Smart city technology can make a real difference in a community that requires smart problem solving. But deploying ‘smart’ solutions before identifying the problems they can address isn’t smart…
Without clear, specific objectives, it can be difficult to get buy-in from the people who need to implement the solutions and those it impacts, making it harder to demonstrate the value or benefits of solutions, risking wasting money on the wrong things.
Often ‘smart’ solutions are aimed at improving existing services like waste management or public parking; however, without the necessary support of those responsible for delivering these services, it can be hard to persuade them to consider how ‘smart’ solutions would enhance their ‘tried and tested’ practices.
Understanding the challenge(s)
Every place is unique and to stand the greatest chance of success, a bottom-up, problem led approach is needed so that the right smart solutions can be identified, and the relevant stakeholders included. This provides the necessary ownership to implement the solution and then monitor the impact to understand how this addresses the problem or enhances service delivery.
Stakeholders will vary depending on the project and multiple different solutions may be deployed simultaneously. A robust governance structure is needed to ensure the right people are involved at the right time to successfully implement, manage and monitor the project whilst ensuring that the ultimate beneficiaries within the community are informed.
What difference will ‘Smart’ make in the real world?
Looking at the use cases and understanding what a ‘smart’ solution will provide is key, allowing the right processes to be designed to realise the desired benefits. There is little point in collecting ‘smart’ data if it isn’t used to make decisions or improve services.
An example of this is the increasingly common ‘bin sensor’, providing information regarding the fill-level of public rubbish bins and alerts when a bin reaches a pre-determined level. This information alone, whilst useful, wouldn’t improve refuse collection or litter issues resulting from overflowing bins. Other processes need to be designed and embedded to use this data to make informed decisions about the frequency of collection or trigger appropriate actions, resulting in those bins nearing capacity being emptied before overflowing. If done correctly, resources can be accurately targeted where and when required, reducing unnecessary visits whilst ensuring no negative impact in terms of litter. As processes are changed, there is the opportunity to ask, what are the potential knock-on benefits of this change, could it improve other services delivered in that area?
Governance vital to success
For all stakeholders to realise the benefits of becoming ‘smart’, a robust, transparent governance structure is vital. The governance structure helps orient the implementation of smart technologies towards the needs of local stakeholders, in addition to supporting the collaborative efforts underpinning the development of smart solutions and services.
Given the wide range of stakeholders involved in digital transformation processes, ‘smart places’ governance should be open to enabling knowledge exchange and data sharing that facilitate the development of place-based innovative solutions tailored to the local context. By constantly engaging with local users, an inclusive governance structure can contribute to raising awareness of the benefits of smart technologies and improve acceptance among local communities (especially within groups that are more reluctant to or less capable of using digital services).
Furthermore, clear governance enhances the accountability of ‘smart places’ by providing a well-defined strategic framework to guide the implementation of smart technologies and assess their outcomes. Setting objectives and performance indicators through a participatory process further maximises transparency and ensures a balance between the interests of public, private and community stakeholders.
Finally, having this clear governance structure in place is essential to fully leverage the potential of ‘smart data’. The strategic framework allows local leaders to make ‘smart decisions’, using data in a way that is beneficial to local communities and compliant with existing regulations. Defining processes for collecting, sharing and analysing data further contributes to building ‘smart places’ where digital technologies nurture social cohesion and economic resilience by enabling bottom-up place-based innovations.
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