Smart City Oxford Workshop

by Aug 15, 2013

This first smart city workshop in Oxford was a resounding success involving a wide cross section of the community, including businesses, local councils and universities. The workshop received much media coverage before and after the event and was lauded as very timely and relevant by participants. Oxfordshire is well placed for the smart city concept because of its diverse industrial base and the plethora of community groups who would be crucial stakeholders in any smart city initiative.

Chair’s Opening Statements – Mr. Frank Nigriello, Chair of Oxfordshire Business First which hosted the workshop opened the event by identifying two scenarios relating to the smart city concept. Organisers, he noted, must address the issue of how the concept can deliver benefits in a complex environment with conflicting agendas. Another related challenge is how to coordinate the efforts of stakeholders in dealing with issues we face such as more efficient use of energy. He raised the question as to whether there is a shared vision and strategy in dealing with the concept and the cost and benefits to society. The workshop, he noted, will hopefully discuss these issues and offer some solutions.

Energy Initiatives in Oxfordshire – Mr. Nick King, Manager of Environment, Energy and Travel Strategy at Oxfordshire County Council said the county welcomed the opportunity to take an active part in the smart city conversation. He gave an outline of Oxfordshire’s 2030 strategy and other relevant policy drivers. These include supporting the national carbon budget; reducing carbon emission by 50% by 2030; increasing energy security; reducing the cost of energy and; creating low carbon jobs. With the highest concentration of community groups in the country and active public/private/academic partnerships – such as the LEP and Low Carbon Oxford – Oxfordshire is an ideal place to think about implementing Smart City concepts. In fact, the county was already making steps in this direction with real time bus and travel information, a smart card for bus travel, automatic meter readers for schools and the council’s estates and fast broadband.

From Rio and Dublin to Sunderland: how smarter cities build themselves – Dr. Rick Robinson, Executive Architect, Smarter Cities at IBM gave a synopsis of the challenges facing society which make the smart city concept an attractive tool.. These include rapid population growth at between one and a half to three times more than the sustainable level and the challenge of growing the economy and creating jobs. He highlighted the case of Britain with a shrinking manufacturing base, a situation that is common among other mature economies. He cited work by IBM with cities and regions to make their infrastructure smarter. In Rio IBM had set up a single centre for 30 operations to make more efficient use of the infrastructure and disseminate information to local authorities, in particular, in managing two major world sports events and, dealing with weather and farming issues. In Dublin IBM has worked with the city council, three county councils and universities to deal with transport, energy and water issues. IBM was working with the authorities to develop information networks to assist in the development of new businesses. In Sunderland, in the background of significant decline of the ship building sector, high unemployment and low skills the company was working with the authorities to rebuild the economy. Measures include helping major institutions to act as aggregators and developing social enterprises. In Birmingham IBM was working with the authorities on more efficient land use, building collaborative governance among stakeholders and delivery systems and building an integrated higher education system which allows innovative career development. Other projects around the world include traffic management in Ivory Coast which had resulted in reduced journey time by 10% for city commuters. In Singapore the company had used historical traffic data to forecast future use. In California it had provided real-time data to commuters allowing them to make appropriate changes in journeys. IBM has worked with Warrick University to develop data which businesses can use to explore new opportunities and products. In Bristol IBM has worked with the authorities to develop electronic payment systems between businesses using an alternative currency. In his concluding remarks, Dr Robinson highlighted the immense potential of cloud computing in enabling stakeholders to share information and the flexibility the system gives users. He noted that there are safety and security issues and a need for leadership among stakeholders in galvanizing the community on the challenges of the smart city concept.

Smart City Planning – .Mr. Robert Moyser, Associate Director, Buro Happold highlighted the key components of the smart city concept as vision, intelligence and engagement. These, he noted are crucial in the concept which he defined as a living city which allows sustainable urban planning and an urban intelligence approach. In their experience, the client wants strategy to fit in with its major goals and objectives and in particular, how the concept engages stakeholders and the public. Major projects include the high line in New York; London energy strategy; downsizing of Detroit, London Olympics master plan; King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy in Saudi Arabia and; Paddington public realm master plan. He cited issues that need to be addressed as governance; leadership; business plans that allow for projects as a minimum are cost neutral when balancing cost of new technology versus operational efficiencies expected during its lifetime; reducing broadband poverty; citizen engagement, ICT planning, data privacy and data security.

Reducing Congestion and Increasing Compliance through Intelligent Technology – Mr. Charlie Leaper, Chief Operating Officer at Smart Parking noted that his company manufactures sensors and manages 1200 car parks. His company’s smart approach involves integrated technology in the use of data to improve the quality of the environment, safety and accessibility, traffic management and car parking. His company was working with stakeholders to resolve a number of challenges which include: 30% of congestion is caused by motorists looking for parking space; 15% of parking space being unoccupied at any point in time; balancing the demand of multiple users such as visitors, residents and businesses; accessibility of parking bays; ensuring fair parking for all users and; the demands of legislation. He highlighted key innovations, namely, providing apps that allow motorists to download real time data to make informed decision on parking and integrated payment systems for motorists using their apps. Mr. Leaper cited work with local authorities in Westminster, Sydney and Birmingham. In Westminster, a borough with a busy centre with very limited parking spaces, their project had resulted in improved customer service, a 2.3% reduction in payment avoidance and improved occupancy in underutilized areas. Smart Parking had implemented a similar project in Sydney, Australia. In Birmingham their work on loading bays and kerbside space had resulted in a clearer picture of parking demand and reduction in congestion. The company was working on improving its services, notably, in refiguring its sensor technology and remote two-way communication. These improvements should ensure increased traffic management and increased occupancy of underutilized space leading to reinvestment of savings to increase parking space, more efficient use of public space and influencing the behaviour of motorists.

Smart Oxfordshire Network – Mr. J Boima Rogers, Principal Consultant at Media and Event Management Oxford (MEMO) thanked Oxfordshire Business First (OBF) for its crucial support for his initiative and for hosting the event. He noted that demand and supply factors make the concept and the workshop very relevant. On the demand side cities and residents demand smart solutions on a range of issues and cities had to make smarter use of the infrastructure because of limited resources and budgets and the need to make the environment more attractive for residents, visitors and investors. On the supply side new developments in software, notably Big Data, and equipment were major drivers. Oxfordshire was well placed to explore the potential of the concept because it has a wide range of industries, including many hi-tech companies and top universities. Stakeholders need to continue the conversation on the concept to share information, discuss new tools, the possibilities in partnerships and synergies that will accrue from such partnership. The network that will develop from such a conversation will involve other workshops, social media, newsletters, direct mail and formal groups. He noted that MEMO was keen to assist stakeholders in the process and had developed a tool, Spend per Event Audience (SEA) that can maximise participation and audience while minimizing the cost of doing so.

Comments and Questions by the Audience – A major point made was on how the various apps can be integrated and made available to the public. It was noted that public engagement and support was crucial in the adoption of new technologies. A smart city grid had been rejected in the US despite its benefits because the public had not been brought on board. The appropriate model, it was noted, was the bottom-up approach whereby the public is brought on board at an early stage, so that they can understand and help shape projects. Oxfordshire would need to engage and mobilise local groups as crucial stakeholders. Future workshops should also make efforts to include other sectors such as energy providers who were not present or underrepresented.

By J Boima Rogers and Dr. Stefano Bonfa


J Boima Rogers is the principal consultant at Media and Event Management Oxford (MEMO). MEMO provides project, marketing, media and event management services.