5 Best Practices From Smart City Leaders

By now, innovations like smart metering and smart lighting have become familiar tools in an urban leader’s belt. The Smart City movement has reached municipalities big and small across the country, streamlining services and increasing efficiency. Smart Cities are about more than just technology, though. To progress beyond the benefits of a few ad hoc solutions, municipal leaders will have to rethink the way cities are run.

This is no small task, but aspiring Smart City leaders are not alone. On the first day of the 2018 Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo in Kansas City, a panel of all-star city leaders took the stage for a panel on real world Smart City strategies. Kansas City CIO Bob Bennett; Aurora, Ill., CIO Michael Pegues; San Diego Chief Operating Officer David Graham; and New York City CIO and Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications Commissioner Samir Saini engaged in a conversation moderated by Ruthbea Yesner, VP of Government Insights and Smart Cities at IDC. Many ideas were explored during the discussion, and here are five that are most relevant to Smart City leaders.

Smart can be simple

While many conversations about technology and governance strategies tend to be high-concept, Graham stressed that there is nothing to worry about at the core level.

“Smart Cities are all about practicality at the end of the day,” Graham said.

To illustrate this, he asked the audience who had the “perfect idea” of how to utilize data. Nobody raised their hands. As limitless as the possibilities of technology are, the end goal of Smart Cities is to improve quality of life as seamlessly as possible – or as Graham put it, “Invisible but transformative.”

Focus on talent

When Yesner asked how a city leader could adopt a systems engineering approach to governance, Bennett had an immediate answer: Find innovation-minded champions in each city department and enable them to succeed. Giving these exemplars an outlet to aid in urban change not only makes government systems more efficient, it attracts high-quality talent to the public sector.

“There is a sense of urgency that everyone in the Kansas City government feels,” Bennett said. “Nobody takes a government job for the money, and nobody wants to go in and fail. Everyone wants to change the world.”

Take an inclusive approach

During a discussion on how to measure city performance, Saini brought up the digital divide as a measure of progress. He noted that digital inequity not only continues to impact cities, but is actually growing worse. Graham concurred.

“An inclusive approach will make Smart Cities sticky and provide longevity,” Graham said. “It can’t just be about tech.”

Failure can be helpful

Whether the reason is that there is no clear initial direction, the partners are incompatible or momentum stalls after pilots, Smart City projects always have the potential to fail. This doesn’t have to be the end of the world, though. “When Smart Cities fail, sometimes it’s a good thing,” Bennett said. He noted that setbacks can alert cities to shortcomings in their own organizations or of the difficulties on institutionalizing vital partnerships.

Learn from your peers

Having only held his position since June 2017, Pegues knew he had some catching up to do. Not wanting to make the same mistakes as other cities, he reached out to his peer network to discover lessons learned.

“You can’t build a Smart City without a solid operational foundation,” Pegues said.

Beyond utilizing colleagues, Graham noted that universities and NGOs are also crucial as testbeds for technology and initiatives. In addition to those resources, he observed that events such as Smart Cities Connect, where public and private sector leaders can meet, are essential to improving communications between the sectors and working toward smarter cities.

“Things like this conference are how we solve these problems,” Graham said.