The perfect storm to realise the potential of smart cities

The perfect storm to realise the potential of smart cities

Unsplash/Hugh Han

Unprecedented events, partner ecosystems and an influx of funding will help the public sector

Joe Dignan |

The pandemic, climate crises, geopolitical conflicts and other unprecedented events of the past few years are forcing governments around the world to reconsider how they approach everything from transport to building management. 

The concept of smart cities has been long talked about but has yet to come to full fruition. However, we now have several factors coming together to create the perfect storm for the public sector to make good progress to achieve it.  

There has never been such an exciting time in the industry. We’re experiencing an influx of investment through stimulus funding of around €782 billion ($901 billion). Available to European governments, this money must be spent on the public sector before 2027. Of this, 37 per cent must be spent on climate-related activity and 20 per cent on digital transformation.  

Such a significant investment has attracted the attention of the technology vendor community; they want to know what they can do in the public sector, and specifically within cities. There are some major challenges ahead, which I call ‘the five survival basics’: energy, water, food, homes and identity.  

Energy is the top one, and I don’t think that’s going to change very quickly. Water is second – water tables are dipping below retrievable levels. The UK’s water systems really highlight the lack of investment in infrastructure, for example, with Northeast London still using wooden pipes that were laid in the 18th century. 

Smart homes are also critically important, and it’s a major area of interest in which the public sector can really influence what is being developed. Local authorities are now creating the master plans for built infrastructure and are demanding innovations, such as smart lighting, 5G, digital twins and circular economy technologies for their citizens.  

Until now, technology companies have tried to sell holistic solutions directly to cities but not seen much traction because no one has the concomitant authority and budget to implement city-wide solutions that make a real difference. We are now seeing new ecosystems developing as these vendors have realised the value of taking a channel approach, where they work alongside architects, engineers, construction firms, commercial real estate companies and others to build an interconnected, data-enabled infrastructure for cities.  

As part of this, these stakeholders are being forced to consider how they provide technologies for the full life cycle of buildings. They no longer just design buildings, they must now design, build, maintain and demolish and recycle them. It’s in their best interests to make sure that these structures are both sustainable and cost-effective while they are in use, and once they have been demolished and recycled. That’s a big change for them and they need the technology – such as digital twins – that will allow them to make the best use of the facilities they have.  

Joe Dignan is European head of government insights at IDC 

This article was originally published in the Autumn 2022 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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