UK Smart Cities realization is in trouble

“The standards are not sufficient to implement large projects.” That’s the conclusion of a report from Lucy Zodion, a street lighting design and manufacturing firm, which found that 80% of the 187 councils in the UK had such little involvement or knowledge of smart cities that they didn’t feel comfortable in participating.

The study, carried out by public sector specialist DJS Research, found evidence of what it calls a three-tiered approach to smart cities in the UK – where “the early-adopters who managed to secure funding are moving forward, but those without resources have been left unable to make progress.” It suggests that the available government funds aren’t enough to provide for every project, and that those without access to this funding are somewhat doomed to watch neighbors surge ahead.

Around a dozen cities in the UK are undertaking smart city initiatives, with London, Bristol, Milton Keynes, Liverpool, Peterborough, and Glasgow the more prominent ones that come to mind. While these larger projects will certainly comprise proportionally more people-per-council, as they are major cities, the smaller councils have just as much, or even more, to gain from embracing smart city technologies.

Rural communities are well-placed to reap the benefits of remote sensors, reducing their truck roll and staff expenditure, and speeding up the time it takes to move data from its source to the point at which it will be useful. While cities might be able to do something similar using a municipal WiFi network (a headache unto itself, admittedly), this option is never going to be possible for locations out in the countryside.

Connected lighting networks make a lot of sense for offering a wireless backhaul option, and there are a number that use their own proprietary protocols, cellular, or LPWAN technologies – but much of the countryside roadways are unlit, and many areas would be too far from roads for this to be a universal implementation.

The IoT is data, or rather, the process of creating and transporting data to a place in which it is valuable. For nearly all smart city applications, the network has to come first. IoT technologies like LPWAN, as well as the falling cost of the computer hardware needed to generate data points.

Lucy Zodion, coincidentally, sells a method of adding these capabilities – with its range of (potentially) connected streetlight designs, that can incorporate sensor technologies too. The company has also set up the Citi Horizons online hub which it hopes will get the ball rolling on smart city adoption.

Another hurdle for smaller councils is simply not having the internal resources available to carry out the project management and planning needed to independently get the ball rolling on a smart city rollout. Cities have access to much larger talent pools, and due to the scale of infrastructure spending, likely have dedicated teams in place to pitch for and acquire the larger funds and grants that a smaller town or collection of villages wouldn’t even entertain the notion of securing.

As for the report itself, it notes that “those enlightened councils with funding secured and projects underway are striving ahead of others aware of the potential benefits but struggling to gather the resource required to make progress. The remaining councils – seemingly the majority – appear less engaged, either unaware of the potential benefits, or too focused on making budgets balance.”

The most common barriers to adoption listed by respondents were a lack of funding, the lack of internal prioritization, lack of evidence or proof, not enough collaboration, and a general lack of confidence (mostly due to current budgetary climates).

In its conclusion, the report recommends four priority areas that should be addressed “to maintain momentum and achieve connected cities across the UK”: make future cities a strategic priority, encourage greater collaboration, place citizens at the heart of smart cities, and optimize existing infrastructure. See also

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