How Smart Are Smart Cities, Really?
An idea arises, and it’s a good one. It gets a great name that sounds appealing, and people begin jumping on board—who’d want to be left behind? Whether that idea ultimately is a winner or an adventure in futility can’t be known until years later.
Witness the rise of smart cities: Nobody’s clamoring to live in a dumb one, right? But the approach—working with the internet of things to collect data so that a city becomes more efficient, communicative, and responsive—is in practice another shiny new thing.
“What does it matter if you’re collecting information that you aren’t ready to use?” asks City of Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness. He’s on board for making his city smarter, but he’s not keen on how that notion has been interpreted.
The smart city concept has become a popular talking point among city leaders, he says, and he’s not sure that’s a good thing. Because becoming a truly smart city isn’t about how much technology you’ve integrated into your infrastructure but rather how you’re using it—and enabling residents to use it.
Moving past “shiny and new”
“Cities spend a lot of money on fancy technology like road sensors, but those are just the hood ornaments of what a smart city really is,” Fadness said. “A smart city is actually one that allocates resources well, manages personnel well, does a good job with tracking crime. Programs like that, with intelligence and intention behind them, make a city legitimately smarter.”
That process, he says is iterative and dependent on perpetual improvement undertaken according to well-considered goals and a holistic plan.
“To approach technology from a project-based view is too narrow,” Fadness said. “It’s all too easy to jump in and buy the newest shiny technology, and I see that happening a lot. Resultant took our blinders off so that we were looking at overall processes instead of shiny products. We were focused on the bigger picture, and that led to better decisions.”
A three-year partnership with Resultant started with a technology assessment to identify technology lags and create a plan for improvement. In a carefully orchestrated rollout, City of Fishers modernized payroll and began utilizing a tailored financial software solution, implemented its own intranet and document management system, integrated crime-tip software, and upgraded to multifactor authentication.
A smarter approach
Critical to the Fishers technology revamp was its creation of a business solutions group to act as change agents within Fishers administration. The group leads with a people focus to find answers that better utilize technology throughout city offices and solves problems as they arise.
“Our data and information structure is immensely more sophisticated now than it was four or five years ago,” Fadness said. “Now that the structure is in place, we are able to spend our time-solving problems.”
Working with the data to address a handful of organizational problems each year will enable it to effect significant change—incrementally and lastingly. Because employees now spend less time entering data and more time consuming it, those changes are much more likely to arise.
“If 450 employees can come into work every day to open dashboards, apps, and technology so that they immediately consume data and find problems to solve,” Fadness says, “our job is to create a culture and mindset that encourages them to look for these opportunities daily, and to go solve them.
“Those insatiably curious employees . . . if we are feeding them with information and data, we have a strong belief that they will come up with ideas and correlations that would not have been possible before. The data empowers people.”
And that—empowered people with curiosity, the right data, and the tools to utilize it in ever-improving ways—is what makes a city truly smart.