These are the basic building blocks you need for smart cities success

Our third-annual Smart Cities Week D.C. is next week, Oct. 3-5 in Washington, D.C. The world’s leading smart cities experts will converge there, sharing advice and practical steps you can take to make your city more livable, workable and sustainable.

One of those experts is Bas Boorsma. He’s the Internet of Everything leader for Cisco in Northern Europe. Cisco is a Council Global Lead Partner. He’s also the author of a new book, “A New Digital Deal,” which explores how cities can best put digitalization to work for their communities. He will be giving a presentation and signing books at Smart Cities Week.

This month, we’re sharing insights from the book. Today, the series concludes with the fundamental building blocks that make smart cities initiatives successful. — Kevin Ebi


By Bas Boorsma, Author, “A New Digital Deal”

What does it take to carve out a smart city strategy with reasonable odds of success? In my book, A New Digital Deal, I have articulated a framework of 20 “building blocks.” Last week, I discussed the first 10 building blocks. Here is a look at the remainder:

Ecosystem – No one can manage digitalization alone. Private sector needs government and vice versa. Big needs small and different smart city stakeholders must come together. Comprehensive, open yet end-to-end architectures require rich and evolved ecosystems, while platform dynamics and digitalization in general thrive by delivering on ecosystem value as opposed to “just” customer value. For example, a traffic data platform only becomes relevant if it involves multiple automotive companies and road authorities, while a company offering an IoT platform may have its technology in good order yet will only succeed if it has structurally involved ecosystem partners to aggregate demand, solutions and data.

Business Architectures and Delivery Model – Smart city propositions are moving from an asset-centric approach to a service-centric one. How the City as a Service evolves, when and with whom, will greatly depend on a number of questions and how communities address these. How virtually integrated should smart city business architectures and their delivery models be? Do we opt for private sector to own and manage top to bottom as in the old telco and cable company model, or do we stress the importance of keeping strategic assets within the public realm? Investors are increasingly interested in facilitating concession models financing the infrastructures of our day and age, foregoing the need for cities to put the capex investment upfront. For cash strapped cities, for example, this may prove attractive. But we may also want to put more thought into the creation of cooperatives and public private partnerships that help us to alternatives. If the choices of the past determined how we ended up organizing the energy and broadband markets for a generation or longer, the current choices may determine how we organize digitalized communities at large. Nothing could be more important.

Geography of Innovation – The old nucleus of innovation has been a university campus, evolving into zones of industries, enterprise and R&D centers. Silicon Valley continues to be the quintessential example. Today´s centers of entrepreneurship and invention are hybrid and much of the action is happening in city centers. Smart city efforts should build on these dynamics, converging citizen involvement, start-up-ism, entrepreneurship, education, local, national and international talent, government, investments and physical space.

Culture of Innovation – Successful smart city efforts comprehensively embrace and encourage a culture of innovation, including the acceptance of risks and unexpected outcomes, failures, the dynamism of modern entrepreneurship as well as a mirror culture of resilience.

Community Communications – Involve citizens. Bring in people on all sides of the digital divides, even in your own organization. Attract investments and mobilize the required ecosystems. All the above requires well thought though communication strategies, leveraging multiple channels and platforms – workshops, social media, (V-)blog campaigns, town hall sessions, hackathons, conferences, workshops, regular media and more.

Start and finish with good design — Good design can prevent entire digital divides from emerging. We all have a story like this to tell: My mother never touched a PC in her life, but today she is on Facebook and manages her finances online because the iPad works for her. The difference boils down to design. Smart city projects should not begin with engineering. They should start with good service design, only then to be followed by engineering. Good design determines adoption. But good design does not just apply to a solution, product or service. Its relevance pervasively applies to almost every other building block articulated in this framework – so much so that it’s not really a building block but a requirement for the framework at large.

Skills – Helping build the community of the future requires skill sets of the future, by preparing our current and future work forces accordingly. Key skills of relevance include: an understanding of technological developments and data analytics; the social skills and emotional intelligence to thrive in collaborative environments; the ability to merge different skills. It is not math that will get you there, but math combined with social skills. Or technology married with the ability to talk business architectures and business outcomes. Or engineering skills with ethics. Convergence rules. The ability to deal with uncertainty, respond swiftly to sudden realities, the ability to act with resilience, is an essential attitude and skill to have.

Proof of Value - As we innovate, experiment, learn and evolve, we need to be able to prove value. Too many smart city initiatives commence and end with a string of pilots that fail to validate the value we hope to obtain. We often forge Proof of Concepts when, in fact, it is a Proof of Value we need. Ensuring a phase one deployment or pilot has the appropriate size and KPIs, and involves the right stakeholders for a Proof of Value to emerge is a critical building block.

Proof of Values – Is what we seek to build, produce, deploy or provide ethically “good?” Do the digitalization efforts truly result in betterment? Are we ready for the next leap of exponential change and can society adapt socially, culturally and ethically sufficiently well? Do you know what is under the hood or are we taking innovations on interface value? These questions should not be restricted to academic debates. Instead, they should be at the heart of our smart city efforts, of our innovations, our pilots, digital designs and at the very heart of a New Digital Deal.

A New Digital Deal – Beyond Smart Cities. How to Best Leverage Digitalization for the Benefit of our Communities” is available on Amazon.