Tech article: Is Smart + City = Smart City?

If we think about which problems cities face today to convert to smart, efficient, resilient and/or sustainable cities, there are, to be precise, three challenges: i) lack of finances; iii) a complex stakeholder eco-system; and iii) a historical legacy.

The lack of financial power of cities is very visible, and very problematic. In the ROI-driven cities and economies, there is a strong feeling that the only way of getting smart cities going is to properly bootstrap the market. One solution is to concentrate strictly on ROI-healthy solutions, and there are some of them in the smart city context. Examples can be found in transportation (smart parking e.g.), smart street-lightening, smart metering or smart bins, etc. Another important shift which needs to be invoked relates to the change from CAPEX-driven city deployments to OPEX-driven approaches; the paradigm here would be a Smart City as a Service (SCaaS), which shifts the risk of unproven smart city business models from cities to corporations.

In terms of legacy systems, Cities are thousands of years old. Arguably the biggest technical challenge in any smart city endeavours is to retrofit smartness into these cities with a strong political, cultural and technical legacy. We ought to make sure that smart city solutions are not only perfect standalone ideas and products but are actually being able to be deployed and retrofitted. That is, not only pursue design for a perfect end-purpose but also make sure you know of the exact steps of getting it out, deployed and used.

In addition to the legacy issues, the actually established stakeholder system is extraordinary complex too. Unlike common believes among the newcomers in the smart city community, the city space is serviced by a very established stakeholder system. It is run by companies most of us have never heard of, but these are companies which mainly provide the infrastructure, i.e. the visible part of the city. They are not the stakeholders which provide the intelligence, i.e. the ability to make the city really smart. Cities thus need to ensure that there is a real dialogue between the established stakeholders and the emerging stakeholders without the former feeling threatened about their space and without the latter believing to be able to do it all alone. An additional solution is to replicate the successful approach of similarly complex systems, such as cellular or transport systems. Systems, the design of which succeeded, had typically undergone these processes: i) standardization and ii) virtualization.

As for the former, it plays an important role in ensuring scalable up-take of technology, inter-operability, fair competition, and long-term availability. Therefore, smart city technologies ought to inherently be standards compliant. First global initiatives on smart city standardization are well under way. As for the latter, it is often overlooked but it plays an important role in properly decoupling different stakeholders, which in turn facilities independent growth in each eco-system. The computing industry has shown the way, where the hardware, operating system and application software ecosystems have evolved independently whilst always ensuring operability. Similarly, it is important to ensure that the smart city hardware, software and service applications evolve as independently as possible.






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