Dec 08 2017

How Feds Can Help Smart Cities Tackle Initial Challenges

New technologies mean new challenges for cities, but federal leadership and investment can help municipalities jump these hurdles.

Metropolitan areas looking to be pioneers in the smart city movement are sure to come up against challenges as they forge ahead to carve out best practices and understand technology use cases. This can be a difficult task for cities grappling with other issues in their jurisdictions, looking instead to more near-term issues, such as modernizing or consolidating obsolete IT, not to mention the many issues that accompany new tech deployments.

To help encourage cities to take the first steps toward connected tech deployments and tackle persistent issues around data silos or lack of leadership, the federal government may have an important role to play, says a new report by the Center for Data Innovation.

“Cities have little incentive to be early adopters of new smart city technology when that means they bear all of the risk of failure. Instead they have an incentive to wait until others have worked out the challenges,” the report states. “Similarly, while public research and development (R&D) will be critical to the success of smart cities, such as improving cybersecurity and establishing demonstration projects, a city cannot be expected to take on the costs of R&D in exchange for only a small share of the total benefits it will generate.”

With federal support, however, cities can overcome this and other challenges.

Guidelines Could Help Smart Cities Push Through Challenges

The report cites five key challenges to smart city deployments: An undue amount of risk for cities, a lack of focus on infrastructure, a need for data sharing, lagging leadership changes and the need to ensure equity.

The report concludes that the federal government can play a key role in addressing and eliminating these issues.

“Fortunately, national governments can provide solutions to all these challenges,” the report states, noting that while cities will make the majority of investments and decisions related to their technology deployments, “national governments have a key role to fill in addressing the problems cities cannot resolve on their own, particularly in the early stages.”

Moreover, since the federal government mainly has a role to play in helping smart cities overcome early stage challenges, many of the needs of the federal government will be temporary.

"Broadly speaking, the federal government can help cities in two ways," Daniel Castro, CDI director and co-author of the report, told StateScoop. "First, it can make it faster, cheaper and less risky for cities to invest in smart infrastructure by funding more of the initial pilot projects and applied research and development. ... And second, the federal government can ensure that smart city investments in different parts of the country are interoperable so that they contribute data and knowledge to their peers in other cities.”

5 Ways the Federal Government Can Support Smart City Deployments

The report calls out five ways that the federal government could support smart city deployments in the future:

  1. Shared projects: The report points to four areas, including R&D in key areas, such as cybersecurity; research and demonstration projects that pilot new technologies or applications; the development of shared tools that provide cities with the gear necessary to work with data and new tech; and demonstration projects that can test systemwide smart city applications.

  2. Smart infrastructure: The report recommends that the federal government allocate a share of infrastructure spending to go directly to smart, connected and digital infrastructures. It calls out intelligent transportation systems and smart grids.

  3. Common standards: Without a common set of practices, cities are forging ahead on projects in several directions, which could lead to disparity in the future and leave some tech or practices isolated as the market eventually leads demand to a single solution. The federal government could prevent this by developing policies that “encourage interoperability and data sharing,” which would serve to “increase the effectiveness of smart city applications and increase the value proposition for smart technologies.”

  4. Collaboration: Many cities exist in data silos, which could serve to isolate their technologies and learnings in the future. But the federal government could step in to “foster collaboration and coordination in the smart city ecosystem to facilitate intercity learning and reduce knowledge sharing barriers.”

  5. Equity: In laying the groundwork for smart city deployments, “such as through pilot programs, infrastructure investment or support for public-private partnerships,” the federal government can look to provide systems that benefit underserved communities and not just affluent ones.

Cities cannot complete the evolution into smart cities on their own,” the report urges. “The long-term success of smart cities in any particular nation will likely depend on whether the national government supports their development.”

Jakarin2521/Getty Images

Become an Insider

Unlock white papers, personalized recommendations and other premium content for an in-depth look at evolving IT