New Project Horizons: Smart Cities

New Project Horizons Smart Cities Photo

More than half (55%) of the world’s population lives in urban areas. The United Nations predicts that by 2050 that proportion will rise to 68%. But many cities are already struggling to ensure residents receive essentials such as clean air, reliable electricity, and health services.

How will cities cope with a steady influx of new residents? One option is a concept known as the “smart city.” Smart cities combine technologies such as internet-connected sensors embedded in objects including traffic lights, sewers and air quality monitors, and artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics into a city-wide network to improve residents’ quality of life, plan services and help the environment.

Around the world, from London to Tokyo, and Dallas to Reykjavik, cities are investing billions of dollars in smart city projects. 

The global market for smart cities is expected to grow from about US$411 billion in 2020 to US$821 billion by 2025, according to recent research published by Research and Markets.

Project Managing a City

Growth in smart cities will create job opportunities for project managers, whose expertise will be vital to their success.

Smart city projects can be difficult to manage due to their use of new technologies, such as AI, and the arduous task of integrating large amounts of data from different IT systems (transport, utilities, health, etc.), experts say.

Standardizing the software code that smart cities are built upon may help. Accenture, a U.S.-based consultancy, and the University of Aizu, in Aizu-Wakamatsu City, Japan, have said that they will work on a joint research project to develop an application programming interface (API) software market for smart cites in Japan. This market will let cities share standardized code for creating and linking software that can be used for smart cities.

Meanwhile, a growing number of cities are using “open-source” computer platforms and data standards, which are free, meaning cities don’t become reliant upon one software supplier. One of the popular standards has been developed by FIWARE, a global not-for-profit organization in Berlin, Germany.

Open Data

FIWARE’s open-source technologies include a platform for running smart city services. The company says its technology, which is used by more than 150 cities, can help cities to boost growth and deliver more efficient services. Juanjo Hierro, FIWARE’s chief technology officer, says that most smart city projects run on a large platform and are managed via an operations center. Many smart city projects use agile project management approaches, aiming for an early and measurable return on investment (ROI) through delivering projects in small increments, he explains.

Using open-source technologies can make it easier to get systems to talk to each other and may improve the likelihood of their success by “leveraging proven technologies from other cities,” he says.

On-demand Services

“Another challenge of smart cities is running existing city services efficiently while building new, digital ones,” says Daniel Marco, director general of innovation and digital economy at the Government of Catalonia, an autonomous region in Spain, which is investing in smart city projects, including “smart mobility” and transportation, the environment, education, and health.

The government’s smart city projects include testing “on-demand” public transport services for villages and industrial parks not currently served by public transport, and a plan to build a software app to calculate citizens’ daily carbon footprints, based on information about their lifestyles. Residents with the most environmentally friendly lifestyles could be given rewards, such as vouchers to spend on local retailers, distributed through a “blockchain” digital ledger, which records transactions.

“The main challenges [of smart cities] are the governance and also how to manage the innovation and the existing services,” says Mr. Marco.

Many smart city projects are led by people with an IT background. However, Mr. Marco says that smart city projects are more about a “strategic program to rethink how a city needs to change” than they are a technology project.

In addition to knowledge of technology platforms, smart city project managers need to know how to harness data from numerous IT systems and manage relationships with project stakeholders, he says.