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Competition and collaboration

The UK’s smart city movement has experienced robust, forward momentum in the past 18 months

How many likes did you get today?
How many likes did you get today?

I recently caught up with a teacher pal of mine over a long dinner that drifted into the late remains of the day. Arriving home an hour or so short of midnight, I was astounded to discover that my friend had managed not only to drop me off and drive the longer distance home, but when she got there, had logged our encounter with a Facebook post.


That’s what comes with these inter-generational friendships, a taste of what it’s like to be a millennial. Rather than jumping straight into bed with make-up still on, these digital natives are dutifully logging onto the great digital hub, validating their encounters to their online tribes.


Myself, being a slacker on the social media side of life (who has time? Who would be interested?), I actually wondered for the very first time ever how many likes that post would get. Measuring where I fit in relation to others has always made me feel uncomfortable – lucky therefore, that I’m not a city being evaluated in the steady stream of reports and surveys that rank where I stand in the smart stakes.


Talking of which, this week I was a guest at the launch of Huawei’s second UK Smart Cities UK Index 2017, which in association with Navigant Consulting, assesses the strategy and execution of smart in the UK’s leading cities.


It was an insightful event, which really communicated very clearly the forward momentum that the smart city movement in the UK has undergone, particularly in the last 18 months.


And although the Index is a competition of sorts – Bristol first, London second, Manchester third and so on – what I took away was a new elevation of thinking in local government.


Speakers talked about widening boundaries to smart regions, rather than smart cities, and the need for greater collaboration. The incoming MD at Bristol Is Open, Julie Snell, said that it was important cities shared their learning both in what they got right, and in what they got wrong. Cities needed to be less competitive and work together.


The new CDO at the GLA, Theo Blackwell too, talked of the need for a need of a strategy for common standards amongst the 33 boroughs of London, with a better governance helping the boroughs collaborate and share in a far better way.


Whilst Raj Mac, head of Digital Birmingham, reiterated the need for greater knowledge share between cities all of who have similar pain and similar issues.


Erin Walsh, head of City Strategies, Future Cities Catapult, highlighted issues around risk, saying that fear of failing is a barrier to digital transformation. The public sector emphasises delivery rather than design, which is why so much procurement fails because the solution is specified from the outset rather than it arriving through a process of openness.


There was talk of pilot schemes being tyrannical and old school, big partnerships being past their sell-by dates. All fighting talk indeed, reiterating the interest and energy around smart city initiatives.


The first Huawei UK Smart Cities Index was launched in May 2016, and a great deal has happened in the world since then. The feeling around Smart Cities at this launch was that technology has to help us solve the urban and global challenges before us, with governments offering new ways of delivering services, and all stakeholders working together for social and economic improvement.


Melony Rocque

Executive editor


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