Smart city is a smart move

by May 15, 2013

The new buzz concept is smart city. What exactly is this concept and why has it been bandied about so much recently? What elements are currently in place and how well placed is Oxford to tap into this new trend? What are the downsides and what is the way forward?

Smart city is a conceptual framework that enables a city or region, to be interconnected, in an intelligent way, to address social, economic, climatic and pollution issues through the infrastructure in terms of its structure, how it is managed, the relationships between its different components and how companies, organisations and the public interface with it. Key relevant components in the infrastructure include power, transportation, water, telecommunications, healthcare and the internet. It allows more efficient use of resources by bringing together government, industry, organisations and individuals to pool resources for the common good.

The recent interest in the smart city concept is partly because of demographic developments, the strains of modern life and technology. The world has become more urbanized, with over 80 percent of us living in towns and cities in the UK. Our consumption and production trends are putting strains on finite resources, increasing pollution to unsustainable levels and causing significant changes in the climate. Cities need to try to adopt a more self sustaining model that can use resources more efficiently as well increasing the quality of life thereby making them more attractive for current and new residents and investors. The smart city concept is largely a result of the huge gains in computing. Computer hardware and software now allow the development of huge databases and complex manipulations, which in turn increase our analytical capacity to solve complex problems. The development of cloud technology and Big Data, in particular, allows real time data management in a multi-dimensional context to address the issues noted above. The European Union and the UK government are taking initiatives to spur cities and regions towards this new concept. Oxfordshire, with its excellent universities and a high concentration of hi-tech companies is well placed to move in this direction. The current recession and globalization will continue to put pressure on cities and regions to become more efficient, improve the quality of services and the environment to attract talent and investment.

Obviously like all new developments there are downsides. The huge amounts of data involved could have legal (data protection) implications. There have been detractors who decry the 1984/big brother type scenario. There are issues about collusion between private companies, a move away from competition. These issues must be addressed. Firstly, it should be noted that there are already databases holding trillions of information on us. Adequate controls must be put in place to ensure that data on individuals, companies and organisations are properly safeguarded. Much of the type of information that will be used by participating companies and organisations are aggregates, that is, they do not pinpoint individuals. Collaboration between private operators need not kill off competition because they can still compete and maintain their brands. Notable examples are the Oyster project in London and ticket sharing among bus operators in Oxford where operators are collaborating to provide improved transportation services but still remain separate entities.

What is the way forward for the city in a move towards this attractive concept? The city and county councils must take the lead and create a policy framework involving all relevant stakeholders. This group must produce a policy paper outlining strategic objectives, targets, policies and policy instruments. The objectives must include explicit smart strategies that would apply to all objectives in the strategic mix. The policy framework should include a unit that will spearhead and monitor smart initiatives. Policies adopted could include measures to shift the demand and supply of new equipment and services designed to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery. The smart strategy unit must decide on the appropriate technology and technological partner that it will engage. A project management approach must be adopted, involving a comprehensive action plan, augmented by logs to account for issues, risks and changes that will affect that plan. The project must make full use of the marketing mix, namely, product, price, competition and advertising and promotion. This will highlight tangible benefits by clearly specifying products such as transportation, air quality, utilities and, price incentives like reduced congestion, more parking spaces, lower electricity and water bills and improved air quality. The project will highlight the competition such as other cities that are embracing the concept and becoming more attractive. Distribution outlets will include libraries, schools, universities, hospitals, surgeries, community centres, companies, councils, organisations and the internet. It must be promoted and advertised, making maximum use of print, broadcast and digital media.

The marketing and media campaign should establish a forum for Oxford residents, universities, companies and organisations to provide an input into the debate, planning and implementation. In the consultation and implementation of the project, efforts must be taken to make sure that it is inclusive, creates economic and technological opportunities and protects and improves the environment. It should ensure that all age, income and ethnic groups and, companies, universities and organisations in the city and county are involved. Efforts must be taken to minimize the digital divide as is increasingly the case, information on new initiatives and the most efficient delivery of services are often through the internet and/or via smart phones which tend to favour technologically savvy and/or affluent residents. This will be achieved by making sure that it engages media that all stakeholders and residents use to ensure public support and maximum participation and benefits. In particular, efforts must be made to target low income households and the elderly who often have limited access to such outlets. There may be need to subsidize the delivery of services for such groups, partly on the basis of fairness but also because the impact can be very significant for such groups and the overall net effect can be positive because the subsidies result in more efficient delivery of services. This may happen for example if such groups, which may have more flexibility in terms of when they can access services, are provided with information on times of peak and low demand for those services or equipment to make rational decisions on accessing services. This will realign the demand and supply of such services to the benefit time rich and time poor groups, resulting in a net benefit overall.

Oxford becoming a smart city is a smart move. Action needs to be taken now and if it is done right, namely involving the whole city, it will be a win-win situation for all stakeholders. The city and county councils must, working together, make a move now to tap into funds from the UK government and the European Union to benefit from technological innovations that will improve the quality of life of its residents and attract new residents, investments and technology. Oxford is in a position to trail blaze this concept and become a centre of excellence for the management and technology that will evolve from the project.

Media and Event Management Oxford (MEMO) provides policy, project, marketing, media and event management services. It has initiated a tool, Event Spend per Audience (ESA) which maximizes participation and audience while minimizing the cost of doing so. Contact: Email:; Tel: 01865 790924

Oxford Sustainable Development Enterprise (EEIG) is a European research, economic and interest group based in London/Oxford (UK), Rome (Italy), Rehovot (Israel). Main activities are research, consultancy and training in smart strategy applied to territory/regions/cities. Existing emerging technology such as Business Intelligent, Clouding Computing and Big Data are utilized and integrated into the new concept.

J Boima Rogers (MEMO) and Dr. Stefano Bonfa (EEIG)

June 2012 Revised Jan 2013