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The smart city ecosystem

27 June 2016

There’s no doubt that technology is a key enabler for smart cities. Improved performance in smaller form factors have opened up all kinds of theoretical possibilities. Ongoing reductions in costs have made it now possible to realise many of those theories.

But at heart, the creation of the smart city is not a technology issue. It has always been about liveability: about enabling a greater number of people to live together in comfort and with efficient use of limited resources. Cities that achieve this goal can expect to attract a greater number of businesses and individuals that can boost the local economy and continue the virtuous circle of creating an appealing place to live and work. Technology in this instance is the key enabler–but it is not the primary driver.

What makes this particularly challenging is that there is no single route to developing a smart city. Instead it is more about joining up a series of verticals like energy or transport. And since each city is unique, and has its own priorities and preferences, there is no single package of solutions that are universally applicable. The smart city is the very definition of a bespoke solution.

What’s more, the underlying competition between cities means there is little natural incentive to change this situation. Opportunities for sharing knowledge and experience are limited, when urban authorities believe themselves to be competing for economic advantage. The cost of technology may be lower than at any previous point, but the greatest economies of scale are available when it is packaged, commercialised and repeatable.

Finding a way to solve these underlying challenges is essential if we are to develop cities that can meet the demographic and environmental challenges we face. Understanding where opportunities for monetisation lie will be key to understanding vested interests, and establishing organisations who are willing to invest and drive solutions–whether they are from the vendor ecosystem or city organisations themselves.

The recent Paris COP21 agreements may also prove to be a game-changer, by giving democratically elected governments incentive to mandate carbon reduction measures–in which smart transport, smart buildings, and smarter energy distribution play a critical role.

There could be an opportunity for cities to create turnkey solutions and offer these as a revenue-generating consultative service to others.

Technology for smart cities is being developed by a broad ecosystem of players. The emphasis is on interoperability and ease of integration. It seems likely that moving forward plans for smart cities will require a similar focus on developing an interoperable, mutually beneficial ecosystem.

 

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My City, My Life

Valérie Plante, Mayor of Montréal

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