The biggest issues we face in implementing Smart City initiatives are not about the technology itself but rather the problems that arise when we try to put ideas into action.
As a research community, we talk about things like sensor power, sensor performance, and so on. We see neatly crafted Smart Cities diagrams, and we talk about how clever they are. Then we go out into the field, into the cities, and find that those linear steps of A, B, C and D have unraveled into a tangled web of dynamic relationships. We find integration and business processes to be just as challenging as technology. And we find ourselves asking, “How can we align all the stakeholders to come together and achieve a sense of collective responsibility and common purpose?”
A survey by The Climate Group provides insight on what those challenges are, and many of these themes were brought up during the Summit. In this survey, 50 cities were asked about issues related to Smart City projects, and findings include:
- Procurement processes are not designed for quick update of ‘new’ solutions (44 percent).
- Finance itself, or the fact that it is difficult to get priority around the limited funding options available (64 percent).
- Pilots require funding and that funding is difficult to obtain (64 percent).
- Partnerships with the private sector are required but difficult to manage (16 percent).
- City systems don’t ‘talk’ to one another, a problem of data sharing (32 percent).
- Many technologies or systems lack a credible business model to sustain them (30 percent).
- Too great a focus on the short-term benefits instead of long-term sustainability (26 percent).
- Relevant city operators are not aware of the full benefits (22 percent).
- Unable to create a strong value case for the investment using existing data (14 percent).
People and Politics
- The solution requires multiple departments to align (74 percent).
- Progress is slowed by elections or other political cycle challenges (38 percent).
- Departments or employees resist the implementation of disruptive systems (34 percent).
- There is too much risk for politicians to be the first movers to test new technology (10 percent).
As we look at specific Smart Cities projects in Ireland, we do see these problems occurring. For example, the Dublin Docklands project involves providing new commercial tenants for the Docklands area, and the questions that have surfaced include who will cover the costs, how will revenue be generated, who will receive the revenue, and what is the stakeholder value chain? We also see mismatches in expectations, including expectations about timelines, the length of time needed to go from pilot to fully-scaled solution, and collaboration intentions.
One recent activity that holds a lot of promise in exploring and making progress on these challenges is the Irish Smart Cities Forum. The intent is to get each of the cities in Ireland to share their experiences, to collaborate, and to identify challenges so all Irish cities can move forward in their Smart Cities endeavors without reinventing the wheel or running into mistakes that have been made elsewhere.
These are things we also have to think about as a research community. We are in denial mode if we think that these problems have been solved, or that the issues we face are purely related to the technology itself. By reframing the problems surrounding Smart Cities, we can address practical issues and make better progress during implementation.