Seven Barriers to Better and Smarter City Services

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All cities that decide to move towards a smarter and more efficient future must first overcome a legacy of complex infrastructure. Adding to this is the tendency of many governments to focus on IT spending over operational technologies often exacerbates this complexity.

A new white paper from Tim Sowell and Johanne Greenwood outlines a strategic approach to addressing these challenges through focusing on the creation of real-time platforms and flexible teams to enable more resilient and efficient cities.

As part of the analysis in drafting their White Paper, Sowell and Greenwood identified seven issues that each need to be addressed to enable tangible evolution of city services.

1.  Manual collection of data

Caused by infrastructure that lacks instrumentation, automation and control systems Examples can include water treatment plants, traffic control cabinets and power sub-station equipment. Because investment in these types of infrastructure can quickly become obsolete there is an emerging trend to outsource the required data reporting to service providers.

2.  Overall situational awareness

Caused by a standalone procurement mindset that is an outcome of cities whose buying decisions are made without a common operational platform purchasing strategy.  Independent purchasing processes run by and within departments, compounded by the urge to avoid vendor lock-ins can result in a multitude of diverse systems being procured over time that control similar infrastructure. In a multi-system environment cities subsequently are unable to obtain an overall view across infrastructure. Outsourcing infrastructure can further lead to issues around continuity once initial contracts end but both kinds of problems can lead to sub-optimal decision making, actions and support costs.

3.  Inability to unify and coordinate teams with shared data

Siloed systems that lack shareable data hamper the ability to meet targets for energy efficiency and resilience. It also makes it difficult to build holistic data-driven strategies for short or long term planning, respond to outages, or address problems that can occur.

4.  Stakeholders lack information or distrust it

Decision makers and other stakeholders can be in the position where they either cannot get the right data to for them to take timely action, or the data that is available cannot be validated and proved to be true. A system is only used if it is trusted (garbage in, garbage out), rendering the investment obsolete.

5.  Lack of synergy with citizens and visitors behaviour

Lack of real-time data optimised for the different kinds of users results in missed opportunities to provide data to citizens that can influence their day-to-day actions. Thanks to smartphones and the app culture that has grown with them, new types of consumers are emerging who, with the right real-time information, will manage their consumption of services based on data from the city. For example, traffic data may help citizens choose to take a train if there are traffic jams.

6.  Lack of operational innovation

Inability to accurately simulate, model and anticipate the effects of change leads to an “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” mentality as departmental staff may consequently lack the ability to experiment and as a result choose to avoid risk wherever possible. This preserves the status quo, even in situations where infrastructure is already struggling to cope and stifles innovation opportunities.

7.  Transitioning workforce

Baby boomers are retiring and there is an incoming “digital native” generation and this workforce shift is already acute in many cities. Long serving staff with decades of experience are soon to retire, taking decades of operational knowledge with them. Some cities face large and rapid shifts in their work force and changing workforce conditions mean training levels provided may not be sufficient for new recruits.

All of these barriers can be overcome or managed through a multifaceted approach. Achieving this will require adaptations in how cities are managed, resourced and how they work with stakeholders.

Increasing urbanisation and constraints on resources and budgets is adding further pressure to getting this right and the “Smart Cities: Strategic Focus on Real-time Infrastructure Control Systems” goes into further detail on how cities can respond and address these challenges.

Further information on Schneider Electric’s work with Smart Cities can be found here.



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