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Devolution can promote smart cities, says BIS official



Policy lead highlights potential to exploit internet of things data, while pointing to need to establish best practice

Regional devolution should encourage the development of smart cities that use more data from internet devices to support operations and planning, according to one of Whitehall’s leading officials in the field.

Ben Hawes, smart cities policy lead at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, said that moves to provide metropolitan areas with more powers can lay the ground for the authorities to take a lead in exploiting data from the internet of things.

He was speaking at industry association techUK’s event on the role of the internet of things in developing smarter cities. The speech came soon after the government singled its intent to give cities more powers with its Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill.

“In the city space it’s obvious that the major game in town will be devolution, and I think any other cities agenda that wants to gain traction from the government will have to look to that,” he said. “I think that in the smart cities case there is a good fit, although I don’t think it’s necessarily been made that much yet.”

Hawes emphasised that the new government has not yet outlined a policy on the issue, but said that as cities get more powers it is legitimate for them to build a digital leadership capacity, and this can involve support for businesses developing devices and analytics.

In transition

The current state of progress is a transitional phase, he said, with “some things proven, some things unproven”. The Future Cities Demonstrator, in which Glasgow is providing the lead, should help to establish some feasible solutions, but he suggested that authorities need to learn to make better use of data before they can take advantage of these.

“Going forward there are things about building the capacity and cities making better use of the existing operational data, which is the basis of them being able to use any new kinds of data,” he said. “Sometimes we can give you a load of new data to use, but if you’re not using the data you’ve got you probably won’t be in a position to do that.”

He also pointed out there is no established forum for local authorities to share experiences on using smart city data, and that although authorities are talking to each other about their efforts, there is no common language – notably around taxonomies and classification – which makes it more difficult to establish best practice.

Pictured: Glasgow, location of the Future Cities Demonstrator, from Queen’s Park. By Chris HaikneyCC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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