- 6. Stuck in Silos: Many organizations have been organized in silos – enclosed environments that harbor their own hierarchies, maintain their own systems and practices, and gather and retain their own data. This approach can undermine efforts to craft truly effective management of a digitalization strategy. Digitalization applies (and must be managed) horizontally, across vertical domains, across systems, across data lakes, across fiefdoms, for it to be truly valuable. Digitalization does not belong to the IT department, nor the infrastructure department. It must be a shared set of policies, processes, assets, equipment and data for it to be truly powerful. Without a coordinated effort, expect costly parallel procurement duplications and early failure.
- 7. No Plan to Replicate or Scale: Many smart city projects commence as pilots or a set of pilots without a plan for a scaling of efforts. Well-prepared procurement models, partnership structures, budgets, and appropriate business architectures are among the many factors that constitute the fundamentals of a given project’s ability to replicate and scale.
- 8. Digital Divides and the Lack of Community Communications: If the goals, the means, the risks and the rewards of the endeavor are not collectively understood by all the relevant stakeholders early on in the project, it can diminish the project and its outcomes at essentially every level. This is true for the companies and government agencies involved, but it can also apply to citizens. Thinking through the community communications and citizen engagement can be essential, depending on the use case or use cases in focus.
- 9. Legacy IT, Sub-optimal Networks: Plenty of smart city initiatives ended up frustrated by not sufficiently preparing for a rudimentary broadband infrastructure, and communities that have consistently invested in “future-proof” networking over the years come prepared and move faster. As Philadelphia’s CTO, Charles Brennan noted at the Smart City Council´s 2017 conference in Silicon Valley: “People often start with Apps. I start with a new broadband infrastructure.” Old software and legacy solutions pose no less of a challenge. If only one could declare certain legacy solutions dead. But as Brennan also stated, cities often deal with ‘Zombie Software’ that seems to carry on forever, dramatically limiting the ability to deliver on innovations deemed desirable.
- 10. Three Traps of the Top-Down Versus Bottom-Up Dichotomy: A rich debate exists as to whether smart cities should be built with a top-down or bottom-up approach. This dichotomy has outlived its usefulness and relevance, if it ever was useful or relevant. Neither side is right, and you often need both approaches. The third trap is to believe in the existence of that dichotomy at all; doing so colors our thinking in terms of conflict – conflicts of interest, conflicts as a result of a perceived inequality of power and influence (tech enterprises versus citizens, for instance), and conflicts of vision. Successful community digitalization is the work of a collaborative ecosystem that involves citizens, the public and private sectors, and big and small organizations together. It is a scenario that allows each stakeholder to do what he or she does best. It presents solution design as an iterative process involving a multitude of different players, each leveraging his or her own strengths. For long-term success, there is no other way.
- 11. Closed Architectures: A roadblock in plenty of smart city initiatives has been digital propositions that involve proprietary architectures. Evaluating these propositions often produces fear – an apprehension of getting locked in to a particular vendor’s architecture, especially if it seems to lack the flexibility to embrace near-future innovations. That concern over a lack of interoperability is a wholly rightful response, but it has also obstructed success. First, some innovation plans have gone quickly into hibernation mode due to apprehension among decision-makers. Second, for the cities that deployed proprietary solutions, they lost out on the value they would have derived from interoperability. For many years, it seemed that cities were locked in a situation that can be best described as “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” It is only as of recent that sufficiently open architecture strategies and tools have become available to enable cities to stay clear from vendor lock-ins, proprietary limitations and prepare for architectures that are sufficiently interoperable and future-proof.
- 12. You Must Be This Tall to Enter the Smart Cities Club: For a very long time, smart city initiatives comprised a set of activities that only large cities could manage. The know-how and resources required were prohibitive for smaller communities – and the benefits were articulated in ways that didn’t reflect outcomes of value for smaller communities (sweeping economies of scale, the breakdown of big data silos, and so on). Some smaller communities were able to paint a convincing picture of how they would digitalize, but stalled at the point where broader expertise and deeper pockets may have taken them to the next stage. That’s much less the case today. In fact, as community digitalization propositions have increasingly become as-a-service, cloud-based offerings, paid for on an as-needed, subscription basis (consumption economics), they can more easily be tailored to the requirements of differently sized communities. Furthermore, creating consensus is often easier in smaller communities, where key decision-makers are within one or two degrees of separation, than doing so in a complex megacity. Down the road, digitalization will likely become as ubiquitous as electricity: every community will be able to afford it and no city can afford to be without it.
“A New Digital Deal – Beyond Smart Cities. How to Best Leverage Digitalization for the Benefit of our Communities” is now out and available on Amazon.