The smart cities concept has gained a lot of attention lately and it will most likely continue to do so in the future. Cities are publishing smart plans, related conferences are trending and more and more books are being written on the subject.

Smart technologies can provide solutions for cities by helping them save money, reduce carbon emissions and manage traffic flows. But the complexity of the agenda is hindering its progress. It involves a large number of stakeholders (local authorities, citizens, technology companies and academics) each having their own vision of what a smart city should be; most of the debate gets bogged down on trying to understand what ‘smart’ means rather than focusing on how it can help cities meet their goals. Moreover, since the market for smart technologies is relatively new, it needs new business models and ways of working which are yet to be developed and implemented.

At present, this market is getting substantial support from the UK Government. Cities, the private sector and communities are increasingly recognising that they need to work together in order to make the most of the smart agenda.

Cities should find their own definition of what ‘smart’ means, mainly by:

  • Integrating smarter technologies with their economic development and public services plans and considering how technology or use of data might help them achieve existing objectives more effectively
  • Focusing on pragmatic approaches
  • Adopting a participatory approach to setting and delivering strategies and initiatives.

Cities can also start joining up efforts across departments, releasing more of their data, learning from international case studies on what works and what doesn’t, joining new networks, and collaborating with the private sector and other partners to test products and identify new business models to take projects forward.

The private sector should:

  • Work in partnership with cities on designing products and services that are financially viable and respond to local needs and challenges
  • Publicise international solutions that might be replicated in the UK and partner with cities to test new products
  • Work with relevant parties on identifying and building the business models needed to enable to take projects forward.

The Government should continue to make funding available to test new products and initiatives and also make sure that:

  • Efforts are coordinated rather than isolated (across the different Catapults for example, where there is currently a risk of unintended duplication)
  • Initiatives like the Smart Cities Forum involve representatives and gather insights from all the relevant sectors
  • Interventions stay flexible and steer away from focusing on certain sectors/initiatives, recognising that cities have varying needs and challenges.