7 steps to becoming a smart city
Municipalities have always sought to provide top-quality services to their constituents as efficiently as possible. While the technologies involved today are a lot more advanced than, say, electric street lights, smart city services are born from a desire to be a good steward of public funds in the same way that innovations of the past were.
Becoming a smart city requires both a carefully articulated plan at the city level and a tremendous amount of support from the community at large. Using data to streamline city services is as much a matter of changing the physical components that make up a city’s technological footprint as it is an exercise in changing the very way that a local government thinks. In short, it can be a massive undertaking.
On the path to becoming a smart city, the first steps are the most crucial to your project’s overall success. Use this seven-step process to ensure that you are engaging your residents when necessary while also effectively managing the elements of your plan that are within your control.
1. Determine your immediate needs
Your community needs will drive which technologies and data you decide to collect first. As a city government, your priority may be anything from controlling local pest populations to improving transportation within city limits. You may even need a better system for managing existing assets. Review your existing processes and systems to identify areas that are in need of innovation, and create a preliminary wish list to inform your planning process.
Once you have conducted your audit, it is important to engage your community to determine what common pain points they are most vocal about. This can be done at a public forum or town hall meeting, or you can even hold a contest to determine the most innovative ideas that your citizens can come up with. Local insights will be invaluable as you decide where to most effectively allocate your resources, so get creative with how you solicit feedback.
2. Define what your smart community will look like
To get your community on board with your vision and start winning champions to your cause, you need to ensure that everybody is working toward a consistent set of goals. Smart cities are meant to be population-centric, so your goals should be measured against the impact your services will have upon the daily lives of your constituents.
You may even consider making a formal change to your city’s vision or mission statement to create a guiding light for your initial project and to provide a touchpoint to encourage future innovations. As an example, Columbus, Ohio “has a bold vision to be a community that provides beauty, prosperity and health for all of its citizens.” With this mission in mind, Columbus outlined a series of smart systems that led them to win the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart Cities Challenge in 2016.
3. Identify your business model
Many cities have a grand vision of what their smart city could look like, but not all communities can fully implement smart technology on their own due to budgetary or personnel constraints. You may be able to build, own and operate your own system, or a full public-private partnership could be attractive. Evaluate all of your options, including any models that exist between the two, to determine an implementation model that makes the most sense for your city.
4. Perform a gap analysis
In order to evaluate your existing infrastructure and identify the steps necessary to realize your vision, conduct a gap analysis. If you are unsure of how to get started, there are several templates and tools available online that can be found with a quick search. Focus on determining what types of data need to be collected, and be sure to identify the technologies you would like to use relatively early in your process. This way, you can identify the seams and overlaps between different systems, reducing the likelihood of incompatibility issues arising later in your implementation.
5. Outline financing and budgets
While your budget will inform your implementation model as noted above, at this stage it is imperative to focus on short-term, mid-term and long-term implementation ranges. Now is also the time to build a business case for any efficiencies that you expect to gain through the implementation of smart technology. Even this far along in the process, it never hurts to be able to sell the benefits of your vision if called upon to do so.
6. Capture the low-hanging fruit
With a clear view of your budget, identify and group existing assets that are readily scalable to city-wide use. For example, you may be able to integrate your existing transportation infrastructure with utilities and community services. This is the time to focus on the big picture, and you will want to have access to any data and visuals that will allow you to do that. Look to your geographic information system (GIS) or technology department to perform scenario analysis using digital mapping or similar platforms to understand potential areas where connectivity would be required and to identify weaknesses. Parcel data, zoning, and land use information available through location intelligence will all be vital when the time comes to scale your deployment following the pilot phase.
7. Develop and implement pilot projects
When the time comes to deploy your new smart systems, be as targeted as possible with how you roll out your pilot program. Start small in order to better maximize learning opportunities and measure your early successes, and look for an early win you can use to create momentum and positive buzz in the community. Regularly review your smart city vision against the available data to ensure your plan will grow with your community’s needs. If you are struggling to replicate early successes as you expand your offering, then look for patterns in the data that may illuminate ways that you can do so.
Ultimately, the long-term success or failure of any large-scale implementation of smart technology will be determined by the measurement and optimization efforts that take place after deployment. However, by mindfully applying these seven steps, you can be assured that your community has placed its best foot forward on the path to becoming a smart city.
Robert Szyngiel leads Product Management at DMTI Spatial, a Digital Map Products (DMP) company. He provides strategy and guidance to the data and software teams to assemble innovative solutions that leverage DMTI Spatial‘s location intelligence intellectual property.