“It is a myth to believe there is one or a set of ‘killer use cases’ that will accelerate adoption of smart city [principles] by councils, [because] it contradicts the very definition of smart cities,” said Accenture Australia’s smart cities practice lead, Janine Griffiths.

“Smart cities are about improving the liveability of their citizens [and] this may or may not be supported by technology.

“It is critical that leaders of cities understand this and look at technologies as a tool to deliver an outcome for the community as opposed to being the actual panacea.”

Griffiths told IoT Hub that some Australian councils have understood the role that technology plays in their smart city ecosystems, instead focusing on other factors such as local economics, community demographics, geography and local industry to drive their initiatives.

She added that the councils that consider funding, governance and partnering models, along with procurement strategies and changing the innovation culture within their cities will help them move beyond “looking smart to being smart”.

“Each city is unique in its own right - with even neighbouring councils having different economies, community demographics, geography, industries, and political priorities - and the needs of the communities are different too,” she said.

“Innovation should be around how the City understands the needs of its citizens and intelligently utilises technology to develop a capability, and it is vital to understand that capability is not just technology but is a combination with processes and people.

“Adopting the latest technology with limited understanding of local context and not making changes to ‘ways of working’ will lead to unpredictable results.”

Competition versus collaboration

The number of councils undertaking smart city projects has certainly grown in the recent past. While this provides another front for councils to compete with each other to attract the best talent, investment and development, there is an opportunity for them to collaborate to achieve mutual goals.

“In terms of delivering services to citizens and creating operational efficiencies within Councils, the opportunity for more collaboration is not just in sharing lessons learnt and ideas, but in co-innovating and co-creating to solve problems,” Griffiths explained.

She said that the infancy of the standards and guidelines that surround smart city technologies is the most vital area of collaboration for councils.

“As with any new industry, cities face redundancy cost risks if they adopt technologies that do not become the standard,” she added.

“The Federal Government has a role to play here in supporting Local Government agencies to collaborate in establishing national standards.”

In a similar vein, councils should be unafraid of engaging with parties outside governmental departments.

“By engaging in a wider ecosystem with other industries and digital partners, local councils can develop a design-based, citizen-centric and outcome-driven strategy and, consequently, a seamless experience for their communities,” Griffiths said.

“By considering the entire ecosystem around them, Australian cities will get an outside-in view of the people in the ecosystem, the places in which the service is experienced, the products used by everyone, the processes that people follow and the performance.”

Smart city advocacy

Councils today have the benefit of possessing digital-savvy constituents, many of whom already own multiple technologies and understand the benefits they provide.

Furthermore, councils are increasingly implementing programs that encourage local innovation and digital development, spreading the word about how smart city initiatives can provide benefit.

This level of proficiency and awareness extends to the councils’ chambers themselves for the most part, according to Griffiths.

“Internally within councils we see staff who are operating in the smart cities domain as very connected, enthusiastic and excited by the possibilities afforded by new digital technologies,” she said.

“At an executive level, though, and for staff in councils who are not engaged in this domain the understanding and experience is quite mixed.”

Griffiths said councils need to keep pace with their technology-driven citizens by continuing to build the digital capability and understanding of its workforce as smart city technologies are implemented, across the whole chain of command.

“A strong smart city vision, and a council leadership team and political leaders who are engaged and aligned on the outcomes to be realised for the city is paramount.”