Conference round up

How a ‘joined-up’ approach to technology solutions will help councils create truly smart cities


At last month’s Smart to Future Cities Conference in London, our CEO Nick Wilcox took part in a panel discussion to share his thoughts on the impact of siloed projects on the overall effectiveness of a smart city strategy.

Nick reflects on some of the points raised on the day and looks at key factors that local authorities should consider, in order to future proof any new technology solutions for their town or city:

Is a city with lots of isolated pilot projects really smart?
In our experience, integrated project pilots that share data and utilise intelligence from various applications, as part of an overall smart city scheme, are smart. If a number of siloed projects use different technologies or suppliers, the data and information collected is only of use to those individual applications.

Working in this way could mean that local authorities miss out on opportunities to gain greater insight, eliminate duplication and identify underlying issues.

By enabling projects to share data and feed into a single network and data aggregation layer, local authorities have access to better insight from complementary, crossover projects, such as a transport and environment projects.

Local authorities running smart city pilot projects, even siloed ones, is a big step in the right direction.

Firstly, it shows courage in identifying the key issues and then starting on the journey to see how smart technology can improve the lives of the people who live and work in their towns and cities today.

I believe that, within the context of smart cities, doing something is always better than doing nothing.

At the conference, Theo Veltman, CTO Amstelveen and Innovation Rainmaker for City of Amsterdam raised the point that isolated pilot projects are notoriously difficult to scale up, resulting in the project fading out before making a substantial impact.

This is a huge problem for the evolution of smart cities.

If done well, however, pilot projects can become feasibility studies that can reveal potential cost savings, revenue opportunities and help to initiate crucial community engagement.

They should be able to evidence whether the challenge and the need has been met, and whether the right technology has been deployed for the right problem.

Having said this, if local authorities have already been running lots of isolated smart pilot projects it is not a problem.

The key will be for them to find a supplier who can import and aggregate the data from those multiple project sources into a single data management layer for analysis and reporting.

Similarly, for those who haven’t started yet, now is the time to choose a supplier who can ensure joined up thinking across a local authority, its departments and any associated bodies, like Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and Chambers of Commerce to make sure pilot projects are aligned with the overall town, city or county objectives.

The chosen supplier should be able to provide an ecosystem with the ability to aggregate data from all sensors and applications and enable sharing of that data, both real-time and historic, between technologies to increase their effectiveness.

How can local authorities implement smart infrastructure to underpin multiple initiatives?

We speak to many councils and different departments within a local authority. They all have great ideas about how smart technologies can help them provide more cost effective, sustainable services to their local area.

We do find, though, that many do work in isolation, with multiple departments scoping and budgeting for the same underlying network infrastructure that only needs to be factored in once and can be used for most smart applications across the council.

That’s why we have developed CountiNet, a free, secure Low Power Wide Area Network designed specifically for local authorities, that will enable them to focus on, trial and pilot new smart technologies without having to worry about the network or technology required to support them.

And let’s not forget that smart infrastructure can also relate to areas like smart transport infrastructure, which is a key component of making a town or city a smart tourist destination.

So whether that’s improved traffic flows, connected public transport or smarter parking, a smart transport infrastructure not only improves the mobility of those who live and work in the town or city, it can also form the foundation of a smart tourism strategy to make it easier and more attractive for tourists to visit.

Making smart cities deliverable for local authorities

Our advice to councils embarking on a smart city journey is not to worry about trying to solve everything all in one go.

Identify the needs you have today and explore the technology available. An LPWAN network can help councils test smart technologies quickly and easily by providing a cost-effective foundation network to add smart city applications to. Start with small scale pilots: test, improve, show a return on the investment and evidence the effectiveness of the technology before rolling out on a larger scale.

It is important to remember that while you are trying to develop a ten-year strategy, the challenges will still exist.

Nick Wilcox, CEO, Giosprite