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UK smart cities fall short on strategy, says report

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The UK’s smart city gurus need to get their act together if citizens are to get the full benefits, according to a report from RICS Research Trust, a charity that supports research in the disciplines of land, real estate and construction around the world.

Smart Cities, Big Data and the Built Environment: What’s Required? looks at two UK city case studies, Bristol and Milton Keynes, alongside Amsterdam and Taipei.

Action plan needed

The research, conducted by academics at the University of Reading, found that fewer than half (47 percent) of UK cities even had an established definition for a smart city, and just 22 percent had a smart city action plan. The same percentage had a smart city framework.

When it comes to data, just 33 percent said their city had a data strategy, and only 22 percent said that the strategy mentioned big data. Open data was a more significant focus.

Read more: Honeywell sees growth potential in India with smart cities

Engaging the built environment

The report highlights a marked lack of engagement from the property and construction sectors, in terms of both direct data provision to data platforms at city level and direct engagement with smart city built environment projects – again at city level.

For the report’s authors, this is a fundamental sticking point. They identify a number of challenges to be overcome: clarity over definition and measurement of ‘big data’, a poor level of business engagement for a variety of reasons including technical capability, interoperability of data sets and the prevalence of a top-down approach where impetus comes from software and hardware vendors rather than from those working in building and facilities management.

Read more: Building smart cities with IoT: SAP talks IoT rebrands, live projects and future challenges

It’s a Mayor thing

There are clear implications for the incoming Mayors of key English cities, elected through last week’s local elections, as well as for the incumbent Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

Report author Professor Tim Dixon, Chair of Sustainable Futures in the Built Environment at the University of Reading said, “City heads need to consider how big and open data would enrich the lives of their populations.”

He added that newly elected mayors would “need to work hard to promote increased collaboration between authorities, the built environment sector, and technology companies, to harness the power of built environment data”.

Read more: Can smart cities improve life for citizens? Salford City Council outlines a model for success

No strategy, no smarts

If there is a one-word answer to the ‘What’s required?’ question in the report title, it seems to be ‘strategy’.

Tim Dixon said: “A key priority for cities is the need to develop clear smart city and data strategies, to demonstrate the benefits for citizens and help improve incentives for companies to share their data. This also means professional bodies need to act more decisively, by championing change and promoting the uptake of data and smart city skills within the built environment sector.”

Internet of Business spoke to Chris Pennell, Public Sector Practice Leader at research company Ovum about this, and he told us, “Data is fast becoming a form of currency, to be exchanged between citizens, cities and businesses in return for improvements to public services.

“This involves using the vast amounts of data generated by digital government, the expanding world of IoT and Smart City projects and transparency data to build services around addressing citizen’s individual needs, rather than merely executing the predefined functions of departments,” he added.

So, it’s a case of no strategy, no smarts. Or as Pennell put it, “Cities become smart not by implementing technology but by creating platforms that connect multiple datasets, enabling shrewd decision making and supporting the development of citizen-centric services.”

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