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IDC explains where Canadian ‘smart cities’ actually outperform their global peers

The research firm’s forecast shows only a small number of municipalities will take omni-channel strategies to the next level, but there’s hope close to home


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For the past couple of years, many city leaders have wondered if the concept of “smart cities” was just a bunch of hype. But 2014 is going to be a big year for smart cities as we move from contemplation to action, according to IDC’s latest predictions.

Many cities, though, are grappling with how to take action — how to find money, address procurement and enact change. And that means most of the smart city projects we’ll see this year are smaller pilots or proof of concepts, said Ruthbea Yesner Clarke, research director with IDC Government Insights, during a recent webinar on IDC’s Top 10 Worldwide Smart Cities Predictions for 2014.

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This year, 80 per cent of cities around the world will only be in the first (ad hoc) stage of smart city development. Fifteen per cent will be in the second (opportunistic) stage, while only five percent will be in the third (smart) stage — and they’re only “smart” in one or two areas (like parking), not across the board. We won’t see cities in the final, or optimized, stage until about 15 years from now.

Why is this? City governments, not surprisingly, tend to have a low threshold for risk. They want to see how others are doing it first — so they’re taking baby steps.

Still, IDC expects worldwide smart city spending on the Internet of Things to reach US$265B this year — from smart parking to smart building systems. In fact, 220 cities in China have announced smart city plans, and there is movement in North America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.

Cloud will be key for cities that don’t have the funds to purchase and maintain their own data collection devices. IDC predicts this year smart cities will redirect 15 to 20 per cent of traditional IT spending to the cloud.

This does have regional variations, however. According to Alison Brooks, research director with IDC Government Insights in Canada, this number will be closer to 20-25 per cent in Canada.

Waterfront Toronto is one such example — one of the largest waterfront revitalization projects in the world — which will use cloud to deliver a community portal with social collaboration tools, connecting neighbours, businesses and service providers, all accessible on a mobile platform.

This brings up another prediction — that the key enabler of the omni-channel citizen experience will be mobile. This offers a true shift in the citizen experience through new user interfaces and workflows, said Clarke, and can help cities leverage other investments such as citizen portals, self-service and social tools.

But there is an inherent challenge here. Another prediction: Shadow IT will be a major source of departmental-level innovation but it will also threaten smart city roadmaps. As the smart city concept takes hold, LOB-led projects will get funding — particularly social and mobile app development projects — but this isn’t necessarily a good thing for collaboration.

Mobile apps, in particular, could dilute the citizen experience, said Clarke, as well as deliver an inconsistent experience that varies by department. So it’s critical for cities to create a cross-LOB team with a shared vision for smart cities; then roll out small pilots with measureable results that meet that collaborative requirement.

Smart cities involve a mash-up of technologies, from social media to big data, mobility and cloud. So, even if you’re not planning to pilot smart parking this year, it’s important to get the pieces in place — and make sure your network can support them — so you’re ready to roll out smart city strategies in the coming years and provide that consistent citizen experience.
Photo credit: paul bica via photopin cc

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