Smart cities should be more like lean startups

Tue, 2013-07-23 06:10 -- Jesse Berst

By Jesse Berst

Smart city authority Dr. Boyd Cohen wants communities to act more like lean startups. Writing in Fast Company, he favors two lean principles in particular: 1) craft a hypothesis of what citizens want and metrics to measure if you are right and 2) start with a minimum viable product.

I certainly agree that lean startup techniques have value. They have dangers as well. When individual departments start popping out mini-projects without central coordination, they often waste money and duplicate effort. Even worse, they often end up with solutions that can't "talk" to one another (can't easily trade data).  

At the Smart Cities Council, we think the right formula is "start small but think big." By all means, start with a small project that has a quick payback. By all means, measure your results and make quick course corrections. But do it within the framework of a grand plan. A plan that sets out the city's unique goals. That maps out the most cost-efficient ways to use technology to meet those goals. And that ensures all projects meet minimum standards (for security, privacy, interoperability, etc.) 

To be fair, Cohen does cite San Jose, California's framework for demonstration partnerships. Although not a full-scale framework as we use the term at the Council, at least it sets out some basic rules, while allowing innovators to use city facilities as test beds. Even more valuable is a comment below the article that points people to a planning roadmap for intelligent cities from URENIO Research.

So go ahead and act lean. But think big first.


Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to subscribe to SmartCitiesNow, the weekly newsletter highlighting smart city trends, technologies and techniques.