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What is a Smart City? What are the digital development opportunities?

My comments are stimulated by thoughts and ideas derived from attending a conference at the end of 2014, and from reading the publication “ Small Pieces Loosely Joined “, published on 26th January 2015.

The report, written by Eddie Copeland, (@EddieACopeland) Head of Technology Policy Unit, Policy Exchange, an independent Think Tank, sets out recommendations for local government digital development, Eddie also chaired the “Smart Cities” conference. Eddie’s Technology Unit’s remit is to unlock the potential of technology for an innovative digital economy, smarter public sector and stronger society. So thanks to Eddie for providing the on-going continuity, and for his brave digital development work.

One unanswered question from my morning last December listening to the panel of experts in City Hall was, what does the vision for a smart city look like? It was to find out about this that I decided to attend this conference, to assist me in my ongoing understanding of digital development opportunities. Eddie Copeland’s Policy Forum report, which built on the learning from the conference, has tried to start to answer this intriguing question.

The Smart Cities Conference was held in City Hall - an incongruous juxtaposition in itself: a seemingly state-of-the-art building, situated beside the River Thames with wonderful views of old river tugs sailing by, hosting a meeting on digital progression. But, Kit Malthouse, a Deputy Mayor of London, and the final/closing Key Note Speaker and Host of the morning, explained that the building is not as high tech as it looks! Never mind, I loved the location, and I don’t think I have been at a seminar/conference in a location with better views in London.

Public digital development is not my area, as I have only worked with the digital private sector. I was invited to Policy Forum Events last year through my work as a Digital Mentor and interest in the UK tech scene. I was surprised to learn from the Smart cities Conference, how huge the opportunity is for UK public digital development up to 2025, and what an enormous political, cultural, legal and technological change there would have to be to bridge the gap between the over 700 services that local authorities want to continue to offer given the £12.4bn budget shortfall there will be if austerity measures continue to be implemented as planned. Eddie Copeland’s report says, “ Local authorities are going to have to fundamentally re-invent the way that they work”.

Eddie’s brief is tech development but there are other vital, related, interested parties. Including those with employment and privacy concerns. With such huge Local Government cost reductions to meet austerity measures, if these persist, major change is inevitable. There was evidence from speakers at the conference of resistance so far, such as the slow deployment of Local Authority cloud systems. I hope that creative and joined- up responses to this report are under the microscope, to address all the issues, not just technology, as it will affect everyone. But you have to make a start somewhere, and Eddie Copeland’s report has drawn a line in the sand, and is well considered with a digital perspective in mind. This will all take time - is 10 years enough? The Government is recruiting for a Chief Data Officer to spearhead the recommended digital development. This report makes recommendations for the framework of public digital development, leading towards Smart Cities.

The Key Note Speaker at the conference was Mike Flowers, Former Director of Analytics, for ex – (new York) Mayor’s Bloomberg Office of Policy and Strategic Planning. Mike founded the data analytics unit there in 2009, with the goal of improving citizen services, gaining buy-in from New Yorkers for the use of information by giving back improving data across public services. Mike’s philosophy was to “liberate and share” the data. Mike is not a Technologist, but a Lawyer, from a New York family steeped in public service. He provided the leadership, from thorough research, together with, in his words, his “Get Stuff Done” leadership style, banging heads together to gain the support of all stakeholders to enable his team of highly qualified Quantitative Analysts, to source, access, retrieve, analyse, publish and develop the data across a wide range of services and systems. Mike was able to pass on valuable information about his pioneering experience of using data analytics to build out a local government digital management service in New York, and he could no doubt provide wise counsel to the new Chief UK Data Officer, when appointed. As ever, the obvious learning from the conference is the need for good leadership. The 7th recommendation of Eddie Copeland’s report, “Small Pieces Loosely Joined”, is informed by Mike’s experience in New York - “Each of the UK’s cities should establish an Office of Data Analytics (ODA) to emulate the New York City Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics. Each ODA should be tasked with helping increase the efficiency of public sector operations by targeting resources at areas of greatest need, and identifying areas for significant expansion of shared services. The ODA would also release a subset of non-sensitive data on a citywide open data portal, enabling third parties to create apps and products. Once established in cities, the remit of ODAs should be expanded to cover their wider regions, including rural areas”.

Importantly, Mike’s advice was his NYC project was cultural, legal, political and not just technological in scope. When you get down and dirty to the quality of the data captured, and how seriously local government acts to secure it, this is vitally important. My own local council experience in St. Albans, Herts, is that the accessible data on air pollution for my road is patchy as spiders contaminated the tubes the air was collected in! I was pleased that Mike mentioned the great Fire Dept. of New York City in despatches, and I thanked him for this at the end in memory of my late Uncle Jim Brannigan, who was a Chief Fire Officer in NYC, as Mike said, New York Royalty!

What policy challenges will UK cities face in implementing a smart vision? What’s the appropriate role for central and local government? 
 What are the requirements for digital infrastructure?
Nicholas James, CEO UK Broadband, Peter Madden, Chief Executive, Future Cities Catapult, Stephen Hilton, Director, Bristol Futures, Léan Doody, Smart Cities Lead Arup

This next section included feedback from this interesting panel of experts. Frustrations were aired about slow speed of adoption of 4G networks by local authorities to enable rapid digital development of local services. Camden Council was cited as an exception, and Stephen Hilton of Bristol Futures was enthusiastic about the “playable City” – engaging people, developing in Bristol to support digital development. Indeed, I was told by one of the Speakers during the coffee break, that driverless cars have been tested there.

Andrew Collinge, Assistant Director, Intelligence and Analysis, GLA

Andrew presented insight into how he is approaching data analytics in London. He mentioned 40k unique visitors monthly, which seems very low to me with my background in commercial media/internet businesses, out of a population of over 8m people in London, especially as he has identified 600 datasets for the GLA. Obviously, it is early days. The GLA has 33 Boroughs, and it could be the ideal case study for the UK, in rolling out the Local Government Digital Marketplace recommended in Eddie Copeland’s report, to provide local innovation and democracy, with perhaps Camden Council leading the way. If they can get 33 London Boroughs to collaborate together, then this will be a great example to the 374 local UK Authorities. But no reason why development cannot be done in towns and smaller cities too so long as they pass the entry criteria of having good broadband. So, the race for innovation begins.

Eddie’s report also outlines the complexities of digitally aligning 374 UK Local Authorities, with 18.5k Local UK Councilor’s, over 700 services across UK local authorities and 1.8m UK local Government employees.

The Future of City Data - Presentation by Dr Andrew Hudson-Smith then conversation on: 
 How can cities use data to improve citizens’ lives, public services and democratic engagement?
 What are the implications for data privacy and security in era of Internet of Things?
 Jon Wrennall, Chief Technology Officer, Fujitsu UKI, 
Andrew Hudson-Smith, Director and Deputy Chair of Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, UCL

Interesting presentation from Dr. Andrew Hudson Smith, from UCL, on joining things up in Cities, understanding urban form and flows, joining feeds and understanding “City Moods” by using twitter geo location now, and thinking about The Internet of Me and Things in the future, amongst a host of other blue sky thinking items.

How will digital disruption and the sharing economy change cities?

What role will new digital businesses and platforms play in the development of smart cities?
Can the sharing economy work for the public sector?
How do we enable innovative start-ups to deliver smart city solutions?
Debbie Wosskow, CEO, Love Home Swap (author of Government’s sharing economy review), 
Eric Van der Kleij, Head of Level39, Stian Westlake, Executive Director of Policy and Research, Nesta

Discussion about the sharing economy led by Debbie Wosskow of Love Home Swap. Debbie published a report Unlocking the Sharing Economy, Nov 2014, with 30 recommendations on sharing the assets and skills in Cities. As services like, grow further and disrupt established competitors, we will learn very soon if these new services will usurp the incumbents or be subject to greater legislative constraints that impact their traditional competitors, and that might slow them down.

Closing Keynote – Kit Malthouse Deputy Mayor of London for Business & Enterprise - London’s vision for a Smart City

Kit Malthouse, Deputy Mayor GLA, referred to the sharing economy in his closing address, and asked if the sharing economy is necessarily something that we should charge for? He asked “Didn’t it used to be the case that sharing was a neighbourly act” and he cited his own experience - sharing hedge clippers with his neighbour. He also posed the questions “is our culture becoming more mercantile, where we expect payment for every good deed? Will the sharing economy cause us to review our assumptions of human behaviour”? Kit raises an important point. Trade has always made the world go around, but our social behavior has matured from the days of simple bartering, perhaps sometimes making today’s new tech ideas of sharing socially confusing. I wonder, are we going back to the future with some of our new online platform sharing services? I look forward to reading Debbie Wosskow’s report to think about this further. Kit Malthouse referred to Donald Rumsfeld’s famous expression of dangers, the “unknown unknowns”. Kit worries that “unknown unknowns” for London could emerge, whilst a new 2050 infrastructure plan is currently being drafted with just known considerations. Kit would like “Smart” to mean more than green and transport issues, and is keen for big data to move away from just measuring climate change problems, to agreeing solutions, he likes hydrogen fuel cell technology. Kit also mentioned that a very large percentage of delivery vans on London roads are delivering online orders, and therefore stressed the need for collaboration with e-commerce businesses to reduce congestion and air pollution.

All in all, I enjoyed an informative and educative conference, which has given me a better understanding of what a “Smart-City” is and will be.


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