Smart cities stalled by rigid silo of IT solutions
Evolution to a world of smarter, IT-literate cities is being hindered by immature standards, rigid and siloed infrastructures, limited budgets, and fragmented and politicised decision-making. That's the verdict of ICT analyst Ovum, which said today that while most of us live in cities, moves to integrate the technologies that link us all, to create a better standard of living, are being stymied by a lack of resources and poor planning.
The huge and diverse market for ICT-based "smart city" initiatives is driving a flurry of "smart" and "intelligent" vendor solutions, says the company, but the modernization crucial for cities to deal with pressing issues such as population growth, climate change and resource limitations may not emerge quickly enough to keep pace.
Suppliers are rushing to offer sophisticated solutions to address everything from traffic patterns to crime, public health, and weather. However, Ovum says that, to be effective, these solutions will have to be informed by comprehensive, accurate, and timely data, in amounts so massive that ICT will be essential.
"ICT cannot solve these problems by itself - plenty of concrete, asphalt, pipe, and wire will also be required - but effective solutions must have ICT at their core," says Warren Wilson, lead energy & sustainability IT analyst at Ovum. "These offerings must be capable of collecting, managing, analysing, and responding to vast amounts of data, if they are to be comprehensive and effective in addressing cities' mounting challenges."
Ovum's research classifies digital city solutions in two main categories. The first is large-scale, formal, "top-down" projects, driven primarily by public authorities and developers, and attracting the biggest names in IT, such as Cisco and IBM.
The second type, which complements the first, consists of projects that are smaller, more spontaneous, "bottom-up" solutions, aimed at making cities more efficient and livable, for example by improving social interaction, fostering collective action, and providing innovative urban services.
While investment in both types of solutions is growing, numerous impediments stand in the way of the market achieving its potential, and raise doubts about whether the pace of innovation will be rapid enough to effectively address the myriad pressures that cities face. "Multiple initiatives will be required to address the major inhibitors; some are under way, but much more effort is needed. Some of the most important requirements involve opening up more data, breaking down silos, broadening stakeholder participation, and avoiding duplicative efforts," says Wilson.
Ovum says that solution providers and their urban customers must address these issues together. Cities must also apply intelligence of their own throughout the process of assessing needs, developing requests for proposals, choosing vendors, overseeing implementation, and managing their solutions over the long term. Theymust also recognize the value of exploiting both top-down and bottom-up solutions.
"Yet, despite some obvious obstacles, things are moving in the right direction," concludes Wilson. "Large vendors are adhering to standards and opening up data; application showcases and competitions are sparking creative new solutions; and certain cities are becoming beacons of innovation."
Ovum is hosting Smart Cities Europe 2012 on 19- 20 June, in association with Imperial College London.