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Blog - How to grow technology adoption in your City-Region

Standards is the hottest topics in city making right now. One that’s tasked with rapidly making our cities more intelligent places to live, work and play. Particularly when it comes to adopting new technology and using data better.

One of the biggest challenges to successful innovation in cities is the ability to take advantage of emerging technologies and the embedding of new hardware and software into an organisation’s existing infrastructure estate – or replacing it altogether.

Standards can help to ‘make’ markets for new products and services

We’ve become dependent on large suppliers to come up with ideas and develop new products and services to help us run our cities more efficiently. So one argument goes. And by relying on large business, we’ve become passive consumers of their recommended solutions for our cities. Take IBM Rio de Janeiro Smart City; one international supplier has been integral to building solution from scratch for a city with a population of over 6-million.

This is an example of top down supplier-led innovation in smart cities. It demonstrates the imposition of technology from a single vendor in one city rather than something grown organically from the ground-up with a plethora of suppliers. This brings with it risks of not being inclusive or responsive to fast-paced change of technology in the ecosystem.

A City Standards-led approach to innovation is an entirely different approach. It starts by identifying the pressing needs of cities by encouraging open engagement across the entire ecosystem. Any leader in the sector is welcome to join the debate and contribute to forming common industry standards around themed areas including Digital Leadership, System Integration and Data Sharing. Experts in writing standards then work with knowledgeable service users and providers to develop open knowledge on our biggest shared problems. Standards can be transferred into requirements for the ecosystem at large and lead both the traditional and new suppliers to build what we need for our cities with confidence in a more consistent and interoperable way.

A City Standards-led approach to innovation believes that informed customer requirements and smarter procurement based on common standards leads to better solutions for customers, better specifications for suppliers and quicker adoption rates of new tech. Larger vendors, who may have been the adviser in the past are now superseded by trusted groups within the industry, of which they can still play a part. The group at large have defined common standards for the industry and this leads to increased demand of a standard specification of smart products and services – increasing confidence and reducing risk.

Standards across City-Regions will enable quicker scaling of Smart Infrastructure and Data solutions in our cities

One of the biggest barriers to uptake of new intelligent products and services in Cities can be just how complicated it is for small and large organisations to collaborate or work on behalf of individual local authorities to deploy their new technologies at City scale.

There are 418 principal authorities in the UK. That means 418 individual conversations for suppliers as they try to deploy new technology across the country. That means 418 authorities, who as individuals, hold more risk in their procurement of new products and services than they would as groups. 418 authorities constrained by time, skills and budget to successfully oversee both simple and complex technology implementations.

53 of those authorities are covered by our 9 Combined Authorities in England. A further 32 London Boroughs fall under the top-tier administration body of the GLA. Are Combined Authorities and top-tier administrative bodies such as the GLA, the correct vehicle to try to use in order to get more strategic digital decisions made in cities?

I believe so, and the RTPI think they could be to. They recently published their own position on the topic.

“A new focus on ‘smart city-regions’ would seek solutions which benefit not only major cities but also their surrounding towns, villages and rural areas, working towards the broader economic, social and environmental objectives of planning. In the current context of English devolution, there exists a valuable opportunity to direct the technological innovation of the smart city agenda towards the specific challenges that combined authorities (and other groups of local authorities) face when planning across geographical and sectoral boundaries.” RTPI, Better Planning: Smart City-Regions, September 2017

It appears the winds are changing as the role of Chief Digital Officer is created in London and CIOs begin to tool up to lead combined authorities in agendas focused on how to integrate data and ensure technological uptake across larger administrative areas. Examples of Digital Collaboration Agreements are beginning to spring up between local authorities, which encourage code sharing, digital development on common platforms, advice and reciprocal support on areas of expertise. Is it now time for City-Regions to lead?

The opportunities from Combined Authorities and the devolution agenda must be taken advantage of to scale data and digital solutions in cities. It provides the opportunity for joint initiatives and common technology procurement across wider city-region areas with shared risk and hopefully reduced cost across the region.

Just think, if Combined Authorities lead procurement of Smart solutions across those 53 Authorities and the GLA across the 32 London Boroughs how quickly the tested benefits might also flow to other authorities across the UK.

Urbanisation and a focus on city-based knowledge and service economies means that city-regions are here to stay. It’s time for central government to catch-up and steer our city-regions to success through more devolved power. It’s also time for city-region technology leaders to lead from the front on the standardisation agenda across their geographical areas and lobby for more powers to manage the digital and data agenda across the region.

City Standards Institute

Standards are critical to unlocking the potential of smart cities. We’re about to launch a new programme of activities for the Cities Standards Institute (CSI) at Future Cities Catapult and I’m excited to be part of the team getting the 2018 edition off the ground.

CSI is a collaboration between Future Cities Catapult and the British Standards Institution (BSI) to accelerate the development of standards for smart cities. It’s one of the UK’s leading smart city networks bringing together local government, businesses, academia and innovators to identify the common challenges that cities face, generate solutions and introduce standards, common approaches and best practice to help guide the evolution of future cities.

So far, the collaboration between FCC and BSI has yielded four standards and 2018’s work will take this further. CSI is also updating its offering and governance, focusing on new theme areas that are the most critical to unlocking growth in cities. It’ll also be exploring how we can make standards move quicker to implementation, especially in areas of procurement and commissioning. That means more focus on encouraging the development frameworks, procedure change and people change when it comes to all things Standards.

Jon Robertson is currently the Delivery Lead for Tombolo and supporting City Data projects at Future Cities Catapult, such as the CSI. Follow Jon on Twitter or connect on Linkedin. Matt Wood-Hill is the City Standards Lead at Future Cities Catapult. You can follow Matt on Twitter.

This is an abridged version of a longer article. You can view the full version here.

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