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Pillars to Developing A New Generation of Smarter Cities

Smart Cities Phase 1

The first phase of smart cities initiatives, aka Smart Cities 1.0, focused on cities working with their technology partners to develop pilot programs to test solutions that address specific problems and understand a solution’s benefits. The purpose was to develop a deeper understanding of technology trends and the concept of an integrated “system of systems.” Pilot programs also gave cities valuable insights on the importance of seamless integration of technologies, including the Internet of Things (IoT) – embedded with sensors – into city systems for improving controls; operational efficiencies and customer service. The goal there was to develop meaningful strategies and use cases for building a truly analyzable, scalable, shareable, sustainable and secure city-wide infrastructure. During this first phase, cities also learned that smarter solutions and infrastructure would need smarter people to apply their common sense to utilize the advanced analytics that could enable individuals and city leaders to make better decisions. This leads to Smart Cities 2.0, which is the next phase of this evolution for realizing the vision of Smart Cities.

Smart Cities Phase 2

Smart Cities 2.0 is more a citizen-centric, socio-economic, urban development endeavor to improve a city’s livability standards by actively engaging its communities. Fulfilling the objectives of Smart Cities 2.0 requires concrete policies for local solutions that integrate green concepts ranging from smart transportation systems to waste-water treatment and solid waste management systems into the planning process. It involves creating meaningful use cases and justifiable, real business cases based on lessons learned from the various pilots for Smart Cities 1.0, while creating an environment where everyone can participate and benefit from the improved processes and delivery of public services. This requires compassionate planning for bridging the digital divide and making every citizen more tech savvy. It’s critical to empower citizens with the information and knowledge they need to utilize the enhanced services offered by a digital city. In addition, a flexible regulatory environment that’s responsive to stakeholder needs is also vital.

Different Strategies

Developing a new generation of smarter cites requires having multiple strategies that feed on one another in a coordinated manner and add value to the overall endeavor. One of the key objectives of this next phase is to improve collaboration with citizens; to tap into their knowledge base to let them generate solutions for their local problems and share ideas with city leaders. It’s evident that no “one size fits all” solution exists for tackling problems that cities face. The only thing that is relevant is the adoption of best practices that can shorten the time it takes for implementing solutions.

The second key objective is to achieve real sustainability when tackling difficult energy and environment-related issues. Sustainability and resilience must be achieved by incorporating green infrastructure solutions. They should be woven into the fabric of smart, sustainable cities at the planning stage.

More Than Technology

Technology is often positioned as the panacea for all of a city’s problems. The next phase of this evolution requires more than just technology or deploying sensors and IoT platforms. This urban development endeavor requires evaluating the basic needs such as safety and security and even environmental needs to improve the quality of life for the people. It also requires a clear, realistic vision and leadership at the highest levels of the city for prioritizing what’s needed, and also for ensuring targeted investments to achieve the goals of newer initiatives. Technology, per se, is just a tool. Cities now have a better understanding of how to better implement technology-enabled solutions to improve peoples’ lives one step at a time.

Leveraging technology is not new to cities. Innovative technology leaders within city governments have utilized emerging technologies to modernize the city’s backend IT systems for improving city operations and citizen services. The initial pilot programs have also shown that data is critical and central to the development of newer generation smarter cities. What’s new is utilizing technology to unlock the value of the data gathered from the millions of sensors deployed across the city via data analytics, particularly through predictive analytics. Turning data into actionable insights with analytics is critical for providing city leaders the situational awareness in a timely manner to respond faster to evolving trends and improve citizen services.

Drawing Insights from Data

It’s important to remember that all data is not equal. Data can also come from citizens utilizing a multitude of apps. Crowdsourcing of data, which is a possibility today with high smartphone use, is also a novel way to receive alerts from citizens on developing public safety-related situations, as well as knowing what’s broken where from a process standpoint that’s critical for city leaders. So cities need to be strategic in knowing how to use data in order to gain valuable insights from the data collected from different sources. These insights can also enable the city to facilitate sustainable and collaborative economic development by helping innovative entrepreneurs to develop new technology-centric businesses to develop custom solutions to solve the myriad of city problems, while utilizing citizen resources efficiently to generate employment opportunities. In this context, technology is also an enabler for creating a collaborative environment that can inform and bring together thought leaders, government leaders and innovative entrepreneurs for meeting the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Challenges Ahead

City managers are constantly challenged by budget constraints and are forced to cut operational costs. They have to manage increased urbanization and population growth, while fostering innovation for enabling the transformation. Requirements are also changing constantly to meet the needs of digitally-literate people. So for city planners working on this evolution, what would really be beneficial is to adopt a strategic design thinking approach to incorporate creative competency into the planning process. Design thinking is uniquely suited to address the challenges cities face because these challenges require creative solutions and creativity is the essence of design thinking. Design thinking gives city planners the agility to incorporate new ideas rapidly to develop innovative solutions. Being citizen-centric is the main theme here and this requires human-centric solution development. What’s critical is creating an environment for letting ideas grow in order to come up with many options for developing the right set of desirable solutions to move the transformation forward, and to make the newer generation of smart cities, truly sustainable, collaborative and livable, digital cities.