Partnerships, not pennies, may be biggest smart cities driver

Fri, 2015-09-11 06:00 -- SCC Staff

In making an investment in a new city initiative, it’s easy to focus on the financial aspects: how much it costs and how much it’s likely to save. A growing number of cities and even some technology companies are finding there’s something even more important, however. It’s partnership.

At a recent wireless forum, enterprising cities and technology leaders alike agreed that focusing on return on investment over all other considerations makes sense less and less.

Council Lead Partners Qualcomm and Verizon, as well as cities like Charlotte, North Carolina, were among those making the case for the importance of partnership at the recent FierceWireless "Inside the Building of a Smart City" event at the CTIA Super Mobility conference.

What are your goals?
There is always pressure to do more with less, but some city leaders are finding that in the eyes of their constituents, doing more is becoming more important. And what the public wants them to do isn’t always best measured in dollars and cents.

Charlotte Chief Information Officer Jeff Stovall says that as issues like public safety and environmental impact grow in importance, cities absolutely have to find ways to address them. He told FierceWireless that saving money for the sake of saving money isn’t a sustainable plan.

"Saving money is always a great idea for city government, but saving money as a government business case has limitations," he said at the event. "Yes, we can save money, but is that enough?"

Cities can’t do it alone
Qualcomm says a smart city isn’t simply a smart government. It’s one where the government, businesses and citizens are working together for something better. By definition, any smart cities initiative has to be driven by government and community leaders, and that means partnership is critical.

Charlotte is an example of that kind of partnership. To reduce emissions, it asked businesses in a downtown core to monitor and share information about their environmental performance. All but three of the more than 60 businesses voluntarily agreed.

In Charlotte’s case, it wasn’t afraid to ask for help. It approached a few strategic partners and asked them to talk to other businesses and suggest other ideal partners. The support grew from there.

What about the money?
While money may not be the most important factor in a growing number of cases, it does remain a factor, a fact that cities and vendors do acknowledge. The good news, however, is that even those discussions are getting easier.

Verizon was one of the partners in the Envision Charlotte program to reduce the city’s carbon footprint. The company’s communications network is used to transmit the real-time data from meters and sensors.

Verizon told FierceWireless that for a company to sign on for a municipal initiative, they are going to have to be able to make their own business case. But as more of the technology becomes proven in various projects and field trials, it is allowing them to make those business cases faster and easier.

More stories …
How Envision Charlotte "cracked the code" to energy savings for city businesses
Smart cities rally smart partners (and San Francisco shows how it's done)