FutureStructure

Cities Get Primer on Smart Technology

A new playbook provides best practices based on work in 22 cities around the globe.

by / December 6, 2016

Tech giant Nokia’s flagship offerings fall squarely in the smart city ecosystem. Ultra-broadband, digital health, IP interconnectivity and Internet of Things all have a place in the data-driven, tech-centric urban ethos.

Now the company has written the book on smart cities. At 80-plus pages, Smart City Playbook offers a primer on virtually every aspect of urban modernization. Written in collaboration with analyst firm Machina Research, the playbook looks at best practices in 22 global cities including San Francisco, Cleveland and New York City.

“Instead of saying, ‘Oh, we have this wonderful portfolio of networks and platforms,' we wanted to start with the real needs. What is a smart city? How is it going to change the lives of the citizens? Then we can ask: What do you need to do to become a smart city?” said Marc Jadoul, Nokia's market development director, Internet of Things.

While smart city terminology gets wide play these days, clear definitions are lacking, and what works in Amsterdam won’t likely work in Dubai. “So we wanted to find the patterns and best practices that any cities around the world could learn from. We wanted to find the common ground for conversation,” he said.

The authors offer six concrete conclusions for cities looking to go down this road.

Data requires rules and policies.

“Data is like the new oil: The more it is refined, the more value it has for all the applications that will be using it,” Jadoul said. “Cities want to make data as widely available as possible, but this means they have to put governance in place. They have to define the rules around who is allowed to use the data and how it will be shared.”

Coordination and planning are critical.

“In many cities there are quite a lot of isolated initiatives, but they are not glued together either by planning or by technology,” Jadoul said. “You need to start with a vision, with an implementation master plan.”

A coordinated approach is vital to ensuring the tech aspects of the smart city are broadly applicable across civic entities. “You have data, but which applications will share it? Do we have the infrastructure for city departments to access data and applications horizontally?” he said. “It starts with having a defined project or a department leader or a city council that takers ownership of this effort.”

Make the benefits visible to the citizens.

“If you are building a smart city you have to build it for your citizens. Taxpayers finance these investments, so you need two-way communication to make all the benefits of the smart city visible to citizens,” Jadoul said.

More than just keeping citizens abreast of progress, cities need to engage stakeholders from the outset, finding ways to prompt ongoing involvement. “A smart city needs to be social, participatory and inclusive,” he said. “Get them involved. Make them first users of the new applications. Let them share in and celebrate the successes.”

Educate procurement departments.

“Many city administrations are not used to this kind of multifaceted project. There are new kinds of models, like public-private partnerships,” Jadoul said. Procurement officials may need help getting up to speed.

It’s tempting to solve procurement by buying smart-city elements in manageable bits and pieces, but this is a risky approach. “The easiest way to go from a procurement point of view is to do it piecemeal, to buy only one or two things for some immediate need,” he said. “But this can end up with a higher cost of ownership. You have to do maintenance on multiple applications which maybe are not compatible with each other.”

Look at declining cities or districts.

Smart city initiatives may find fertile ground in areas or industries perceived to be declining. “Think of a city like Detroit that is looking to reinvent its future with electric cars and self-driving cars,” Jadoul said. “These declining cities may be an ideal starting place to invest in the new technologies that make a city smart.”

City councils may already be allocating funds to struggling areas. Government grants and research money also may be targeted toward these zones. “Looking just from a funding perspective, there may be opportunities here,” he said. “There may be areas that are less obvious draws for technology, and yet they may offer access to resources that other areas do not have.”

Vendors relationships are key.

To make a smart city work, “you need to create an ecosystem, a collaborative platform,” Jadoul said. “Make sure it is not being claimed by a single vendor who considers the city a playground. You want to stimulate innovation and economic growth, and that means not getting locked into a single vendor. You need startups and small companies. If your whole infrastructure is monopolized by a single vendor, you miss the opportunity to create that innovation ecosystem."

The playbook goes into considerable detail in all these areas. A webinar gives an overview of the findings.

Adam Stone Contributing Writer

A seasoned journalist with 20+ years' experience, Adam Stone covers education, technology, government and the military, along with diverse other topics. His work has appeared in dozens of general and niche publications nationwide.