Smart Cities: unlocking new opportunities with smart regulation & policy
Cities are ever more attracted by the potential of ICT to improve their own running and resource-efficiency – to become “smart cities” in other words.
Such ambitions may come from higher levels of administration with energy and climate change objectives – or in the form of public pressure for a better quality of life, environment or taxpayer value. Another motive is the continent-wide cut-back in public spending which has imposed financial stringency on all layers of government. Meanwhile, the digital ecosystem keeps creating attractive new services, adding market pressure to the smart cities context.
Nevertheless, while technology has already shown its benefits - in pilot or showcase projects - most cities in Europe still find it a challenge to make the jump to a higher level of digital capability. A number of factors are conspiring to slow the advance.
In particular, the uptake of smart city technologies is being hampered by a range of concerns connected with risk and confidence. Added to these are the problems that arise from handling new technologies and new contractual forms, in a context of multiplicity of Smart city technologies uses: lighting, waste management, energy saving, parking, road maintenance and integrated transport to name just a few.. Moreover often benefits are diffuse while costs are clearly focused. As a result, cities can find that selecting relevant and ‘future-proof’ technology solutions is a daunting task, in a context of fast technology evolution.
Considering these challenges, it may thus be better for cities to shift their priorities from traditional platform or system procurement into a new contractual paradigm in which they would pay for services to be delivered – conforming to defined economic, environmental and social targets. This would leave the provider to manage technology upgrades as needed, so long as users experience an uninterrupted service, and in the form specified. It might be called « innovation as a service ».
The EU institutions can help in a number of ways, primarily with better tailored funding measures – but also with expertise. The standards process, in this context, also needs a review. Meanwhile, progress is also likely to be faster if assistance is brought closer to cities themselves, with appropriate funding vehicles and expertise thanks to city clusters using shared ideas and best practices. Yet, the most disruptive transformation will be about moving from a mindset of service procurement into an ‘innovation as a service’ approach.
This paper reviews some of the obstacles faced by such projects and offers suggestions on how policy could play its part in turning our urban environments into smart cities of the future. It also considers the role of the EU and the way in which European-level action could be relevant.