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Ovum recently chaired Informa Tech's Smart to Future Cities conference in London. The audience and speaker lineup came primarily from the public sector, so the event offered a great opportunity to understand firsthand the key obstacles cities face when deploying smart city strategies.

Financing smart city projects has always been a challenge, and it was no surprise that finance innovation generated much discussion over the two days (note: this will be the focus of a report from Ovum later this year). One clear message was the importance of public–private partnerships (PPPs) to move smart city projects beyond the proof of concept (PoC) stage. Cities struggle to generate clear business cases for smart city projects, and better analysis of the citizen-centric benefits is needed. Cities would like to see more analytics for "people–value" metrics, such as happiness, inclusion, and citizen engagement, which can then be included as metrics in their business cases. Without measurable metrics, many projects fail to attract funding.

The importance of sharing information and best practice learnings was another key theme of the event. The potential for high levels of collaboration and information sharing between cities is a unique characteristic compared to other IoT verticals – in private industry, the commercial competition between different players in the value chain still typically inhibits a truly collaborative approach. More cities should be involved in, or be creating, information sharing initiatives like the European "Sharing Cities" initiative, which provides strategy frameworks and product selection guidance to cities looking to implement smart city solutions. Sharing Cities began via a €24m ($27m) EU grant, but aims to attract €500m in private investment. To date, it has engaged with 89 cities, and there are 50 cities using frameworks and policy approaches directly related to the program.

Based on our learnings from the event, Ovum's recommendations to IoT solutions providers looking to sell to cities are:

  • "Learn the language of cities." This was a direct quote from Dr Chen-Yu Lee, director of Smart Taipei, who said that suppliers need to better understand the objectives of cities. These objectives usually focus on economic growth, environmental benefits, and social benefits. A supplier who can address these key issues is more likely to be successful in selling a smart city proposition. 


  • Help cities to reduce risk. City councils and other public sector groups are very risk-averse. Success depends on removing as much risk as possible from smart city projects, and being very clear on the return on investment. Often those making funding decisions are not technology experts. Future-proofing and a clear business case help reduce the risk for investment.


  • Produce a business case toolkit for senior level corporate finance in government. Anything a supplier can do to help local authorities secure funding from central government or external funding bodies would greatly enhance the development of smart cities. One suggestion was a business case toolkit, which would define the metrics by which a proposed smart city project could be measured.


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