Navigant Research Blog

Evolving Smart City Strategies: Five Trends and a New Challenge

— December 5, 2017

During research for the UK Smart Cities Index 2017, we had the opportunity to discuss the current state of smart city development with smart city leaders and other key stakeholders. They are now seeing years of work on developing city innovation programs coming to fruition as smart city programs become central to city strategies and successful projects are deployed at greater scale. This momentum is reflected in a number of emerging trends.

Bridges between Innovation and Operations

The leading cities have laid strong foundations for the development of innovation both technically (in terms of test beds and platforms) and culturally (in terms of a trusted ecosystem of partners). The challenge now is to integrate this innovation culture with the day-to-day operations of the city. These cities are strengthening the links between innovation teams and city departments. New pilots and demonstrations are also being more closely aligned to city strategies and priorities.

Emergence of City Platforms

Cities are developing more cohesive strategies for the deployment of new technologies. In particular, they are taking a more strategic view on the future deployment of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and the necessary communications infrastructure. These cities have deployed or are planning large-scale deployments of low power networks, are vying to be test beds for 5G technologies, and are looking at future fiber needs to support these ambitions.

From Smart Cities to Smart Places

Smart city programs are branching out to include multiple local authorities and agencies at different tiers of government. A city-region approach enables closer integration across a range of services and offers the benefits of scale when applying for funding or tendering for new services or solutions. It also enables smaller cities and towns to be involved in more ambitious programs. At the other end of the scale, there is a growing focus on the development of smart districts and communities within cities.

City Partnerships

There is a strong desire among city leaders to build more public-private sector partnerships. One of the most notable developments in this regard is the increasingly close relationships that smart city programs are developing with local universities. Universities are not only providing research support, but are also often active players in defining projects, securing funding, defining strategies, and contributing to or providing leadership of programs.

A Holistic View on City Challenges

The opportunity to take a more holistic view of city challenges is one of the foundational concepts of the smart city movement. However, it is much harder to achieve in practice. The leading cities are now taking their experience with diverse pilot projects to develop approaches that embed such a perspective in the design of programs, scoping of projects, and measurement of benefits. Some cities, for example, are combining this with a focus on smart districts or communities where the complex interconnection between transport, health, energy, housing issues, and innovations can be tested at scale.

Learning to Manage Risk

These positive developments are leading to fresh assessments of the challenges facing smart city initiatives. While funding unsurprisingly continues to be a significant issue, the most commonly cited challenge to the wider adoption of new technologies was the ability of local government to accept and manage the risks associated with innovation—in financial, organizational, cultural, and technical terms. Finding new ways for cities to manage these risks—and the role that the private sector, national government, and other partners can play in reducing or underwriting that risk—may be the most important innovation of all.

 

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