What are some of the challenges faced by local governments who want to find ways to make their cities smarter?

The barriers that stand in the way of smart city initiatives were a hot topic at the recent Smart Cities Week D.C. conference.  Finding appropriate funding resources for smart city projects — both to get them started and to keep them operating — was one of the big ones.

Lindsay Wines, chief of staff of the Baltimore City Office of Information and Technology, said during a panel session that in a world where cloud and software-as-a-service models are increasingly common, the needs for IT funding (which is often strongly related to smart city initiatives) are shifting from capital expenditures to operating expenditures, which means a different way of thinking about funding and alternative models — and in Baltimore, means bringing various city departments together to strategize and cooperate on IT projects and procurement.

“All the operational agencies of Baltimore have their own IT shops,” Wines said. “So one of the things we’re trying to do is kind of get everybody in the room at the same time and realize that there is buying power if everybody pools their resources for IT, that can benefit not just the department of public works or the department of transportation, but realize, hey, you have the same system as this department does, let’s use one contract — and we can invest those savings into something else.”

Ruth McMorrow, EVP of Parsons, said that one of the things her company looks at is whether or not clients have fully explored the business case for smart cities, and ensuring that financials work — which may mean complex funding strategies with multiple pieces that need to fall into place, perhaps starting with a revenue-generating project that can fund future work.

“A lot of our government clients are very good at doing that high-level business case. Many don’t take it to the next step, which is — what is the best delivery model for this?” McMorrow said. “I know what I want to do, I know what my goals and objectives are, I sort of see who the partner in industry would be, but are there different delivery models that I can look at, whether it be a simple partnership … a more full-fledged [public-private partnership], or is it a more traditional approach?”

“Cities want P3s, they really need that private capital,” said George Karayannis, VP of CityNOW — Panasonic North America’s smart city unit — and a member of the city of San Jose, California’s smart city advisory panel. “But they struggle with procurement policies that that are mismatched to strategic relationships. It is understandably very challenging for a city, which is a collection of citizens, to select a vendor — especially to pick a vendor for a 10-plus-year strategic relationship. That can be overcome with strong leadership, with trust and transparency.”

Watch an excerpt from the panel session below:


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