Listening to cities: Three keys to successful smart cities initiatives

What makes a smart cities project successful? Smart Cities Week is about bringing leading cities together to share their progress and how they achieved it, and the challenges they are still working to overcome.
 
During our opening plenary we got the chance to hear from innovation and technology leaders of cities in the U.S. and Canada. We’ve collected a few insights below, but you can listen to the session on our Smart Cities Week website. — Kevin Ebi
 
It’s about people — more than technology
Whenever we talk about smart cities, we tend to focus on the technology. But it’s people who make that technology do incredible things. And it’s the people that are the gap for many cities.
 
“It’s not just a technical skills gap. There’s also a huge soft skills gap,” said Frank Johnson, Chief Digital Officer and Chief Innovation Officer for Baltimore. “People should be our priority.”
 
His city has started by rewriting job descriptions. It used to be that 80 percent of those descriptions emphasized various skills. Deemphasized were skills like collaboration, conflict resolution, customer service, and so on.
 
“We have now flipped that,” Johnson said. “All of those are more important than the technical skills.”
 
It’s also about trust
Wendy Gnenz, Chief Information Officer for Edmonton, Alberta, says the very nature of collaboration changes in every interaction. Sometimes it’s win-win. Sometimes it’s win-lose for a longer-term win.
 
In order for collaboration to succeed, a key ingredient is trust and that’s an area of concentration in Edmonton, particularly to build relationships with residents and the private sector.
 
“Our focus is to be open and transparent,” Gnenz said.
 
She’s also working to build bridges wherever she can. Canada’s smart challenge with a $50 million prize has pitted many cities against each other. In her case, she’s formed a closer relationship with Calgary.
 
And it’s about delivering on your promises
One dangerous pitfall that cities must work to avoid is to continue delivering in their core areas, even as they invest effort in new initiatives.
 
Barney Krucoff, interim Chief Technology Officer for Washington, D.C., says it’s important to realize that cities have fundamental responsibilities that they cannot afford to neglect as they add new capabilities.
 
“The biggest risk is losing track of the fundamentals that we need to do every day,” Krucoff said.