• Phil Todd

What are the 2020 challenges of becoming a Smart City?

Andrew Parkin-White explores the challenges facing would-be smart cities in 2020.

There continues to be significant hype surrounding smart cities. In reality, many cities are in the early stages of becoming smarter. Cities need to overcome a range of barriers and challenges if they are to be truly smart. Implementation of ‘smart solutions’ is difficult for a number of reasons that we highlight below.


Smart city solutions promise to offer socio-economic and environmental benefits. In practice, these benefits can be difficult to define, quantify, and achieve. City leaders pay much attention to the business case, as this is typically how they evaluate for example, IT solutions. A straightforward solution, such as intelligent street lighting or waste management, will have a clearer return on investment. Achieving less tangible and quantifiable benefits can prove difficult to demonstrate and come with a much higher risk profile.


Scaling up to a full smart city solution from a pilot or demonstrator trial is often a step too far for many cities. A city may have received funding from central government or the EU to set up trials and demonstration projects. A full implementation may prove tricky as smart city solutions tend to span multiple directorates in a city and convincing these departments to release funds is problematic. Hence we see numerous examples of successful trials that fail to scale up.


Funding for smart cities can be a real issue for cities as there is an intense pressure on budgets and finding funds for new smart projects may prove extremely difficult and time consuming. One key to unlock funds is to align smart solutions with urgent central or local initiatives or objectives, whilst making sure the timeline can deliver quickly. Picking fast and relevant applications is crucial.


In fact, the silo working of many cities and local authorities can be a real show stopper with many cities lacking the ability to coordinate activities. A smart city solution often spans multiple directorates in a city and aligning the objectives of these different groups can prove problematic, particularly as far as procurement and budgets are concerned.


Smart city infrastructure can be a challenging. Rolling out city wide networks requires a careful choice of technologies for sensor networks and for data capture and analytics. Cities need to work in partnership with a range of technology vendors and ensure that their networks have interoperability with existing infrastructure and ideally offer a standardised solution.


Engagement with citizens is fundamental to the success of a smart city implementation. It takes time to understand the groups that the solution will target and to educate and encourage them on how to use it. Many more successful solutions are designed with the citizen at its heart where they co-creators of the service.


Successful smart city implementations have often overcome many of the above these issues by creating a dedicated team that can develop new processes and operating methods and that has the authority to challenge and change existing practices.


Becoming a smarter city is a complex undertaking and requires tenacity to achieve the objectives of the proposed solution and to overcome the challenges and barriers. The potential upside is significant and successful smart cities are already reaping the rewards.

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