Raimundo Rodulfo, P.e. – Director of Information Technology / Chief Innovation Officer, City of Coral Gables, Florida.
Not too long ago, the concept of smart cities was a little blurry and mysterious, with dozens of different definitions and interpretations but very little literature, case studies or actionable frameworks that could provide a clear roadmap for those intrigued by the vision but concerned by its applicability and feasibility. Today, there is a consensus on the urgent need for municipalities and regions to become smarter and more efficient in the way they manage resources, provide services to their constituents, solve urban problems, and plan for the near and long-term future.
Even though the dialogue around smart cities still goes in multiple directions and keeps growing in intensity and complexity, it now looks more focused on common themes such as livability, sustainability and resilience that aim to improve quality of life and overcome pressing challenges affecting communities. We have also started to see more mature implementation models, standards and guidelines from industry, government and academia, as well as hundreds of success stories from around the world, with results and benefits that are evident and have gained support from citizens and city leaders. At the same time, we have also seen the emergence of a robust and dynamic technology market around smart cities that has permeated all sectors, powered by the same exponential trends of the fourth industrial revolution that are transforming manufacturing, supply chain, and the consumer market. Adoption of cloud computing, internet of things, blockchain, big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics and automation, are not uncommon nowadays in the public sector, with diverse applications that include transportation, public safety,enterprise systems, infrastructure management, and a variety of citizen services.
Smart urban initiatives are scaling down to municipalities within larger metropolitan areas, as well as small communities, campuses, neighborhoods, and even to specific residential areas and buildings. One could argue that smart homes and home automation technologies are micro-applications of the smart city concept, and vice versa: that smart cities reflect a trend that starts at a consumer level. Families around the world are trying to improve energy efficiency, waste management, water consumption and quality of life within their own homes, lowering costs and becoming more sustainable along the way. Through citizen engagement, these smart initiatives inspire and influence local government, and at the same time, government-championed programs lead by example and inspire residents as well, establishing a smart virtuous cycle in the long term.
Smart cities are also scaling up and, in many cases, inspiring regional and national programs, in collaboration with industry, nonprofits and academia. Jurisdictional boundaries and governance silos still present a big challenge for regional initiatives, which require a close collaboration and a mutually beneficial relationship between municipalities, counties and states. We are seeing more efforts to create value-driven synergies that allow municipalities share data, technology platforms and other resources within a smart city ecosystem. A clear vision that resonates with all stakeholders and their constituency is crucial for the continuity of these efforts. Some examples are the regional coalitions that foster digital inclusion, the ones that create jobs and boost tech entrepreneurship, and the ones that work addressing environmental problems. Smart urban initiatives that help communities improve public safety and survive natural disasters and environmental crises are not a luxury but an imperative need that brings people and organizations together.
Successful smart city initiatives are closely aligned with citizen needs and priorities, and with the mission, vision and goals of the organization and its leadership. Every project needs to be a strategic endeavor that improves customer service and quality of life for constituents and solves the real problems their communities are facing. Challenges are many and well-known, and each community will set their own priorities: lowering traffic congestion, fulfilling transportation needs, reducing carbon footprint and mitigating environmental impact, reducing crime, lowering costs, adding efficiencies, improving citizen inclusion and accessibility, fostering economic growth, among others. Innovative, affordable, sustainable programs that add value and address those issues people care about are the ones that resonate and gain support. Lack of trust and support from citizens and decision makers can become a major roadblock for these programs. A big challenge for cities is to make sure that quality, cybersecurity, privacy, accessibility, inclusion, data governance and interoperability are an integral part of any new project, from ideation to design and execution, and not an afterthought. Solving problems using new technologies can potentially create other issues, such as silos, overcomplexity, duplication and gaps of various kinds. A solid ethical and legal framework and a governance process based on best-practices, with input and oversight from internal and external stakeholders, is required to manage these risks.
Over the last five years, in City of Coral Gables, Florida, we have embarked on numerous smart initiatives with challenges, lessons-learned and successes along the way. Our strategic plan has focused on improving quality of life and customer service, starting with citywide process improvement and quality engineering programs that streamline workflows even before new digital transformation initiatives were introduced. It fostered an organizational culture focused on quality and customer satisfaction and achieved cost savings that helped fund R&D and smart city programs. This plan helped us develop a smart city ecosystem that drove innovation and economic growth by bringing together through technology People, Businesses, Organizations, Things, and Systems. Our plan also implemented interconnected and interoperable elements such as a Smart City Hub public platform, a Data Marketplace, an Application Store, Transparency Portals, a Community Intelligence Center; Data Platforms, Internet of Things, and a resilient technology infrastructure with high-speed communications capable of surviving hurricanes and other disasters. We have seen first-hand how these value-driven initiatives resulted in continuous improvement and mainstream adoption of smart city concepts. We invite you to visit our hub to learn more about our journey: www.coralgables.com/smartcity.