With increased urbanization come a myriad of problems for cities in terms of infrastructure, economic development and sustainability. To effectively tackle these issues, local and national governments as well as Internet of Things (IoT) providers globally have been keen to forge partnerships and launch initiatives. Amongst them, the pursuit of the fabled ‘smart city’ has been one of the most hyped and often the resulting benefits have been few and far between. As a result, identifying specific needs and engaging local communities is key to the success of smart city projects, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.
There have been successful ‘smart city’ projects. For example, Orange Business Services (OBS) has enjoyed success working with Saudi Arabia on large-scale projects in the Kingdom. OBS has helped ski resorts identify where visitors are travelling from and how they can make it easier for them to visit their resort.
Joel Stradling, Technology Analyst at GlobalData, says: “This is not strictly a smart city program, but the projects point to important aspects of why projects seeking to use technology to aid communities can succeed and fail. Many of the large-scale smart city projects that have succeeded have been in political environments where governments can more easily force through technological and cultural changes. Even in these instances, it is often when building new cities or within regeneration projects in existing cities.
“In contrast, in liberal Western democracies, there are more material concerns about what data is used, how and for what purpose, making the move towards adopting smart city solutions more politically challenging.”
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is one important factor in Europe in particular. Technology companies are becoming more cautious in how they use even anonymized data due to GDPR. The upset caused by the Cambridge Analytica scandal and other high-profile data leaks such as Dixons Carphone breach in the UK have increased public awareness and fostered political caution.
Beyond data security, there are cultural concerns as to whether smart city technology may become coercive and force certain behavior patterns, which may benefit local authorities or enterprises rather than the population as a whole.
Stradling continues: “OBS success in helping ski resorts highlights an important route to success—targeting a clear objective. Smart city projects often start with a grand vision and no detail. Identifying specific needs increases the chance of success. Demonstrating clear benefits can also increase the likelihood that local citizens will support and engage with the project.”
In July 2018, Deutsche Telekom has partnered with the German Association of Towns and Municipalities to launch a new initiative: The Executive Program Digital Cities and Regions. The partners plan to develop intelligent, bespoke smart city solutions that cater to the specific needs of towns, cities and communities in Germany.
Stradling concludes: “This program has not succeeded yet, but it points to a better way of delivering smart cities. Deutsche Telekom has put identifying specific local needs and engaging local communities at the heart of its program and stands a greater chance of delivering material benefits.”