Are we there yet?
Doesn’t it feel like we are at the “tipping point” for Smart Cities? But then again, we might recall feeling this way last year and maybe even the year before that. Many factors, such as the number of recent smart city RFXs, the amount of positive interest and communication by public leaders, the immense capabilities of infrastructure, etc. indicate the holy grail of smart cities — to create a tangible positive impact in citizen’s lives — might be just around the corner. So why does it seem that we are often stuck at the intersection of innovation and scale? What is causing this congestion?
Why aren’t we there yet?
Why aren’t we seeing more cities blanketed with smart lighting, more intersections outfitted with Vision Zero solutions, or more communities with intelligent public safety solutions delivered at scale? Why aren’t we at the point where we are flush with metrics that prove the concept of smart cities?
To understand how we can get to tangible results that make a positive difference in the quality of all lives requires an understanding of our journey so far. So let’s dig in.
Over the past 12 years that I’ve been involved in this industry, I have noticed some trends in the phases of smart city evolution. For ease of use let’s call these phases 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0. Since every city is unique in its own evolution and varied technologies are in different states of maturity, the phases have less to do with their time in history and more to do with various states of readiness and objectives. Specifically:
- Readiness states – The level of “Smart City Readiness” from multiple aspects: Does the city understand the primary pain points they believe can be addressed with smart city solutions? How ready is the city to absorb new tech? How mature is the technology? Are vendors ready to support full scale deployment? How capable are the cities and their partners for long-term operations? Are cities and citizens receptive to the changes required? Do we understand the risks and what is the confidence to effectively mitigate?
- Objectives – What objective is the city wanting to meet? Are they wanting to learn about what is available? Do they have a smart city plan and are now ready to co-create with vendors on solutions? Or, are they ready to drive significant impact on a specific metric for the city at scale?
Depending on the readiness state and the objectives, the characteristics of the activities (including type of partnership, level of investment, amount of communication, etc.) should vary in order to obtain specific goals. Let’s explore each of these hypothetical phases in more detail.
1.0 – The Create Phase
The objectives in 1.0 focus first on understanding the city’s pain points and then how to use emerging technologies to solve those issues. Here is where we proselytize about the benefits of tech intelligently interfacing with objects to solve problems around traffic, parking, lighting, public safety, inclusion, sustainability, and citizen engagement. Here is where government leaders and infrastructure planners begin to see the tech trend as being inherently relevant to their ability to fundamentally improve the way city-dwellers experience their cities.
Characteristically, the Create phase is where critical dialogue between the public and private industry occur to learn what is available and what is possible. This phase is where city readiness begins by involving various members of the government, the citizens, and sometimes key local partners such as universities and non-government organizations (NGOs). New and often unexpected partnerships develop between industry segments and seed money begins to flourish to drive new innovation with entrepreneurs and startups. Here is where standards and protocols begin to form in preparation for scaled deployment. Together, solution builders begin to collaborate with mayors and city planners to craft smart city solutions that could be tested in an actual environment.
2.0 – The Innovate Phase
There is no hard, fast cut from 1.0 to 2.0, but the general demarcation between the two is the difference between a solution displayed on a PowerPoint presentation versus a solution demonstrated physically in city streets and operations centers. In other words, moving from marketecture to architecture and deployment.
The objective of the Innovate phase is to learn from tests, co-create with planners, and communicate with the community by providing a real-life glimpse of how vertical solutions like intelligent lighting, intersection safety, traffic data analysis, and safe cities technology can fundamentally change lives. The primary mechanism used in this phase are pilot deployments which are generally low cost or free in nature, small enough in size to minimize risk, and usually time-bound with short duration. Pilots accomplish the goals of innovation by allowing industry, cities, and citizens to work together to ensure that the technologies being deployed are providing the desired benefits.
A good pilot benefits both the industry and the city. For the industry, pilot data can drive product enhancement and new solutions, and for cities a pilot allows the city to improve their own readiness requirements to select the right solutions and absorb them more effectively. Pilots in the 2.0 phase are an incredibly important and critical component of smart city development.
One of the other benefits a pilot offers is reduced risk; after all, this was designed as a learning experience and the limited scope and duration of a pilot can be very appealing to minimize exposure in the community.
All over the world we see one pilot after another roll out as cities call for the latest smart city innovations. Private enterprise jumps at the opportunity to demonstrate their cutting-edge solutions, more than willing to install demos for free in order to show proof of concept that will ultimately lead to a return on investment (ROI).
Citizens weigh in at council meetings with equal amounts of encouragement and concern over how these new pilot initiatives—when deployed to scale—will affect their way of life. Could they get to work faster? How would they be safer, healthier? Would their privacy or data security be compromised? How would these initiatives benefit those in underserved communities?
The city in a 2.0 phase is understandably risk averse toward fully scaled solutions rolling out in their cities (remember when rideshare came to town?). In fact, many cities are still trying to figure out what solutions will best benefit the needs of their residents. And oftentimes they look to the vendors to provide suggestions, and more pilots, and more suggestions, and more pilots.
A bridge to nowhere
There is a misguided perception that a scaled smart city can be achieved through a plethora of disparate, low or no-cost pilots. Let’s evaluate what this approach would look like as applied to a more traditional infrastructure project.
Imagine a city determines it needs to build a bridge to help with traffic congestion. What if the city decided it does not have the ability to fully fund the bridge and it does not want to be “tied to” a small number of partners. What if they decided to work with fifteen companies and had each of them build a sample of the bridge to showcase how their solution is the best. That’s great while the city is evaluating the bridge, but when it comes time to actually build that bridge for general use, do you think the city could stitch together the fifteen different samples and call it done? How safe will you feel crossing that bridge of patchworked structures?
In the same way that you can’t build a bridge with demo parts, you can’t build a city’s core technology infrastructure with a multitude of pilots without a plan to convert to a scalable and sustainable model.
It’s not that the 2.0 model is flawed. In fact, an effectively measurable pilot is critical for any community serious about building to scale.
Risk of getting stuck in 2.0-land
Another risk of doing too many pilots without a plan to move to a scalable model is that with so many pilot options and so many vendors clamoring to make their mark in a community, smart city exhaustion begins to set in.
- Cities are meeting with an endless stream of vendors and work diligently to determine which solutions to deploy to get the best benefit with as little cost and risk as possible. This can be confusing and overwhelming and often leads to delays, analysis-paralysis, and general frustration.
- Vendors—both startups with limited capital and established businesses who are making significant investments—begin to tap out on their financial resources and patience for when the market will eventually turn from pilots to projects. This can unfortunately lead to investment reduction, consolidation or complete solution abandonment.
I love my freedom of choice just as much as the next person, but at some point the plethora of options can be deleteriously ubiquitous. Like spring break in Florida.
I often speak about smart city exhaustion from the city’s perspective where leaders are inundated with and exhausted by the multitude of vendors trying to sell them on the latest and greatest tech as solutions to their problems.
What I haven’t talked a lot about, however, is the effect smart city exhaustion has on the industry. I know from discussions with many of my counterparts that from the industry as a whole, there is significant concern over continued investments to deliver free pilots with little tangible connection toward a scalable business model. As a result, you see companies--many who have been involved in smart cities for years--start to either consolidate efforts under larger public sector programs or infrastructure, or reduce the amount of continued investment until the point in time where a sustainable business can be proven.
Why is industry exhaustion dangerous for cities? When the industry players begin to lose enthusiasm toward investing in smart city technologies, not only do the solutions suffer, but so do the cities and citizens.
2.0 done right
When the 2.0 Innovation phase is done right, both a measurable goal and timeframe of the pilot are clearly defined and the results inform on how the scaled version of the piloted solution should be implemented. The ability to take the results from a single pilot--even if it’s for a single vertical--and turn that into a full-scale, city-wide deployment where the results are objectively measured is what I consider to be 3.0-ready opportunity.
Implementing a good pilot is as much the responsibility of the industry as it is the city. Both parties must clearly lay out the groundwork for how this pilot will help get them to the goal of full-scale. The pilot doesn’t have to be the right technology or the perfect implementation; after all, the goal in this phase is to experiment and learn. What the pilot does have to do is provide citizens, cities and vendors with a well thought-out plan that describes how that 2.0 innovation moves into a 3.0 scale at the completion of the pilot, complete with realistic plans for funding, operations, execution.
3.0 – The Scale Phase
There’s no flashing neon sign or divine messaging that says you’re ready to sustain a 3.0 scaled model, but one telltale indicator is the point when the city is ready to be serious about moving a particular metric. They feel they understand how solutions can make a positive impact to the metric (1.0 phase), and they have co-created and tested it enough to feel confident in the benefits and their ability to manage the risks (2.0 phase).
The objectives of a metrics driven 3.0 model consist of defining results with a focus on long term solutions to the point where they make measurable improvements in a community. Those solutions need to operate in a way that holistically integrate within, and specific to, a city’s ecosystem and its unique pain points. Most importantly, the goal of the 3.0 model should be sustainable, where both the city and their trusted partners are committed to the same goals, not just for tomorrow or next year, but for the decades that follow.
The 3.0 model is primarily characterized by sustainable funding models and with detailed operational and execution plans that are long term in nature. There should also be a plan for on-going communications between industry, city and the community to outline the best opportunity for successful rollouts.
3.0 is also where models such as public-private partnerships (PPPs) become critical, where cities come together with vendors in an official capacity with the goal toward tackling issues of longevity, funding, and ongoing support.
Done right, a 3.0 model dovetails from a proper 2.0 pilot phase. For example, where 2.0 installs an intelligent lighting solution on a strip of road to see how much energy it can save, 3.0 blankets its city with 50,000 intelligent lighting nodes and a stated goal to achieve an additional 20% reduction in lighting energy costs above the LED savings and a 30% reduction in carbon emissions. Where 2.0 outfits a select few intersections with various public safety solutions, 3.0 implements a crime deterrent solution with the stated goal to see gun-related crimes drop by 30% year over year.
Where we are now
Are we, as a nation, 3.0-ready? The answer is that it varies by city and where they are at in the spectrum of readiness. The fact is that we still have a plentiful mix of 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0, where technology readiness and city readiness are still at different stages.
In terms of technology, developing solutions like autonomous vehicles and facial recognition, one can argue, might still be in 1.0, where several issues still exist around standards, protection mechanisms and reliability. Many transportation and public safety solutions--like Vision Zero or real time crime centers--are more in 2.0, where many cities have been conducting excellent trials and even some fully matured deployments. Intelligent lighting, on the other hand, clearly falls under 3.0 with mature solutions, repeatable funding models, and large scale deployments.
In terms of city readiness, every city is different. Some are ready for or have already implemented full-scaled 3.0 solutions, and are working closely with industry partners on new technologies they are needing to implement to move their metrics.
Given this criteria, and in my experience, most U.S cities fall within the 1.0/2.0 model, with notable exceptions like Los Angeles, Kansas, or Chicago. Internationally, we have several examples of cities that are clearly at 3.0 and beyond, where not only the cities have scaled verticals, but they are also integrating those verticals to seamlessly operate on centralized platforms—Dubai, Singapore, Barcelona to name a few.
Moving from the 2.0 world into 3.0 entails planning, goals, execution, commitment, and longevity, both from vendors and cities. This is why partnerships are absolutely critical for 3.0 to be successful.
This is where a company like Verizon can work collaboratively with cities on pilot programs and then also build them out to scale. We are that partner who has both innovation and commitment to sustainability, excellence, consistency, privacy, security, transparency, and most importantly, a proven ability to execute, which includes partnering with much-needed startups who continue to innovate in ways that only startups can do. We have been, literally, entrenched in cities for decades and are committed to the cities’ success for generations to come.
There’s no one solution that fits all. However, there are certain characteristics that will help us move forward: Collaboration, inclusion, trust, commitment, execution. That’s how we get to 3.0.
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