4 Key success factors to build sustainable smartcities

smartcityLiving in an increasingly connected world means also to compete more and more in a global economy. This is true for countries, but also for cities, especially when more and more of the global population is moving into mega-cities.

In the cities of the future efficient usage of resources and competitiveness will be essential for continued growth and possibly even for survival.

The smart city concept is essentially about efficiency of a city. Efficiency based on the intelligent management and integrated ICTs, and active citizen participation. According to the wikipedia definition: “A city can be defined as ‘smart’ when investments in human and social capital and traditional (transport) and modern (ICT) communication infrastructure fuel sustainable economic development and a high quality of life, with a wise management of natural resources, through participatory action and engagement”. The broadness of this definition means though that there can be many different interpretations of when a city starts to become smart. It also means it is difficult to compare cities amongst each other as priorities will differ. The current socio-economic context of city will certainly impact these priorities. The commonality between smart cities is that ICT is used to improve the city’s capabilities to innovate and solve efficiency or capacity related problems.

Direction, Commitment and Alignment

Smart cities are about efficiency but also about increasing the quality of life of its citizens. It is hence essential that local governments define a clear vision on what are the objectives and priorities for the smart city development. For me this is a pre-requisite to start working on a smart city agenda and is a first level of maturity that is needed from the local government and authorities. If I take Dubai as an example this first level of maturity is fulfilled, through the vision that His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum exposed at Gitex last. Focus on Smart Life, Smart Economy and Smart economy are clear indications of where the city wants to head in the next years.  This vision provides though limited value it is not transformed in a public-private sector agenda. Corporates and enterprises need to see profitable business in participating in smart city initiatives. This provides a second level of maturity. Here also I see that Dubai has reached that level of commitment, especially when looking at the objectives of the ministries and authorities in charge of transportation and energy. The third level of maturity will come once the various authorities start to break industry specific silos, and leverage on ICT to improve efficiencies among industries. I believe this third level of maturity is where the highest efficiency benefits can be reached, but this is also the hardest objective to define.

Clear metrics, a strong governance and an open agenda

Vision and objectives is one thing, but investment will only be made if the returns can be clearly measured. And this is where it becomes difficult. There are number of indexes that try to benchmark city performance and improvements but the difficulty lies in finding indicators that provide robust and reliable data. Since data collection is not of the same quality in each industry or country, the result of this type of exercise is not always of academic quality. If seen a least three different index recently measuring the efficiency of  smart city. Ericsson has produced a smart city index which positions smart cities on two axes: one measures the ICT maturity and affordability and another ones measures the impact of this ICT on a triple bottom line which looks at  environmental, social and economical impact. In the Ericsson index more than 80 difference indicators are analyzed and compared. GSMA has a similar index, and also INSEAD regularly publishes an index which looks more at the intellectual output. In any case each city might want to tune the indicators that are relevant to its priorities will competing in the global economy. One of the critics I could have to these indexes is that there are crunching offline data made by academics or consultants, but is not really visible or understandable to citizens in clear and understandable fashion. Since government will often invest tax payer money into this projects, I believe it is crucial also to provide an open agenda to share the progress made and measure indicators that are relevant to the citizens. The proper collection, management and exposure of the relevant city metrics shows and increased maturity in the city’s governance. A great example of such openness and transparency is the London City Dashboard, which shows regular updates on indicators that matter to its citizens. These are indicators like unemployment rates, crime levels or traffic accident levels. This opendata agenda also secures that there is a feedback loop between citizens and authorities

Continued investment in people and ICT infrastructure

In a smart city, it is kind of obvious that the right investments need to be made in ICT. Whether it is for connectivity, communication or cloud, ICT will support continued digitalization of services and development of knowledge economy. Similar the cities need to develop the right skills and attract the right skills to fill any competence gaps the city might have to be able to execute on its plans. This means a strong investment in education, but also adequate immigration policies and simplified processes to start a business.

New infrastructures to enable community involvement

For me the third success factor to create a sustainable smartcity is to create an environment that fosters innovation and is able to channel innovations from the crowds. In a digital economy innovation can come from everywhere and smart cities need to put the right structures in place to capture promising ideas in early stages and allow these to bloom. More and more cities realize the importance in setting up incubators and accelerators to capture these innovations, but we see also new type of creativity place like FabLabs gaining. This is certainly couple to a renaissance in hardware development and prototyping that has been triggered by innovations like the Raspberry PI, Arduino or 3D printing. Smart cities must provide environments to experiment, for people to rally around common causes and develop the next generation of innovations.

What’s your view?

I believe that continuously working on these four dimensions will help to develop sustainable smart cities. My view is certainly a bit simplistic and I acknowledge that but I hear to little about community involvement when reading about smart cities and this is why I wanted to write this short article and get some community feedback. What do you think is needed to build a smart city?

10 ways to make Dubai a Smart(er) City

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There was a lot of excitement  in Dubai at GITEX last week after His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum outlined his plans to make Dubai a SmartCity.  The Dubai ruler, Vice President and Prime minister of UAE has started a project that aims at improving citizen’s quality of life, develop the economy, but also aims at putting Dubai on the global map when it comes to innovation and technology leadership.

Although no details  about the scope of the project are known, it is clear that it is an attempt to bring together both public institutions as well as private sector companies in order to speed-up the move of Dubai and the UAE into the digital world. The higher committee that has been formed to run this initiative includes both public and private sector officials, with telecom operators Etisalat and du represented among others. It is not clear how much money will be poured into this initiative, but looking at the stakeholders involved we are talking serious business .  There are today three main themes defined under the umbrella project: Smart Life, Smart Economy and Smart tourism.

  • Smart Life focuses on education, health, transport, telecommunication and public utilities….
  • Smart Economy concerns the development of technology companies and jobs as well as port, airport and other business services.
  • Smart Tourism aims to offer visitors efficient visa, aviation, hotels, restaurants and other services.

For this initiative to succeed though it is important  to learn from what is being done elsewhere in the world but also consider learnings from projects like Masdar in Abu Dhabi. The green city project had to revise many of its initial high ambitions, to become the first carbon neutral city, mainly due to cost of implementation. Still I believe it is the right time and the right place to start such an ambitious project.  Having lived in UAE for 6 years now I start getting my own ideas on how such a project could shape up and wanted to share some humble ideas around the main themes.

Smart Life

  1. I believe that traffic management is still one of the areas that has most potential for development. There are so many traffic jams, accidents and frustration spent on the roads that this could be a quick win for the city. Being it support applications to find parking spaces, information about location of infrastructure, real-time traffic information. I think this is one of the smart services citizen would really like to see.  Many cities around the world have started to even open this data to the public in order to stimulate innovation, I really hope Dubai and UAE can do thee same. Less accidents, Less CO2 emissions and less stress on the road are main benefits.  Check my previous article on opendata to read more about this topic.
  2. In order to improve quality of life, I think another important investment area should be around sustainability and greener lifestyle. Here also I am a proponent of environment opendata to stimulate innovation. Dubai and UAE would certainly benefit from measuring and exposing data like air quality, pollution levels as well as water and energy consumption.  Air Conditioning systems are in bad shape in many places here and lack of monitoring some of these environmental parameters could lead to chronic diseases.  To develop a Smart life means being more respectful about the environment, but to create awareness and change behaviors you need more visibility first.
  3. Healthcare is another area for investment. Now, while the quality of doctors here can be high, the administrative part is a nightmare, paperwork left and right, queueing here and there.  Now, this is probably not a quick win, but the move the electronic medical records is probably a big step to take as well as an introduction of remote patient monitoring solutions to deal with chronic diseases.
  4. Education is a tricky area, but I believe SmartCities will be cities capable of harnessing the right mix of local education programs combined with specialized Remote teaching capabilities from world class universities.  With technology the world becomes a smaller place, and that means that we can get access to educational resources that were out of reach before.  Video-conferencing, collaborative means that you can have very similar interactions with the teachers as when you are in the classroom. Another aspect of this development is that education could become a lot cheaper than it is today and hence become more affordable.

Smart Economy

  1. The smart economy is certainly about securing the infrastructure is continuously built-out to facilitate communications, logistics and production. Here I think tele-presence solutions provide an opportunity to facilitate Business-to-Business , Business-to-Government and Government-to-Citizen interactions. Less time spend on the road, waiting or idling will have a positive impact on productivity.
  2. Another aspect of the smart economy it is also about creating leaner administration and moving more jobs to the private sector. More jobs in private sector means also improving support systems for startups.  As I wrote in one of my previous articles cost of living and infrastructure is still to high to want to start a technology business here in UAE.  Maybe government needs to revise visa policies, provide housing support and finance startups to attract technology entrepreneurs.

Smart Tourism

  1. Digital signage could be further developed to promote events and provide tourist information services in strategic places.
  2. Voucher systems like the Dubai Entertainer or other coupon systems, need to be revamped so that you can get coupons in digital format. Just take the example of tourist visiting Dubai, likelyhood of him/her buying the entertainer at 100USD if he stays a few days is very low. Going digital gives you more flexbility in the offering.
  3. Automatic translation services could be used to provide relevant information to tourists.
  4. Now while many search engines are available to check flight availability, it is much more difficult to know restaurant availability. I would really love an application that can search for available restaurants that serve certain types of food.  Again if this type of data is made open and maybe brokered through the operator the applications will be developed.

Do you like some of these ideas? What are you thoughts and what would you like to see?