Using information and communication technologies, and, more broadly, digital technologies, in cities must be part of long-term, sustained transformative visions to ensure that a city and its systems improve over time, says Huawei Enterprise Government and Public Utility Sector VP Edwin Diender.
‘Smart city’ refers to how city operations function as a system to unlock potential and drive initiatives that provide more valuable services and, more importantly, how the individual short-term initiatives add to the overall system and capabilities of the city.
“A smart city is not something you order and, after six to seven months, you have a smart city. It is not a single, standalone project and cannot be limited to one-off deliverables. Even in developed-country cities, smart city initiatives are often fragmented, resulting in a stop-and-go series of weakly related projects linked to the conventional ‘vertical thinking’ of divisions and departments.”
All smart city-related programmes and initiatives must have business outcomes as an objective, with clear deliverables, timeframes and financing. They must also have a horizontal approach to include a wide variety of stakeholders, whether city departments or private partners, to ensure that cities benefit beyond the life cycle of standalone projects, he says.
Further, the main agents responsible for smart city projects will also change over time. A horizontal approach that draws in a broad range of stakeholders will enable a smoother transition between drivers of different portions of broad smart city programmes and initiatives. This approach also helps to ensure that these initiatives augment the city’s capabilities and help it to move further up the value chain over time, explains Diender.
The cities of Nairobi and Mombasa, in Kenya, and Huawei Safe City partners are examples of how smart city projects reinforce one another and build out capabilities over time. These cities started with a focus on using smart city systems to improve safety and security, which resulted in bolstered local business and tourism.
This necessitated the improvement of mobile network infrastructure and the cities have subsequently been able to leverage the improved communications infrastructure to provide services directly and more efficiently for the inhabitants.
“The safe city initiatives were well received and the changes help governments to introduce process and back-end system changes. Departments are more comfortable with using information technology systems to improve routine services, such as providing electronic visa application and renewal functions,” he says.
This egovernance approach can also be broadened to include public utility payments, access to services and city information management and engagement with the people to make services more efficient.
Further, the city of Nairobi has a range of private smart city partners, including computing multinational IBM, which it leverages to change its governmental structures and processes.
“Most of the city administrations we speak to have a good understanding of the potential and benefits that digital transformation of cities can provide. This, however, often seems to be envisioned as an end goal.
“Our view is that the smart city concept is more about developing an ever-broader platform to support a wide and dynamic range of initiatives to crowd in the benefits of greater inclusion, job creation, socioeconomic growth and effective and efficient operations that will be the hallmarks of smart societies.”