Former Premier of the Soviet Union Vladimir Ilyich Lenin famously posited that there are decades where nothing happens and weeks where decades happen.
According to IDC’s European head of government insights Joe Dignan, this accurately summarises what has occurred in the public sector during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Although the sector was already travelling towards citizen-centric digital transformation, progress was slow because the funding and burning platform for investments weren’t there,” he says. “The pandemic has been the biggest game changer in the past 30 years and digital transformation is now paramount for survival.”
Faced by the need to build resilience post-Covid and become sustainable to reduce climate change, governments are focusing on making cities smarter.
“Smart cities aren’t new – humans have strived to improve how society operates for centuries and some of the first smart city solutions were the well, animal stockades and the wheel,” says Dignan. “There’s a proliferation of technologies that can transform how governments operate cities and deliver public services, including internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, automation and digital twins. Yet, most have struggled to implement more than small point solutions because nobody has the concomitant authority and budget to implement holistic, city-wide solutions.”
Now that bodies like the European Union have committed billions to fund post-Covid recovery, governments have the opportunity to invest in full-scale smart city initiatives, says Dignan. “Such funding is unprecedented in the public sector, and it must be spent within the next few years. Around 1,000 cities worldwide aim to become carbon neutral by 2050, so there’s never been a better time to rethink our approach to smart cities and invest in joined-up solutions that will make them more connected, efficient and sustainable.
To ensure success, however, governments must develop sovereign data exchange platforms to collate and synthesise data from all their point solutions. “This is the only way they can understand how citizens interact with public services and identify opportunities for improvement,” says Dignan. “It will also help governments to create new metrics to judge the impact smart city technologies will have on mobility, citizen health and more, allowing them to build solid business cases for investment.”
Technology vendors should also rethink the types of smart city solutions they are designing. “Rather than pitching smart cities at wealthy citizens via slick videos of photogenic people talking to their mirrors or fridges, they should develop essential solutions for citizens who depend on government-provided social and healthcare services, such as the blue-collar workers or single parents living on benefits,” says Dignan. “IDC predicts sustainable homes and buildings will be a priority.”
When planning smart city deployments, governments should seek inspiration from organisations that are deploying IoT networks, AI, machine learning, analytics, edge computing and other technologies to optimise resources, improve the user experience, and more. “Smart islands like Jersey in the Channel Islands are also a fantastic example of what’s possible on a larger scale,” says Dignan.
This article was originally published in the Winter 21/22 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.
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