Partnerships are essential for smart cities to make a difference for citizens

How do you measure success as a smart city? It’s not just about the finances, but also the “social return on investment”, say experts.

“It’s the city as a service,” said Shawn Slack, CIO for the City of Mississauga, at a recent ITWC webinar. “Smart cities really have to work for people. Technology is the enabler and not the purpose,” he said.

Mississauga, the sixth largest city in Canada with a population of 800 thousand, is gaining recognition as a leader in smart city initiatives. It’s home to the largest publicly-owned fibre network in North America which connects sensors that collect information to help the city make data-driven decisions. It also allowed the city to provide 8 million hours of free public Wi-Fi last year alone, said Slack.

“It’s really about creating a social impact for citizens,” said Peter Bates, Cities Lead for Cisco Systems Canada. “Use cases that improve people’s lives are critical.”

Rethinking services to create a new citizen experience

Cities around the world are looking to technology to solve serious challenges, said Bates.

Urbanization is increasing rapidly. Within the next ten years, 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities, Bates said. Meanwhile, cities must deal with unprecedented security threats and changing expectations among citizens. “People want mobile access to government services,” said Bates. “They don’t want to go to a licensing office for a permit or to a recreation centre to sign up for swimming lessons.”

Digital transformation will require a “rethink” of city infrastructure and services, he said.  Cities have to change traditional service silos, legacy infrastructure and procurement processes.

The network and data-sharing platforms are the foundation for integration, said Bates. “Cities often have a fragmented approach where multiple sources of data are not correlated,” he said. “What’s missing is a single view. The real value is sharing data across agencies, so people can see what’s happening under a single lens.” In this way, cities can also leverage technology to help those who are most vulnerable, for example, by using real-time data to get resources to homeless shelters, said Bates.

The secret sauce for smart city success

The way to deliver citizen-based outcomes is to include the citizens, as well as agencies and the private sector, said Slack. “My message is that partnerships are essential.”

The city held public consultations on a draft framework for its Smart City Master Plan, and found that the level of participation was beyond anything experienced in the past, said Slack. It also helps to “just write down the things you are already doing,” Slack said. “People will see the value and will want to see how more can be done.”

To ensure continuous public engagement, the city has launched initiatives like the Centre for Civic Curiosity. It’s set up to help “demystify the new technologies we plan to use in the future,” said Slack.

The city partners with agencies like the United Way on social programs, and works with private companies as part of the planning process on development projects, such as light rail transit and new buildings.

“For innovation, industry and partnerships matter,” said Slack. “I was once asked what a dumb city was. The answer is that it is one that tries to do it alone.”

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Cindy Baker
Cindy Baker
Cindy Baker has over 20 years of experience in IT-related fields in the public and private sectors, as a lawyer and strategic advisor. She is a former broadcast journalist, currently working as a consultant, freelance writer and editor.

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