectives, while looking for partners and applying best-practices.
"By defining success on their own terms, managing cyber risks, partnering regionally and nationally, and learning from each other, governments all over the world are showing how they can become smart"
Takeaway #2: Manage IoT Cybersecurity
Smart cities are underpinned by the “Internet of Things” (IoT), which will be deployed on our roads, street lights, vehicles, traffic signals, and more to provide near real-time data on almost everything imaginable.
However, cybersecurity stubbornly remains an afterthought, posing huge risks to information privacy and security. For example, the Department of Defense is now studying the implications of wearable fitness tracking apps after Strava, a device maker, was shown to be publicly displaying data that could expose secret military bases and operations.
Meanwhile, the white hat community has shown it can be a good civic technology partner. For example, an ethical hacker in Dallas, Texas set off 146 security sirens to alert public officials of the security vulnerability. Smart cities find ways to harden their IoT networks pro-actively.
Takeaway #3: Collaborate and Learn from Each Other
The most pressing problems we face are not confined to municipal boundaries. To develop meaningful solutions, public sector agencies will need to break down inter and intra organizational silos.
Jon Walton has written for CIOReview about his vision to build a regional fiber network throughout the County of San Mateo, CA, connecting multiple city governments and county agencies. By collaborating openly and freely, governments can share data on crime, air quality, disaster recovery, and much more. At the same time, they can learn from other to identify the factors that lead to more successful outcomes.
Takeaway #4: Build Strategic Private Sector Partnerships
Innovators take risks, improving ideas, achieving incremental and sometimes breakthrough successes, while failing frequently along the way. Unfortunately, this fail-fast ethos of Silicon Valley doesn’t always translate to governments, who aren’t positioned to use their limited, taxpayer budgets to fund it. However, cities are starting to learn how to mitigate these risks, creating ways to innovate safely.
The Global City Teams Challenge is an exemplary model that brings together all levels of government, non-profit, academia, and the private sector to work together. It turns out this unprecedented levels of collaboration are perfectly timed as private firms are eager to find the product/market fit for smart city tech.
Thus, these strategic partnerships can effectively transfer some of the financial risk from governments to private partners, who absorb it in exchange for the potential of gaining future market share. A great example is the Startup-in-Residence (STIR) program, spearheaded by the City & County of San Francisco, CA. Startups participate at zero cost to participating cities, and only after a prototype is developed is a long-term contract negotiated.
All over the world, smart cities are becoming early adopters, going beyond transactional vendor relationships to influence the solutions they will eventually procure.
Takeaway #5: Create a Culture of Innovation
For all the promise of the technology in smart cities, perhaps the most important aspect will be the cultural transformation of government institutions themselves. Becoming data-driven, a tech savvy, collaborative and embracing strategic private-sector partnership represents a paradigm shift from the way things work today. Forward thinking agencies are taking steps to create meaningful change.
Thanks to strong and supportive leadership from the City Council in San Leandro, CA, who have made it one of their core goals to transform our city into a center for innovation, we have made significant progress toward that laudable ambition.
By defining success on their own terms, managing cyber risks, partnering regionally and nationally, and learning from each other, governments all over the world are showing how they can become smart.