Editor's Note: This piece was written by Susanne Seitinger, global smart cities lead at Philips Lighting. The opinions represented in this piece are independent of Smart Cities Dive's views.
Let’s face it: The idea and potential of a smart city is enormous.
It calls up the image of an idealistic future state in which the infrastructure of your city or municipality is a living, breathing entity. Cutting-edge technology helps you interact with your surroundings in a whole new way, enhancing your experience of city life and improving the services you rely on daily.
Building smart cities is a truly imperative objective, and one that many of us in the public, private and nonprofit sectors have devoted our life’s work to enabling. However, the process of getting from point A (today) to point B (this future state) can feel incredibly daunting. Even with the best of intentions, it’s all too easy for civic leaders to become overwhelmed by the size and scope of such an undertaking, particularly in deciding where to begin. And perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise.
At the core, deploying smart city infrastructure necessitates increased cooperation among disparate departments, a way to process critical data in real time that has historically been consumed in only intermittent bits and pieces, the implementation of new ways of working for everyone involved, the integration of technologies with new operational approaches. And the realities of constrained budgets, growing populations, aging infrastructure and accelerating pace of innovation haven’t disappeared either.
But the good news is that the path from point A to point B is becoming increasingly well-traveled. Many of us are learning from and iterating on the incremental steps decision makers around the globe can take to make their lives easier as they set out on this incredible journey; and I’d like to offer an important few.
1. Think unity. So much of the effort to becoming a smart city requires navigating pre-existing systems, structures and ways of doing things. Smart cities inherently disrupt the status quo, so advocating early for the creation of a cross-departmental entity that can transcend bureaucracies and facilitate your smart city projects is essential.
The most common and effective cross-departmental structure is the development of a Smart City Department that reports directly to the mayor or city manager. Some cities have also grouped public works departments together in news ways or rethought how operations and long-term planning might better intersect. These units manage the innovation process, engage key employees from various city agencies and bring together relevant stakeholders to make all the necessary tech investments. And most importantly, the department continuously connects back to the public’s wishes and needs by measurably demonstrating to them the benefits of the investments being made on their behalf.
2. Think systems of systems. Since a primary end goal of a smart city is inter-connectivity and operability, allowing different systems (like transportation and law enforcement) to communicate, it is critical to get ahead of the curve and start thinking about the core technological platform you will use to make that happen. Smart city platforms are typically based in the cloud, which enables the rapid deployment and testing of new, scalable systems that residents, local businesses and communities expect.
Having a clear and definitive point of view on how your city’s smart systems will build upon one another will make your ability to promote the overarching concept of smart cities easier and more digestible to your constituencies along the way. Similarly, starting your smart city initiative with a project that is likely to immediately resonate with the public will pay off in dividends of support and even advocacy in the long run.
3. Think lighting. While this recommendation may come as no surprise from a lighting company, any city — regardless of size, geography or demographics — is already outfitted with a ubiquitous, reliable and powered infrastructure that often goes under-recognized in the smart city conversation. City lighting is everywhere in a city that people are. Connected public lighting is a sensible starting point for any smart city initiative, both for its fiscally responsible energy savings outcomes and for the immediate gratification that city administrators and the public can see firsthand when they’re walking home at night. Not to mention, the potential of streetlights to become a pathway for new civic services and benefits like public Wi-Fi, smart parking, EV charging stations, traffic controls, air quality measurement and noise monitoring, autonomous vehicle communication, location based positioning, tectonic activity monitoring, sensing roadway conditions and those are just the tip of the iceberg.