- Most city and county leaders do not consider "smart cities" and their corresponding technology solutions to be among their most pressing issues, according to a CompTIA Public Technology Institute (PTI) survey of CIOs, CTOs and related tech staff within local and state government. The survey was conducted in early 2020 before the new coronavirus (COVID-19), but "if the survey instrument was administered today, local government CIOs would most likely feel less optimistic about technology budgets, workforce development, and operational priorities," the report writes.
- Only 25% of the 102 leaders surveyed reported having a "smart" strategy in place, and only 10% said they believe smart projects are met with "significant enthusiasm." Limited IT budgets — which at the time, were only predicted to rise 1% to 5% by the next two years — were cited as a reason for a lack of strategic smart city development, and over one-third felt the potential return on investment for smart city projects is unclear. Respondents also emphasized a greater need to invest in cybersecurity.
- The leaders who do have a smart strategy in place are focusing their work on areas that can benefit the public most broadly, like digitizing government services and enhancing civic engagement. They are also slowly experimenting with smart street lighting as well as emerging technologies like 5G, drones, artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT).
Faced with growing ransomware and cybersecurity threats, PTI Executive Director Alan Shark said in a statement it is "understandable" that cities are focusing on security rather than other tech-based initiatives. And with thousands of employees telecommuting in the wake of COVID-19, those cybersecurity initiatives have taken on a renewed importance.
But as the demand for cybersecurity rises, it's possible that many smart city initiatives may be shelved or canceled altogether due to financial restraints. The pandemic is "blowing massive holes" in city budgets, according to experts. And in a poll of more than 2,400 local officials, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) and National League of Cities (NLC) found that the vast majority expect to see "painful reductions in revenue this year."
An interest in emerging technologies, however, is notable. Local officials are looking for ways to go beyond simply maintaining and safeguarding their networks by adding new and emerging technologies to their toolbox," Shark said. An increasing number of cities are using AI in a variety of ways, including through relatively simple applications like online chatbots, while 5G is seen as the next frontier in improving cities’ connectivity.
"If there is any bright spot in the pandemic it is the fact that city and county technology professionals have largely risen to the occasion and need to be recognized for their competencies and innovative ways at solving problems," Shark wrote.
Finances will weigh heavily on any new initiatives as cities face immense financial headwinds after the coronavirus. Of those polled, just over half said that their budgets are only around 75% of what they originally targeted. And as cities start to count the cost of the coronavirus and face some hard choices ahead, those appropriations could be reduced dramatically.