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Cities want to get smarter, so why is it taking so long? (What you can do to move faster)

Most cities and utilities want to get smarter. They see the smart cities movement as delivering more than some incremental improvement. They see it as a meaningful transformation — one that delivers far more than just some cost savings.

Despite all that, the latest Black & Veatch Strategic Directions: U.S. Smart City/Smart Utility Report finds they plan to move slower — not faster — to become smarter. But understanding the obstacles can help you overcome them.

First, the good news
Cities don’t need to be sold on the idea of becoming smarter. More than 90% see the smart cities movement as being transformational with long-term lasting impacts.

Nearly 80% believe it should start with initiatives that have lasting benefits — even if that work is largely behind the scenes (and therefore less likely for the public to notice.) A similar number also believe that data analytics will significantly improve decision making. And nearly all believe it’s a comprehensive effort; it’s more than just buying some new technology.

The smart cities revolution is also inclusive. More than three-quarters say that energy, water and telecommunications providers should play a leadership role in smart cities initiatives — they shouldn’t be relegated to a supporting role.

And growing numbers see smart cities initiatives as something more than just a vehicle to cut costs. This year, more respondents — cities leaders and utilities alike — see the potential to become more sustainable, better manage community resources and to attract business investment.

But there’s also room for improvement
Despite clearly understanding the value of smart cities initiatives, the survey finds respondents are losing faith the transition can happen quickly. Last year, the study found that nearly 1 in 5 thought the smart cities model would be widespread in American cities within the next five years. This year, not even 1 in 10 believe that timeline is achievable.

Instead, more than a third now believe the implementation could take a decade. Nearly a quarter believe it could take 15 years. More than 80% believe the U.S. is lagging the world in the smart cities revolution.

What’s holding them back
Part of the problem may be a big knowledge gap. While people responding to the survey say they understand the potential, more than half say their city still doesn’t understand what it means to be a “smart city.”

And while half the cities and utilities are assessing their readiness — a third are even working on roadmaps — nearly two-thirds still don’t understand where the payoff point is. That may be adding to the money woes.

Money is always an issue, and a lack of funding was clearly visible in the study. Nearly 70% said their smart cities initiatives were hindered by budget constraints. Nearly half said a lack of resources and expertise also held them back.

Connectivity and regulations too
If your city does not have a reliable, high-speed data network, you need to seriously consider building one. Most of the respondents identified that as the number one need.

Utilities are also very concerned about the regulatory environment in their cities. More than anything, they see regulatory issues as being the biggest barrier to their modernization goals. More than 20% citied the regulatory environment as a problem — more than twice as many as cited any other issue, including cybersecurity threats and the ability to hire qualified personnel.

The Smart Cities Readiness Guide …
The Council’s Smart Cities Readiness Guide is a valuable resource that helps you plan your smart cities initiatives, guiding you through project selection, building a business case, reaching consensus, deployment and implementation, and measuring results. Packed with case studies and practical advice, it can help you develop your own successful smart cities initiatives.