Navigant Research Blog

Smart Cites Are Shifting the Focus from Technology to Outcomes

Eric Woods — August 19, 2016

SmartCityNavigant Research’s latest Smart Cities report highlights how the smart cities market is entering a critical phase. The drive toward connectivity, real-time data, and embedded intelligence is expected to accelerate the availability of smart solutions for core city services and operations over the next 2 years. However, many cities still need to be convinced that such solutions can deliver real benefits against their key priorities. One of the biggest challenges therefore is to make a link between successful technology pilots and large-scale deployments of solutions that benefit a broad spectrum of city service users. Pilot projects that focus on the viability of specific technologies have their benefits, but the real requirement is to show how specific solutions can deliver real outcomes for cities within a realistic payback period.

One challenge is that the relatively small scale of most pilots makes it difficult to build a substantial business case to support wider deployments. For this reason, leading cities are now shifting their interest to demonstration projects that show a strong emphasis on both measurable outcomes and supporting business cases rather than technical viability. However, as we highlight in the report, there is often a funding gap between smaller demonstration projects and larger scale programs that can provide real evidence of scalable benefits.

A Focus on City Outcomes

It will be interesting in this regard to watch the progress of Columbus, Ohio as it implements its program funded by the US Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. The award was worth $50 million, but the addition of an extra $90 million from a group of local businesses puts Columbus in an enviable position and makes the project a particularly interesting experiment for other cities. The combination in Columbus of a strong focus on city outcomes around social inclusion and inequality and sufficient funding to make a real difference precisely meets the bill for the next generation of smart city initiatives.

An encouraging development generally is that both cities and suppliers understand the importance of this shift to a focus on outcomes in smart city projects. Navigant Research’s white paper on smart city progress in the United Kingdom, for example, found a strong emphasis on developing outcome-focused programs in leading cities. Similar thinking also underpins the latest European Union-funded large-scale smart city demonstration programs that are using the concept of lighthouse cities to develop replicable solutions that can be tested in associated follower cities.

Innovation and New Approaches

Examples of supply-side innovation include AT&T’s work with partners and selected cities to demonstrate the concrete value of multi-application programs to cities. Another interesting approach is Cisco’s work with a number of national governments on Country Digitization Acceleration programs that aim to address the barriers to the adoption of digital technologies in key sectors of the economy, including cities.

Smart Cities Week in Washington, DC in September comes at a timely moment to discuss these developments and review progress on smart cities across North America and globally. I will be attending and look forward to discussions with city leaders and suppliers on how cities can further accelerate innovation and realize the benefits of smart technology on city services. Let me know if you would like to meet up at the event.

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