Talent [R]evolution

Governments want smart and sustainable cities, but expertise is crucial

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Smart and sustainable cities are a hot topic at the moment. The world over, people are looking at the way their cities operate and where the focus of functionality lies. For instance, citizens are asking whether their city is car-centric or has a fully integrated and egalitarian public transport network. They are also looking at technology. Are 5G networks stretching across the city and accessible everywhere? 

“A smart city is a liveable city. The ultimate yardstick of a smart city that works is when people want to live there and spread the word.”

– Peter Kamp (Freelance Enterprise, IoT and Data Architect)

Another major concern for people is how sustainable their cities are. Is the recycling they’ve painstakingly separated into different containers being properly processed? Where does the energy that powers homes and offices come from? These are complex issues with intricate urban planning solutions that vary from country to country. Just because it works in northern European cities doesn’t mean it’ll translate to all landscapes. 

Creating smart and sustainable cities should not just be the job of those elected into political office; it should be a task for all echelons of the civic food chain. Smart city experts, in particular, will play a crucial role in their implementation. Smart city experts are people with wide experience in carrying out infrastructure projects that focus on a design that is functional, effective and promotes sustainability, securing the future of the city for its population long into the future. 

However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution that works for every city and project. That’s why hiring a freelance smart city expert is a key solution for organisations focused on infrastructural change with a focus on sustainability. They’ll be a vital cog in a complex and interconnected machine, ensuring impact and longevity. 

Here, we’ll discuss the features of a typical smart city project, the functions of a smart city expert, and lay out a short case study demonstrating the value of this expertise. 

Who are the key stakeholders in a smart city project?

As the saying goes, it takes a village; and to get a smart city project off the ground, you could say it takes a city. There are many stakeholders involved beyond those directly involved in implementation and this is a big part of what makes these endeavours so complex.

The stakeholders involved in the creation of smart and sustainable cities start with local government and city authorities. These groups are made up of urban planners and municipal departments who provide liaison with key infrastructure such as water, energy, transportation and waste management.

Meanwhile, citizens and community groups represent specific interests and views, and often work to ensure inclusion and accountability in the initial stages of a smart cities project. The private sector provides essential communication and technology solutions, including IoT services and hardware, software and data analytics to enable the interconnectivity of the smart city. Governments may also need to outsource services, particularly in public transport to provide more efficient and competitive solutions.

Finally, universities and think tanks can provide essential research, expertise and innovation and provide best practices for smart and sustainable urban development. NGOs and environmental groups can guide projects to ensure they are aligned with national and international sustainability targets by advocating for environmental conservation. These same groups may also be made up of social welfare organisations that represent the views of underrepresented groups and focus on social equity and inclusion, ensuring that the benefits of smart cities are accessible to all citizens.

Why and when you need an expert on smart and sustainable cities

The stakeholder network is complex, as is the landscape. No city is the same; each has its unique issues and obstacles that need to be overcome when considering a smart city solution. In the past, just solving single smart use cases such as traffic control would be hugely beneficial on their own, answering issues of pollution and over-saturation of vehicles that would have knock-on effects in other areas of people’s lives. Today, however, issues that urban centre planners face are more diverse and the demands have become more far-reaching. 

Like in many industries, there are a wealth of benefits to employing a freelance expert to execute a project for smart and sustainable cities. As part of an integrated collaborative team, smart city experts bring ample experience owing to the nature of their work. They are not tied down to a single organisation or geographic location and therefore have a variety of work experiences that inform their decision-making. They know what has worked elsewhere and what hasn’t. Freelancers with different experiences have also had to face different challenges; different projects with distinct focuses will mean they are versatile to the unique hurdles that come up in every new project.

With the UN claiming that the number of people living in urban centres will rise by 600 million before 2030, the onus is on governments and appropriate organisations to ensure that this growth is managed sustainably. The ability of metropolises to continue to cope with vast populations shifting from rural to urban settings depends on various policies being approved and acted upon. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly though, many such policies are not without controversy and backlash. The 15-minute city idea laid root in Paris and seeks to ensure that people have everything they need within a travelling radius of 15 minutes from their homes. However, it has been accused of being a secret government plot to limit people’s freedom and take away their cars by people who largely misunderstood the benefits. Any progress made towards smart and sustainable cities will also face the daunting task of persuading detractors of the importance of these goals through communicating a neutral, fact-based view of current and future necessities in the urban space.

An expert needs to start by providing a full assessment and description of the problem that the city faces which will become a key document at the outset of the project. This assessment should be formed of the expertise garnered from researching other successful projects and from their own experience. Furthermore, most smart cities have rich histories of project development in their legacy processes and system landscapes which can be sources of information, showing potential successes and failures.

Smart cities and sustainability
There are many stakeholders involved in the creation of smart and sustainable cities.

What are the main functions of a smart city expert?

The main functions of an expert brought in to create a smart city begin at the outset of the project. This is when they need to make a deep-level assessment of the existing urban environment. The point of the assessment is to fully understand the context and potential reuse of existing solutions. This assessment should be made concurrently with a precise description of the smart city vision where the expert lays out what they plan to achieve with the transformation. 

Next up, the expert or team of experts needs to be able to justify their plans and make a business case for the development of a smart city. This business case needs to show clearly the benefits of the sustainability and scalability of the urban centre, and how doing so will benefit investors. One of these benefits will be how a holistic and interconnected city will attract business interests by providing an opportunity to work seamlessly. 

As part of the business case, an expert will need to develop the RFI (Request for Information) and RFP (Request for Proposal). These documents can be used to deliver precise requirements and use cases of the project so potential partners and providers can offer the best solutions. Then, through Q&A sessions the experts can perform a quantitative analysis of the consultancy, engineer’s advice and other responses.

The last step before the implementation of the smart and sustainable cities project is to support the contract definition and negotiation. Along with lawyers, this is where experts will ensure the best deal for project coordinators that ensures good value for the governmental organisation and other interested stakeholders. This is also the moment when quality insurance is sought for all steps of the process, from implementation to testing.

What skills should you look out for in a smart cities expert?

An expert working on a project like this needs a combination of hard and soft skills to support the proper implementation of a complex project. Among their hard skills, they need to be able to have diverse experience and utilisation of business and process analysis. They also need to have an understanding of the logistics and the technology behind what makes a city smart, including a working knowledge of and exposure to IoT architecture. 

Besides that, there are some key common issues experts face when building smart and sustainable cities that will require a solution:

  • Privacy and data security concerns: Building smart cities requires the collection of large amounts of data. An expert needs to have the security of individuals and citizens built in.
  • Addressing the digital divide: Not all citizens have equal access to technology or digital skills, meaning an expert needs to have a plan in place to ensure as many people as possible can benefit from sustainable and digital solutions. 
  • Interoperability and standardisation: Do the technologies used communicate and work with each other? For example, does access to a metro system also work on the connecting bus system? Do surveillance systems in one district communicate with another?
  • Citizen engagement: Promoting resident buy-in can ensure the success of the project, rooting its policies in what residents of the city actually require and want. However, meaningful engagement and bipartisan agreement can be difficult to achieve, particularly when the focus is on sustainability.

Case study: How do smart cities promote sustainability?

This case study shows how smart cities require that sustainability isn’t an afterthought but the defining framework of an entire smart city policy. With sustainability being a political hot potato, promoting it can involve overcoming many hurdles to acceptance. However, without sustainability built into the wider smart city plan, the whole project soon becomes unviable.

In the case of Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, a long-term solution was required to convince citizens that their cars were no longer necessary. The local government wanted to create a smart city that was interconnected, sustainable and allowed its citizens to travel around efficiently and quickly.

Stockholm has a quickly growing population, yet the local government has no intention of building more roads. Instead, they want to maintain mobility and commuting times, all while reducing CO2 emissions. Harsh northern winters provide an extra challenge that hardly incentivises people to forgo the warmth of their cars for walking or bicycles. As is clear, the authorities had a challenge on their hands. 

The method

To address this complex brief, they brought in an Outvise expert. This specialist in smart city solutions decided to implement a long-term strategy involving new urban plans that precipitated and encouraged people to walk more. The long-term strategy was necessary because of the practical implications of what they were doing; these kinds of projects involve real-time planning and implementation. The scale of the project meant that an expert who could oversee the whole operation was essential. Throughout the project, there needed to be constant iteration and manipulation of the urban environment with testing and research backing up results.

The urban environment was altered to make public transport far easier in contrast to driving. This was achieved by making public transport more cost-effective, efficient and sophisticated. IoT technology also helped to incentivise people to use public transport, offering personalised and precise travel data and times. 

These same systems were used to show how Stockholm’s citizens would be adversely affected by travelling by car, with reduced parking options and slimmed-down motor vehicle lanes. It soon became easy to see that public transport was a money and time saver, with guaranteed warmth in the winter months and quality connectivity to ensure essential communication can be continued on the move.

Summary of achievements:

  • Implemented a long-term strategy that involved real-time changes in the urban environment.
  • Testing of the outcomes through surveys and measuring changes in traffic.
  • Public transport was better integrated, making connections between urban and suburban transport options more easily.
  • IoT technology showed people how public transport would benefit their daily lives and be a more sustainable, cheap and efficient option.

The results

This holistic smart and sustainable cities plan has been a major success since its inception. No major roadworks have been necessary as a result of lower road use, which has an added benefit on emissions and maintenance costs for the city authorities. Since the project began, Stockholm county has shown the lowest per capita emissions in the country, which also holds true when comparing Stockholm to other western large cities, owing to the reduction of car use and increase of public transport, cycling and walking.

Stockholm became a smart, interconnected and IoT-adopting city that promotes sustainability by simply providing better and cheaper options to everyday necessities. Making changes to the physical environment that made driving harder pushed people to make more environmentally friendly, yet cheaper, choices.

Forcing people to adopt practices they deem annoying or difficult produces barriers and resistance to change. Making beneficial changes frictionless is key to high takeup. 

Summary of results:

  • No new major roadworks.
  • City boasts the lowest emissions in the country.
  • Smart public transport solutions changed the way residents understand the value of the network and take-up has been higher.
  • Project has been so successful that it has been emulated across the Scandinavian subregion.

Sustainability and connectivity make a city smart

Creating smart and sustainable cities is not an in-and-out job with quick fixes. It requires all levels of municipal government to be on board with changes and to have sustainability goals built into every decision. Thankfully, IoT technology and greater access to 5G connectivity provides solutions faster and easier, allowing standardisation to lead the charge on sustainability.
However, one of the best ways to ensure that this kind of project stays on target is by hiring a freelance smart city expert to leverage the power of experience and skill. Outvise is here to provide local governments with the specific, experienced and diverse expertise they need. Check out the network to see who could be the lynchpin of your project’s sustainability programme.

Freelance Enterprise, IoT and Data Architect passionate about Smart Cities, Smart Nations, IoT as well as Digital and Convergent Transformation Programs in the ICT Industry.

No comments yet

There are no comments on this post yet.