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Why Small and Mid-Size Municipalities Don't Fear Smart City Tech

Tech companies stress the notion that the market today is strong at the mid-size and small city levels.

SAN FRANCISCO — Smaller cities often possess the nimbleness to act quickly in areas of developing and deploying smart city technologies. But they also tend to lack the big budgets for the sort of large projects seen in a major metro.

On Sept. 11, members of the smart cities technology industry participated in a panel discussion hosted by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) on industry trends and directions, particularly with the rise of edge computing, cybersecurity concerns and the development of connected vehicles technology.

“Smaller municipalities seem to move a lot faster,” said Martin Renkis, founder and CEO of Smartvue, a maker of video surveillance technology. “There’s an event. Something bad happens. Everybody says, ‘We gotta have cameras. I want cameras everywhere. I want the police to be able to log in everywhere.’ And they make a fast decision. They find the money in the budget somewhere. And pragmatism comes into play.”  

As for where smart cities projects are occurring, “it’s happening all over,” said Nigel Upton, general manager for IoT at HPE. “India has a big push from government in its smart cities program. Korea is very advanced.”

And U.S. cities are “all rolling out types of smart city services,” he added. “A lot of it is simplistic things like being able to control the lights.”

Technology companies like HPE and the dozens of smaller developers it works with stressed the notion that the market today is strong at the mid-size and small city levels.

The cities that tend to progress more quickly with smart cities technologies are those that have “more aggregation of the governance and the control,” said Vaibhav Parmar, a technology consulting partner at PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

“Does that mean that’s not in the U.S.? Not necessarily,” he said. “Certainly places like San Francisco or Chicago, it may be harder. There are certainly smaller cities where the municipality or the town council has control over many different functions. And those are the types of places where I think we’ll start to see U.S. adoption become greater and greater.

“But that’s where price comes into play,” Parmar added. “Because a lot of these cities are smaller, they’re just not at scale to be able to make these large procurement decisions. But they have the greatest ability to be technologically savvy, if the price points can be worked out.”

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.

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