Cities face a series of challenges in becoming smarter

by Andrew Parkin-White


There is significant hype surrounding smart cities. In reality, many cities are in the early stages of becoming smarter. Cities need to overcome a range of barriers and challenges if they are to be truly smart. Implementation of solutions is difficult for a number of reasons that we will explore.

Smart cities solutions promise to offer socio-economic and environmental benefits. In practice, these benefits can be difficult to achieve. City leaders pay much attention to the business case. A straightforward solution, such as intelligent street lighting or waste management, will have a clearer return on investment. Achieving less tangible benefits can prove difficult to demonstrate with a much higher risk profile.

Scaling up to a full smart city solution from a pilot or demonstrator trial is often a step too far for many cities. A city may have received funding from central government or the EU to set up trials and demonstration projects. A full implementation may prove tricky as smart city solutions tend to span multiple directorates in a city and convincing these departments to release funds is problematic. Funding for smart cities can be a real issue for cities as there is an intense pressure on budgets and finding funds for new smart projects may prove extremely difficult and time consuming.

In fact, the silo working of many cities and local authorities can be a real show stopper with many cities lacking the ability to coordinate activities. A smart city solution often spans multiple directorates in a city and aligning the objectives of these different groups can prove problematic, particularly as far as procurement and budgets are concerned. Successful smart city implementations have overcome these issues often by creating a dedicated group that can develop new processes and operating methods that challenge and change existing practices.

Smart city infrastructure can be a challenging. Rolling out city wide networks requires a careful choice of technologies for sensor networks and for data capture and analytics. Cities need to work in partnership with a range of technology vendors and ensure that their networks have interoperability with existing infrastructure and ideally offer a standardised solution.

Engagement with citizens is fundamental to the success of a smart city implementation. It takes time to understand the groups that the solution will target and to educate and encourage them on how to use it. Many more successful solutions are designed with the citizen at its heart where they co-creators of the service.

Becoming a smarter city is a complex undertaking and requires tenacity to achieve the objectives of the proposed solution and to overcome the challenges and barriers. The potential upside is significant and successful smart cities are reaping the rewards.

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