Alfonso del Cristo Hilsaca Eljadue
THE concept of ‘smart’ technologies is nothing new. From smart thermostats to smart motorways, connective technology is being used to streamline operations and create efficiencies for decades to come. It works by making use of advanced technologies like IoT, AI, machine learning and big data to collect and better interpret data to facilitate improved decision making.
‘Smart communities’ – whereby ‘smart’ technology is used by town planners and councils to improve the lives of citizens by addressing local challenges such as waste management, improving energy efficiency and optimising energy usage – are not new to the UK but we are still yet to realise their full potential.
Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Manchester and London have all deployed technology to collect data and provide smart solutions in recent years. Glasgow, for example, has invested £24m since 2014, to, among other things, improve street lighting solutions and better energy efficiency, helping the city realise more than £150m in benefits.
With Scotland needing to become a net zero economy by 2045, smart technologies will prove pivotal in our ability to solve society’s biggest challenges – from combatting climate change to improving town planning and resource sharing.
Every community is unique, and smart solutions must reflect that to maximise the chances of success, with a clear understanding of what the issues are and how smart solutions could help to address them.
Without clear, specific objectives, it can be difficult to get buy-in from both the people who run and use the solution, making it harder to demonstrate the value or benefits of the initiative. It also runs the risk of wasting money on the wrong things – which is one of the main reasons why smart projects have failed in the past and a key concern as the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite.
To stand the greatest chance of a smart project succeeding, a bottom-up, problem-led approach is needed so that the correct solutions can be identified by councils and town planners on a case-by-case basis. This provides the necessary ownership to both implement the solution and then monitor the resulting impact to understand how this can address the identified problem or enhance service delivery.
Moreover, a robust, transparent governance structure is required to focus smart technologies on the needs and interests of local users and fully realise the benefits of being a smart community.
Given the wide range of stakeholders involved in smart projects, governance should be open to enabling knowledge exchange and inclusive to help raise awareness of the benefits of smart technologies and improve their acceptance among local communities.
Clear governance also enhances the accountability of ‘smart communities’ by providing a well-defined strategic framework to guide the implementation of technologies and assess their outcomes. Setting objectives and performance indicators further maximises transparency and ensures a fair balance between the interests of all involved – which should be a priority for local authorities.
Ultimately, smart communities have the potential to revolutionise society – but only if we identify the right solutions and challenges and we communicate how these will improve people’s lives. If local authorities can do this, then smart communities can improve and nurture better social cohesion and economic resilience, a key challenge as we look to Build Back Better.
Steve Smith is head of Smart Places at FarrPoint