These days you need to be smart to be successful, and we turn to our partner Adrian Ulisse of Ethos Smart to tell us why cities need to be Smart.
Q: Tell us about Ethos Smart – what do you do; who are your clients?
A: We develop bespoke Smart City programmes in partnership with municipalities, that improve citizens’ quality of life, attract investment, create jobs, grow the local economy, generate new revenues for local government, and save money – all whilst protecting the environment.
We do this by crafting bespoke strategies that recognise the needs of multiple stakeholders, with the aim of delivering positive social, economic and environmental outcomes.
In essence, our Smart City programmes leverage advancements in information communications and technology to bring about improved integration and coherence in the way a city operates. Implementation delivers the information and tools necessary to allow authorities to respond to both the predictable ebb and flow of its citizens, as well as the unexpected, in a holistic manner that is intelligent, agile and efficient.
Our clients today include a range of both national and local governments, and together with our network of associates, we have worked on a variety of Smart City programmes and projects.
Q: Lots of cities want to be, or claim to be, a “Smart City”. What do they mean?
A: I don’t believe there is any one city that can truly claim to be fully Smart yet. The reason behind why it has proved so difficult is that cities are typically managed in bureaucratic silos. A Smart City requires these silos to be broken down, allowing a more integrated approach where the various aspects of a city operate together in real-time. In a simple example, we all know that the UK’s National Grid sees a surge in power demand at half-time during the FA Cup final, as half the population puts the kettle on, and doubtless this is helpful to the power companies in planning. But imagine if this paradigm were extended to a far more granular level, where algorithms were used to predict the needs of citizens, covering everything from electricity to roads, on a minute-by-minute basis, based on the whole TV schedule, the weather, performance of local sports teams, etc. With such a capability, peak flows could be reduced and spare capacity could be utilised, leading to more efficient use of infrastructure and a reduced environmental footprint. This is not an approach that I have seen, but do hope to be proved wrong soon.
So it is critical that Smart Cities have strong leadership and that stakeholders moderate their own self-interest (moderation being the first of Ethos’s three stated core values). Getting the municipality, power, transportation, water and asset management companies to collaborate around the needs of the citizen, entrepreneur or business is when a city becomes Smart. And when they do, they all benefit!
However, each of these entities has to sacrifice something and therein lies the challenge. If the costs are borne centrally, the benefits distributed and revenues fluctuate, where is the investment incentive? Now solving that problem would be Smart; and this is something we are working on.
Q: Are there any examples of cities showing some of the attributes of being Smart?
A: Yes! Having said there are no fully Smart Cities, there are some that have made some really positive steps in that direction. For example, there are many examples of innovative city projects, be that Smart Grids; LED street lighting; electric vehicle infrastructure; renewable generation and the like. Amsterdam, Malmo, Barcelona and Manchester are all examples of where pioneering work has been done. None has gone the whole way though, and I would argue that in addition to the challenge of crossing silos, there are other forces at work. What do I mean? Well, much of what has been done already has been developed in collaboration with large technology or energy companies who, if you excuse my scepticism, have inherent vested interests. Not that this is all bad; product and services providers have a lot to add. The problem is they often have a solution before they know the problem. And, they won’t necessarily look beyond their own generally restricted areas of capability and product line.
To return to my previous point regarding silos, internally developed programmes also have their issues. Not to put too fine a point on it, the bureaucratic and silo’d nature of municipalities is an inhibitor to collaboration and trust (the other two values of Ethos). To expect internal departments to work together for the common good, sometimes against their own narrow self-interest, without an independent arbitrator and facilitator is quite a stretch. To be fair, not every city is like this, but most are.
Q: What does a city (or town or district) need to do to become a proper Smart location?
A: If a city (or a town or district) truly wants to become a proper Smart location then it needs a Smart City programme that focuses, guides and governs the outcomes. And one that is created without a nod to vested interests. The city must let go of the reigns a little, by allowing an innovative commercial construct that incorporates an independent entity. This entity should protect the interest of the community and develop the programme in partnership with the city, but outside of the municipality’s organisational constrictions.
A successful Smart City programme requires what we call a higher order purpose or “City Identity” that describes the desired shared social, economic and environmental outcomes from the perspective of (most of) its citizens, in parallel with a political value case (the sales message from the politicians to voters). In short, if the proposition makes sense to the majority of citizens on both an emotional and intellectual level, it has a real chance of flying!
This then drives strategy, as well as finance, governance and value models. These models can then be used to attract funding for Smart City projects, which is something we can also help in. Without a long-term holistic Smart City programme, attempts to develop Smart City projects are rather like building the walls of the house before you have drawn up its plans.
Q: From your perspective, what is the typical programme and timeline of activities involved in making a Smart City happen?
A: We can establish a commercial construct in weeks; securing the mandates from the municipality depends on the will and drive of its leaders, but once this has been secured then things move pretty rapidly. Engaging and recruiting the citizenry can take a little time, but experience shows the arguments are easily made and pretty compelling – and anyway, who wants to live in a dumb city?
In 6-9 months the full range of key desired outcomes should be identified, along with the political value messages. Evaluation of existing and new projects will have been completed and the barriers to success identified; be that financial, legal, organisational or technical.
12 months in and the programme will be up and running, influencing project development so that they are “Smart” and nested within an integrated Smart City Programme structure.
The commercial vehicle that is the custodian of the Smart City programme should be self-financing, and this can be done in a number of ways. Funding can be secured through commercialisation of the ”big/open data” generated by local authorities through things like city app development and resale. Another revenue model is to charge Smart City integration fees to infrastructure or residential/commercial development projects, be that private or public, so that their projects can be part of the Smart City programme.
Over a two year period, one would expect to see some real impacts, from integrated systems creating new revenues, costs savings through reductions in energy, improved quality of life for the community and the beatification of the city to outside investors and potential new citizens…now that is Smart.