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The Smart City – Realising the possibilities

During our Blue Door Expo in October 2020 we explored the topic of smart cities, and what it is that makes them smart. We asked our expert panel what needs to happen to finally make the smart city a reality? What do we have to do to make town and city infrastructure smart by default?

Listen to the Blue Door Podcast, episode 12: ‘Smart Cities: what they mean for you’.

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A tangible, beneficial use case

Robert Franks is Managing Director of West Midlands 5G, a new organisation set up to accelerate the benefits of 5G throughout the region. For Robert, what’s needed is a service, or set of services, where smart city technology can make a genuine and measurable difference. It’s always easier bringing people together if you have a proven use case that delivers real and tangible benefits.

West Midlands 5G has focused on transport, for example. The region has three of the largest, most successful cities in the UK – Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry – but like many other UK cities, they suffer pollution and congestion. Employing smart city technology within traffic management centres could be all that is needed to get councils, businesses and citizens working together for a common purpose.

“I believe there are a whole range of outcomes around getting cities moving, and enabling them to be more productive, that make an exciting entry point for smart cities.”

Government, private enterprise and telco partnership

Steve Rose is Executive Partner at Bell Labs Consulting. Steve believes that delivering the services that make up the smart city requires the alignment of Government, private enterprise and the Telco sector.

For Steve, there’s a real opportunity to learn from government investment in enterprises like West Midlands 5G. We need to assess and review the extent to which government, private enterprise and the Telco sector are aligned, and able to take advantage of 5G and bring the 5G-enabled smart city to market.

Steve believes that the UK has already made an excellent start, but there’s a lot more to do. National infrastructure agendas need to consider societal problems, and solutions need to be developed that provide societal benefit. We can’t simply let hundreds of organisations to develop individual and disparate solutions to pivot for their own profit.

Fundamental questions

If we are going to make the smart city a reality, Alastair McMahon, Commercial Director – Smart Cities, Health and Mobility at O2, suggests that we need to start with a handful of fundamental questions:

  • What makes a successful place successful?
  • What causes a failing region or poor performing city to perform that way?

We need to understand where we are currently in order to identify where we want to get to in terms of our goals and objectives. And to do that, we need data, and the new computing power that increasingly we can access. Using data science, we can start to understand why certain cities struggle, while others remain successful through various economic downturns and periods of disruption. What makes them more adaptable?

Alastair believes that we need to try and understand the spatial and physical characteristics of our places better – and data science can help us to do that. It’s the data that will help us to identify what we need to do, and the investment that’s required. It may not simply be about introducing technology. There may be certain basic infrastructure that’s missing, which must be improved before considering the implementation of smart technology.

“I think if you just attempt to sprinkle technology on top then the fundamental reasons why places fail never gets changed.”

The technology is really exciting, but for Steve its role is as the enabler, rather than the solution itself.

Do you agree? What do you think needs to happen to make the smart city a reality?

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