I was favored to spend some time at PARKEX in the UK last week with the senior staff at IPS, and in a different meeting, with with a group from Conduent. While these are different companies, IPS supplying hardware and back office management for on street enforcement, and Conduent providing a suite of services for cities, focusing primarily on collections, the concept of Smart Cities was not foreign to them
IPS spoke at length about how many cities are already ‘smart’ but their issues seem to be correlating the information they already have. Water meters, electric meters, parking meters, street lights, traffic signals, sensors, even locators for police and emergency vehicles all exist in one form or another in cities across the world. In the parking arena, many companies provide dashboards where parking data and be gathered and reviewed. “Our industry has been ‘smart’ for some time, but the term hasn’t been applied.”
The Conduent group commented that while its true that the information exists, many cities aren’t ‘smart’ enough to be able to extract the data they need. In fact, that is often the biggest problem, a city has the data, but doesn’t know what to do with it, or how to use it. “Often” they posited, “cities put the cart before the horse and go on a headlong project to ‘slice and dice’ the data, but have no real goal as to what they are going to do with it.”
I noted that a keynote speaker we had a few years ago at PIE made the outlandish statement that often such projects are “politically driven” and exist to provide a basis on which mayors and council folk can build their reputations. But as soon as that project’s support changes, it loses backing, and simply fades away.
He was talking about so called ‘green’ projects in the Northwest. The administration embarked on a city wide project to turn their schools green. So far so good. They built a new school that met all the green requirements. The Mayor was on the front row cutting the ribbon. Then the administration changed and the new mayor had a different agenda. The school project was allowed to simply die from lack of interest.
To create a smart city, one has to embark on a long term, extremely complicated and expensive project. Technology must be selected, and data must be analyzed. I read in Parking Today this month that hiring for those positions is becoming more and more difficult. What if I collected the data and there was no one there to use it.
So a city begins a ten year project to become ‘smart.’ Remembering that this is not like an airport, which everyone can see the changes and participate in the results of the project. “Smart Cities” require shepherding and vision. They require infrastructure and technology. And often the results cannot be readily seen by the citizenry. It’s easy for the politicians who were elected promoting this vision to be distracted by minor worries like potholes, schools, fire departments, hospitals, police and the like. Distractions that cost money and require attention.
Wise people these “Smart City” folk.