Smart Cities Are Built On Collaboration

16 December 2021

Forbes News

Kalyn Sims, Forbes Councils Member and Chief Technology Officer of Hexagon’s Safety & Infrastructure division, focused on innovative new technologies for smart and safe cities.

 

When people think of smart cities, they often think of IoT and apps — and with good reason. The IoT-powered real-time monitoring of assets, infrastructure and the flow of people and goods in cities is crucial to understanding and improving services, while resident- and visitor-focused apps are important to delivering a positive customer experience.

But there’s something else — the thing behind the things. Success in smart cities is built on effective collaboration: sharing IoT and other data between diverse departments and organizations and then working together using that data and meeting citizen requests to provide better services and support for comprehensive public safety.

Unfortunately, collaboration is often the hardest part — a lot harder than deploying sensors or building apps. Many organizations give up on the idea of intra-organizational or inter-organizational collaboration because of past data-sharing implementation failures, whether from IT not living up to expectations or cost overruns.

Even more challenging than the IT systems, though, are the nontechnical barriers. For instance, data privacy is a huge issue and varies by country and region. Finding a balance between data sharing and privacy is no easy task.

City leaders also need the right regulatory and legal guidance for undertaking new and transformative efforts. Historically, the lack of smart city regulatory frameworks has been a huge barrier to wider adoption of smart city services. And whenever innovation and transformation come into play, there are always concerns about employee readiness and training.

U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., and Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y, recently reintroduced the Smart Cities and Communities Act to deal with some of these concerns and promote the use of smart city technologies in the U.S. Authorizing $1.1 billion in spending over five years, the legislation aims to address a wide range of issues, including enhanced federal coordination, efforts to make technology more accessible in suburban and rural areas, increased workforce skills training, improved cybersecurity and goals to foster international collaboration and trade in smart city technologies.

While support like this can surely help to reduce real barriers to oversight, funding and training, it’s not enough. Organizations also need to embrace a culture of collaboration internally to knock down perceived barriers. It’s important to make collaboration a priority or else it will never be achievable, and cities will lose out. We all talk about breaking down silos in terms of IT and data, but the biggest silos to break down involve legacy ways of working. “We’ve always done it this way,” doesn’t work in an age of smart cities, digital transformation and new and increasing citizen and customer expectations.

However, with a commitment to overcome both the IT and organizational hurdles, cities can create connected communities that collaborate around data to solve problems, whether for ad-hoc, routine or emergency-driven situations. This approach not only supports the IoT and app investments they are already making but also makes their overall smart city programs more substantive and impactful.

With the right mix of external support and internal commitment, city departments will be able to transform data and domain knowledge into collaborative ecosystems so they can quickly sense, decide and act as the city grows — which is surely the smart way to manage a smart city.