To Smart Cities and Beyond – How Innovation is Beginning to Unlock the True Potential of City Governments

Posted by Jeff Elliott on 10/12/16 8:20 AM


When thinking about the term Smart Cities, a few ideas might come to mind. Is it a city wherein hover machines and self-driving air crafts are a part of everyday life – like in Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale’s movie Back to the Future? Or, maybe it is a city wherein robots maintain daily city operations, like transportation, policing etc. With such a wide range of possibilities, and the extremely long span of our imaginations, the question around Smart Cities could have infinite answers. To this end, the seemingly more important questions concern what it means to your city government agency.

In looking at trends within the conversation of Smart Cities, the main points focus on a few themes revolving around innovation – collaboration, data, and technology. Collaboration between the public and private sectors has proven to be integral in the process of creating new opportunities, especially for city governments. A few technology giants – IBM and Vulcan – have paved the way and empowered cities to think in different, innovative fashions with their own Smart City Challenges. Likewise, the White House has even pledged millions of dollars to several research initiatives and programs in hopes of encouraging cities to overcome tough challenges in a creative way – Smart Cities Challenge by the Department of Transportation (DoT).

With the rise of a more connected world, data and technology have also become increasingly more popular in the government arena. Informing decisions with well-kept data is immensely significant and has not been as strong in the past for many city government agencies in the past. However, it is evident that leveraging data is becoming increasingly more and more utilized in initiatives, like tackling the question of homelessness, for example. Other city government agencies are leveraging technology to enhance their cities in a big way. Many initiatives are leveraging trending concepts like the internet of things (IoT), GIS, solar power and carbon neutrality, drones, or even sensors in traffic lights are becoming common space as well.

You might ask, how this conversation is important to your city? To that, one could respond that it is everything. Recently, in the last few years, we have noticed several drivers which are causing cities to be slow in transitioning to this new concept of a smart city. One driver points to an overarching hesitance to re-engineer processes for the purpose of improving on an enterprise scale. Process improvement must involve taking a close look at how processes work and how they perform across an enterprise or organization. Furthermore, knowledge of the process landscape requires the consistent use of a number of tools – sound performance metrics, maturity around process governance, dynamic maintenance of documentation, engaged process user community, etc. Without the necessary tools, leadership tends to miss the mark on understanding their processes. Another driver, points to the lack of a clear vision or strategy and how to align them across the entire organization. Time and time again, we see several city and/or government organization leadership struggling to execute goals and strategies because they might lack a clear vision; they may have a strategy, but employees do not subscribe to it, or they are having difficulty tying departmental business priorities (i.e. contending priorities between silos) to their overall organizational strategies or goals. Finally, change management and communication tend to delay cities from taking their ideas to the next level. Even the most mature city might have a sound process improvement culture and an impressive set of sound strategies and goals. However, without a sound plan which enables change and communicates initiatives across the organization, many cities fail to gain the buy-in required to execute changes; that is, bringing people along tends to be a challenge.

All of these drivers point to a limit in expertise around Business Transformation. Unfortunately, cities often do not possess the expertise; they do not know how to apply the necessary tools; or they do not have the time to realize and/or implement such transformations. From our experience, these issues are absolutely normal and can be overcome. Lewis Fowler understands how to help you solve these dilemmas and possesses the expertise to assist your city in rising to the occasion – becoming a leader in the discussion of smart cities. So, what is stopping your city from rising to the occasion and becoming a smart city?