Experts share what it takes to move smart city initiatives beyond the pilot stage.
Smart city pilots pop up regularly and provide valuable insights into what’s viable and what doesn’t work. In theory, pilots also allow cities to learn from each other and avoid ’reinventing the wheel’, with limited risk for both cities and private sector partners.
However, to deliver real value and reach all citizens these pilots need to be scaled. That can be a challenge – especially when resources are tight. The latest research from SmartCitiesWorld found that funding is the biggest challenge to implementing a smart city strategy.
At the recent Smart to Future Cities event in London, a panel of experts shared their experience on what it takes to move smart city initiatives beyond the pilot stage to make a city-wide impact.
They concluded that cities need to collaborate much more with each other and find a better shared language with the private sector.
Chen-Yu Lee, Director at the Taipei Smart City Project Management Office (TPMO), said that in four years, Taipei has trialled or deployed over 100 smart city initiatives.
He told delegates: “We don’t have a massive plan for the smart city – we think a smart city is a journey so we will try anything to make the city better.”
Taipei’s pilots are funded through a public-private partnership (PPP) model, meaning that Taipei doesn’t spend any budget.
Lee noted that the purpose of pilot projects is to see whether something will work for the city or not so “the failure rate is very high” and only around 50 per cent of projects succeed, although Taipei works to scale up wherever possible.
He noted that an important aspect in this is the city providing an environment for innovation to flourish. In some cases, this can be as simple as providing a place where companies can build a service, or opening up data which can be used to develop services.
In other cases, it might mean providing infrastructure like charging stations for electric mobility. This is something Taipei is doing as scooter-sharing takes off in the city.
“Companies can use [the charging infrastructure] freely but they have to figure out their own business model.”
“Companies can use [the charging infrastructure] freely but they have to figure out their own business model,” Lee said.
He added that the role of his team is to provide the bridge between the public and private sectors so: “We support the owner of the service, to convince the city that [the solution] works and to help city agencies make a decision.”
Nathan Pierce, Programme Director at Sharing Cities (Greater London Authority), argued that the smart city market is still fairly new and emerging, meaning there’s a "gap” between the language used by public and private sectors.
Cities don’t always know what tools are available and what infrastructure can really do for them in the long-term, and vendors don’t always articulate the possibilities well – instead, simply asking cities what they want.
This can end in cities being “stuck in a loop” and putting in a lot of time and effort trying to understand what could potentially be achieved. Ultimately, this can also hold pilots back from scaling.
Pierce said: “One thing that we as cities need to improve on is how we actually express the outcomes that we’re working towards.”
He noted that clients and investors want to see “a pipeline of opportunities” that can be enabled by technology to make it more investable. Considering smart lamp posts, for example, he said: “The interest might not just be in the model around saving money through LEDs, but also what else you could do over the next five, ten and fifteen years that could generate some income, which would be attractive to investors and suppliers as well.”
Being specific about these outcomes, as Pierce suggests, creates a new challenge, too, because although technology investment tends to sit within public realm or infrastructure departments in cities, the benefits will naturally cut across every department.
“There’s a huge amount you can do [with technology] for social care and health, for example,” Pierce said. “We don’t talk about smart lamp posts and health and social care departments – it’s usually mobility and smart buildings.”
He added: “From the city’s point of view, we can do more to start looking across the different areas that we work in and think about how we can improve the business model by including much more diverse areas.”
This is something the City of Liverpool is demonstrating. Suzanne Jameson, Head of Creative Economy, City of Liverpool, noted that Liverpool’s £7 million phased smart street lighting programme is estimated to deliver up to an 85 per cent reduction in energy savings and around £1.8 million in cost savings, in addition to approximately £0.5 million already saved.
“That obviously allows us to pilot far more innovative social-value-type projects in communities,” Jameson said.
To better uncover some of this value, Liverpool set up a local engagement programme called the iNnovation Network which connects Liverpool commissioners, service providers, user-led organisations, creatives and technologists around potential use cases for technology.
“We take genuine feedback from them in terms of the local digital ecosystem around this,” Jameson commented.
Liverpool is also trying to take a more “proactive stance” around areas such as mobility, planning and 3D mapping, Jameson said. The city has a partnership with RIBA which includes a citizen hub and a 3D city model which can also be used by developers, architects and planners to host public consultations, anticipate the impact of future development and make better-informed decisions.
“We link in planning data so we’re able to model and replicate projects as they come about,” Jameson explained.
Liverpool has several ongoing 5G pilots, including the UK’s first 5G digital social care pilot.
Liverpool has several ongoing 5G pilots, including the UK’s first 5G digital social care pilot, funded by the government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
Here, too, the pilot team has used a digital twinning tool to plan the most cost-effective and accurate way to deploy the 5G technology to deliver the best results.
Jameson agreed, however, that it can still be very “labour intensive” for cities to pull together briefs for procurement.
“It is very much a chicken-and-egg situation,” she said, adding: “In terms of establishing business cases, far more needs to be done in terms of impact analysis.”
She noted that many cities’ desired outcomes are increasingly related to citizen wellbeing and sustainable development goals, not just financial savings. Further, when cities apply for funding, particularly in the European Union (EU), they must be clear about the impact they’re delivering.
“That framework [for decision-making] doesn’t really exist at the moment in terms of reflecting the [UN’s] Sustainable Development Goals, and particularly how it relates to people,” Jameson said.
More work needs to be done around “people metrics” so they can be reflected fully in the economic business case for investment.
She said far more work needs to be done around “people metrics” so they can be reflected fully in the economic business case for investment.
These metrics also need to be nuanced, Jameson noted: “You could be putting an infrastructure investment into a deprived community that delivers far greater citizen outcomes than one in a slightly more advantaged area. That also needs to be reflected in the metrics. And it’s much more sophisticated monitoring.”
Shared procurement is also an emerging area – and could be especially beneficial for smaller cities and towns.
Pierce said this is something London also wants to explore more across its 32 boroughs. He said: “There’s an expectation now that each of these boroughs and each small town or any city is supposed to have the capacity to understand smart infrastructure, data analytics, etc. There could be an argument to say having that shared resource across a number of different areas will reduce costs and help smaller entities adopt quicker.”
There could be an argument to say having that shared resource across a number of different areas will reduce costs and help smaller entities adopt quicker.
City leaders throughout the Smart to Future Cities event were also agreed on the importance of better knowledge-sharing between cities – noting that understanding what other cities are doing is hard – even sometimes with neighbouring cities.
Sharing Cities is working to facilitate this. The €24 million EU project is aiming to trigger €500 million in investment and to engage over 100 municipalities across Europe. The ‘lighthouse’ cities of London, Lisbon and Milan, aim to demonstrate the effectiveness of new technologies and share approaches which can be replicated elsewhere.
Pierce said it’s essential that cities share their findings. “It’s really important that we start to de-risk technology for people who are going to go on and adopt it,” he commented. “When we have already tested technology across multiple different pilots and identified the risks, business models and return on investment, that kind of information is going to be crucial to share with other people.”
Delegates, speakers and panellists at the event repeatedly noted that more and easier ways to find this shared best practice are required.
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