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To seize the smart city opportunity, local authorities must lay the right foundations

We can’t predict the future but local authorities can still lay the groundwork to ensure they can capitalise on new technologies as they emerge, says TechnologyOne’s Anwen Robinson.


As our cities continue to develop and grow, the use of smart city technology is expanding to serve citizens better and ensure resources are sustainable.


From monitoring traffic patterns and combatting congestion to smart water grids which manage the quantity and safety of water consumption, smart technology can improve the lives of residents, increase operational efficiencies and progress the quality of government services.


Many smart city projects focus on enhancing traditional operations alongside the creation of new services which transform communities, making them more efficient, cost-effective and safer.


The frameworks and technologies to support these changes already exist, as does the opportunity for local authorities to determine a place within this emerging world – but how can they best prepare themselves for this transition?


Changing technology and rising data


The key technology behind the success of smart city initiatives, whether that’s improving pollution levels or traffic conditions, is the Internet of Things (IoT). By embedding internet capabilities into everyday items, it becomes possible to facilitate the collection and communication of data.


Barcelona’s smart city initiative has created 47,000 jobs. Projects have saved €42.5 million on water and generated an extra €36.5 million a year through smart parking.


Adopting this approach and implementing IoT technology means that cities like Barcelona have been able to create nearly 47,000 jobs for citizens and develop smart city projects which have saved around €42.5 million on water and generated an extra €36.5 million a year through smart parking.


Towns of the future


Smart cities can provide many practical and economic benefits to residents but only if the right technology is implemented.


With realistic and achievable ambitions, local authorities can create towns of the future. Cities such as Hong Kong are already on the path to achieving this by utilising the people-centric nature of smart cities. Aside from some of the more conventional applications such as intelligent transport, traffic management systems and waste reduction, Hong Kong has also developed a range of strategies that put people first.


Plan for the future


To prepare and take advantage of IoT technology and lay the foundations for the smart cities of the future, local authorities should embark on their digital transformation journeys with the future in mind. It’s important that local authorities look to deploy systems with open-protocol architectures, as this will open up the opportunity to harness new technologies as they develop – without the need for intricate re-engineering. Doing so, makes it easier to add, upgrade and swap components, and it facilitates data-gathering.


Information is the basis on which smart cities and communities can be built, and allows local authorities to gather and analyse data effectively to support intelligent decision-making.


Using data in this way redefines the future of how we live, work and interact, and provides the opportunity to streamline waste collection, decrease traffic congestion and even improve air quality.


Driving digital initiatives


Despite all the benefits of smart cities, local authorities are complicated organisations and the technology running them is often built on an assortment of stand-alone applications. This range of disparate systems brings about many immediate challenges and often means that local authorities are working with several vendors.


Each application typically incorporates its own technology and database, and requires specific skillsets (either in-house or outsourced) to carry out system modifications or improvements.


With this level of complexity, many local authorities are focusing on streamlining processes and workflows, with the aim of joining up systems and getting them to work together and share information.


In the first instance, many local authorities look to achieve this by creating an elaborate integration layer. However, this does usually rack up significant overhead costs and adds a layer of complexity that requires additional resources to manage. Even when pilot tests seemingly appear successful, it can be difficult to replicate that success when scaling to a real-world scenario.


To realise smart city ambitions and lay the best foundations, local authorities must ensure that the underlying technology and architecture is open and enabling. For many local authorities, this means that their journey to ‘smart’ services must start with digital transformation and a SaaS-enabled environment.


Laying the foundations for smart cities


Although we can’t predict the transformative technologies of the future with any degree of certainty, it is possible for local authorities to lay the foundations to utilise new technologies as and when they are developed.


We can’t predict the transformative technologies of the future with certainty but local authorities can lay the foundations to utilise new technologies as and when they are developed.


The decisions made in the early stages of the digital transformation process can make a big difference to the adoption of new technologies, so it’s important for local authorities to look at simplifying their IT layer.


It’s unlikely that any two smart cities will be the same, as the social and geographic drivers of each community vary so differently. However, embracing technology-enabled and smart city initiatives across the board not only helps local authorities to maximise efficiency and sustainability but also helps to solve real issues and improve the living conditions for citizens.


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