techUK has identified three areas that we think is holding the market back; funding, skills and above all leadership
So where are our smart cities? Smart cities cannot and should not be about technology, but rather about what they help enable; more engaged, happier and healthier citizens and ensuring the city is a more sustainable and attractive place. To achieve that outcome requires more than just technology, but clearly, it also needs technology to simply fit into people’s lives and be cost-effective.
In the UK, the technology is largely already here. Take smart street lighting, the cost savings for simply switching from sodium to LED bulbs is well understood – Milton Keynes saving 150,000 KwHs in energy over 12 months in addition to reducing maintenance. Networking these lights can increase savings even further whilst they can also be the physical location of new services from public Wi-Fi provision (a potential income revenue for local authorities) or air quality monitoring services.
Around the UK there are and have been plenty of trials, on everything from smart parking or waste management to city operating systems, proving both the efficacy and more frequently the business cases for individual smart city services. So, if the technology works and can be proved to generate a return on investment, why is the UK market not progressing to larger scale smart city deployments?
techUK has identified three areas that we think is holding the market back; funding, skills and above all leadership. Leadership can provide the solution to other barriers. In May, techUK’s Local Government and Smart Infrastructure Programmes published Digital Devolution, a guide aimed at the new metro Mayors. Recently appointed Mayors have an opportunity to use devolution to transform the smart city market in the UK and in doing so create an attractive place for their citizens to work and thrive.
Andy Burnham (Manchester) has made tech a priority with a series of Digital Summits, whilst Andy Street (West Midlands) published a Digital Manifesto prior to his election, with Steve Rotheram (Liverpool) making a push on digital infrastructure. These, and others have made good starts but to push towards the implementation of smart city solution will require detailed effort to gather and then retain momentum.
We believe that a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) style position can be the driving force behind implementing a city’s strategy for smart and digital more widely. The CDO will need to be empowered and be backed up by resources. We know that carving out such a position is not easy in any organisation but particularly ones under budgetary pressure. However, the tech industry stands ready to assist cities in this process.
If we do not seize the opportunity provided by devolution then we risk missing out the many benefits of smart cities – both to our own cities and in exporting our expertise abroad. The technology is there but the ability to implement it isn’t. City leadership can provide the answer. The new Mayors need to set out a strong vision for the smart use of digital and data across their regions and put in place the structures to implement it. Now is the time to supercharge the UK’s smart city market.
Matthew Evans is the CEO of Broadband Stakeholder Group and Executive Director of SmarterUK. He started with the techUK in April 2014 as the Broadband Stakeholder Group’s Policy Manager. He now heads the BSG and SmarterUK as well as leading techUK’s Internet of Things Programme. Matthew joined from Arqiva’s public policy team where he worked for over two years across the broadcast and telecoms markets. Before that, he was a researcher for an MP at Westminster.
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