A smart approach to smart cities

By Simon Weaver

When looking at Europe’s smart city readiness, the UK is behind on its smart city targets and is at risk of falling behind other European countries, according to research from Citi Horizons. Over 80 per cent of the 187 UK councils asked to take part in this research had limited awareness and little to no involvement in smart cities. The report also warned “it is clear that councils are unable to make smart, connected cities a priority”. 

But how does a community become smart? The process is no simple task. Budget constraints, identifying priorities, finding best practice, navigating intricate technology, and engaging business and the community are all challenge areas.

Clearly this is a major problem – it’s not just that communities are struggling to prioritise for future programmes; an underlying problem may be that the primary conditions for a successful smart community have been overlooked: It is essential to have in place the right people with the right mind-set. The prevailing culture must be data driven and apply scientific analysis, it must nurture new ideas, enable risks to be taken and be dynamic enough to hone in on adoption of what is successful. Only then can real progress be made.

GIS technology, which combines digital mapping and data analytics to present a dynamic view of the world, is helping redesign old services and develop new ones. It is enabling crowdsourcing from citizens, demonstrating progress on initiatives and sharing open data to enable businesses to develop and target new products and services.

Every day, millions of people all around the globe are using GIS to explore multiple layers of data, enabling them to analyse complex scenarios and make the right decisions. Ecology consultants, for example, are using GIS to tackle the difficult task of finding suitable land for sustainable housing development.

Given what can be a complicated process, communities need clear guidelines to help navigate them through the journey to becoming ‘smart’. Ultimately, organisations that understand the importance of connecting data will see opportunities where other communities may not.

Also, every smart community may be different, but they all share common operational traits. Each relies on real-time intelligence for evidence-based decision-making, more effective collaboration, and public engagement.

Using data to act in the community's best interest, proactive administrations need to embody the following five key characteristics:   

  1. Forward-thinking leadership and strategy – To achieve smarter operations and deliver services that citizens need, civic strategies must be measured and remain people-centric. Data is what fuels the smart community, and its adoption begins from the top of the organisational food chain. Leaders progress ideas forward, build ecosystems that encourage innovation, and remove obstacles that might impede initiatives. The best leaders will motivate their entire organisation, inspiring a smart community to become optimised.
  2. Data-driven decision-making – The pressure to invest wisely and respond to situations effectively has never been greater. To avoid waste and public scrutiny, governments need data-driven decisions that are justified by facts from multiple perspectives. By sourcing authoritative data, emphasising analysis, and using evidence to determine actions, governments achieve their initiatives with greater success and support.
  3. Real-time awareness – Better decisions begin with current, accurate, and relevant information. With the overwhelming amounts of live information being observed and acted on, real-time data feeds are no longer a luxury. From mobile devices to networked inputs across the IoT, governments draw actionable intelligence promptly from streaming data. To make a meaningful difference, organisations must remain continually aware of community events to respond to critical incidents in a timely manner.
  4. Collaboration across departments – Smart communities unite the efforts of government and community groups through free-flowing information across departments and organisations. Once limited by data silos, integrated networks make intelligence accessible beyond traditional boundaries. When users share, and pull communal data through their applications of choice, efforts are better aligned, resources are allocated more wisely, and time is saved.
  5. Civic engagement – Beyond just publicly sharing information, governments must actively explore new ways to interact with citizens and provide them with contextual data. Including community groups in the process, which may be viewed as untapped government departments, promotes transparency and opens additional resources. Further, governments that embrace communication with the public make it easy for people to provide and find feedback. Through channels such as social media, citizens can contribute commentary that directly influences government decisions. When data driven rationales and logical thought processes are made clear to the public, governments better justify their priorities, budgets, and actions.

Using data in the correct way helps the drive towards smart cities and embodies the ideals of a smarter world. Whether these solutions facilitate smart analytics, smart collaboration, smart working, smart development or smart use of data, they can help to overcome the growing challenges of a growing population. Organisations who are using GIS to do this, understand conflicts of interest, make better-informed decisions and operate more efficiently to create this better, smarter world.

By Simon Weaver, Smart Communities Programme Manager, Esri UK


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