It’s great to keep an eye on what major brands like Cisco, GE, Siemens, Philips and others are doing with Internet of Things (IoT) and smart cities. However, smart city initiatives are far bigger than the innovation of any one company.

If you want to develop innovative products or services that fit into smart cities, you have to understand the different organizational layers and bureaucracy that make smart cities a reality.

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How Smart Cities Come to Be

There aren’t any hard-and-fast rules when it comes to smart cities. Everyone is just now reaching the point where population growth, aging infrastructure, and resource depletion are forcing a change—and it’s a learning process to say the least.

But at least in Dallas, the best approach has proven to be a public-private partnership (PPP) with the Dallas Innovation Alliance (DIA). By creating a separate, non-profit entity to drive the smart city initiative, it’s easier to bring together stakeholders from a number of disciplines and move more quickly than if the processes were done through internal government.

The first step in establishing a smart city isn’t to start purchasing innovative products from smart city companies. Instead, after establishing the commitment and alignment with city leadership, we pull together the community and civic stakeholders (Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce, The Real Estate Council, Downtown Dallas Inc., Visit Dallas, etc.).

Once these stakeholders are brought in, corporations and academic partners can be integrated to consider the specific problems that need solving. But while you might want to dive in head first and start implementing new technology, a multi-phase strategy is extremely important—especially if you’re dealing with a city like Dallas with such varied density and demographics.

To prove the smart city concept for city stakeholders, you need a location that is a microcosm of the eventual smart city. For example, Dallas’ West End offers many different types of buildings, has street lights established, widespread connectivity, and a central hub of transportation—all of which are important for testing smart city theories.

From here, you can start to deploy your technology for testing.

Integration Is the Key to Smart City Success

Smart city testing should strive for extreme granularity of data. This means deploying multiple new initiatives in the test environment—lighting, waste management, transportation, etc.—and seeing how they interact.

For a company looking to innovate in smart cities, it’s important to have a product or service that integrates nicely with many other aspects of the initiative. When you facilitate granular data collection, you can help offer the city a more complete case study with recommendations and financial models for scaling efforts across the city.

It’s great to see a city like San Diego implement smart lighting, but there’s only so much CapEx to go around and the success of your smart city product depends on proving a sustainable financial model.

As a brand, your two objectives for smart city success should be to make your product/service as easy to integrate with other sectors as possible and to prove usefulness and financial sustainability for the smart city at large.

Opportunities for Smart City Innovation

Because smart city initiatives are in such early stages, there are plenty of opportunities for innovation. There aren’t necessarily any easy-wins in this space, but there are two major opportunities that you should make note of:

  • Light Poles as Low-Hanging Fruit: In the early stages of smart cities, you’re looking for the simplest conversion projects. Because light poles are standard street fixtures, there are opportunities to make more efficient use of them. If you innovate around light pole Wifi, sensors, cameras and more, you can drive new revenue to smart cities as the equipment is licensed locally. Prove your financial sustainability and you’ll find a place in smart cities.

  • Solving the City Service Provider Model: One of the biggest challenges for cities is the need to provide services to citizens more efficiently. The more you can use technology to help cities streamline citizen communication and service provision, the more valuable you become for smart cities. Just look at what Nashville is doing with its fleet of Wifi-providing school buses. Offering efficient access to mobility and greater equality amongst citizens will be major components of smart city innovation.

While companies like AT&T are working to build out the smart city ecosystem, the reality is that we’re lagging behind Europe and Asia. When you look at Hitachi’s data exchange model in Copenhagen, you start to realize just how far we have to go before we master smart cities.

But if you want to be an emerging power in the smart city ecosystem, you have to capitalize on the trends and external forces that are driving the need for greater efficiency in urban areas.

To learn more about smart cities—why we need them and the trends within them—download our free ebook, The Business Opportunity of Smart Cities.

About the Dallas Innovation Alliance

The Dallas Innovation Alliance (DIA) is a coalition of stakeholders from the City of Dallas, corporations, Civic and NGO organizations, academia and private individuals who are invested in Dallas’ continued evolution as a forward‐thinking, innovative, ‘smart’ global city. Our working definition of a Smart City is a city where social and technological infrastructures and solutions facilitate and accelerate sustainable economic growth, resource efficiency, and importantly, improves the quality of life in the city for its citizens. Operating from a foundational vision that smart cities are about people and not just technology, DIA is focused on the end user—building a critical mass of the most highly-engaged citizens in the country.

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