FarrPoint joins forces with Edinburgh Napier's Unity Lab to discuss why getting the proper governance in place is critical in helping towns and communities achieve the benefits of becoming ‘smart’.
By Steve Smith, Head of Smart Places at FarrPoint, Luca Mora, Director of (this will open in a new window)UnityLab at Edinburgh Napier University, and Paolo Gerli, Senior Research Associate at UnityLab
Smart city technology like smart parking meters, smart bins or even smart air quality sensors can make a real difference in a community that requires smart problem solving. But deploying 'smart' solutions and then trying to identify the problems they can address isn’t smart. Without clear, specific objectives, it can be difficult to get buy-in from both the people who need to implement the solutions and those it impacts, making it harder to demonstrate the value or benefits of individual solutions, and running the risk of wasting money on the wrong things.
In many cases, 'smart' solutions are aimed at improving existing services like waste management or public parking; however, without the necessary support of those responsible for delivering these services from the outset, it can be hard to persuade them to consider how 'smart' solutions would enhance their 'tried and tested' existing practices or to consider alternative ways of working.
A 'build-it and they will come' approach also risks stakeholders quickly losing confidence in 'smart' solutions. Without careful consideration of the desired outcome, even those deployed solutions may not address the problem alone, with other processes or culture changes often being needed to fully realise the desired outcome.
Every place is unique, and 'smart' solutions need to reflect that to maximise the chances of successful implementation, with a clear understanding required of what the issues are and how a 'smart' solution could help to address this.
To stand the greatest chance of success, a bottom-up, problem led approach is needed so that the right solutions can be identified and the relevant stakeholders included. This provides the necessary ownership to both implement the solution and then monitor the resulting impact to understand how this can address the identified problem or enhance service delivery.
Stakeholders are likely to vary depending on the solution, with the potential to have multiple different solutions being deployed within an organisation or area simultaneously. Therefore, a robust governance structure is needed to ensure that the right people are involved in the right way and at the right time to successfully implement, manage and monitor the project whilst also ensuring those who will be the ultimate beneficiaries within the community are kept informed.
Taking time to look at the use cases and understanding what a 'smart' solution will provide is key and allows the right processes to be designed to realise the desired benefits. There is little point in collecting 'smart' data if the resulting information isn't used to make decisions, improve how services are targeted, and react to events.
A simple example of this is the increasingly common 'bin sensor', which provides information regarding the fill-level of public rubbish bins and can provide alerts when a bin reaches a pre-determined level. This information alone, whilst useful, would not provide improvements to refuse collection or potential litter issues resulting from overflowing bins. Other processes would need to be designed and embedded in order to take this information and make informed decisions about the frequency of collection or trigger appropriate actions, ultimately resulting in those bins nearing capacity being emptied before overflowing. If done correctly, this enables resources to be accurately targeted where and when required, reducing unnecessary visits whilst ensuring no negative impact in terms of litter. As these processes are changed, there is the opportunity to ask, what are the potential knock-on benefits of this change, could it improve other services delivered in that area, for example?
For all stakeholders to realise the benefits of becoming ‘smart’, a robust, transparent governance structure in place is vital. The governance structure helps orient the implementation of smart technologies towards the needs and interests of local stakeholders, in addition to supporting the collaborative efforts underpinning the development of smart solutions and services.
Given the wide range of stakeholders involved in digital transformation processes, ‘smart places’ governance should be open to enabling knowledge exchange and data sharing that facilitate the development of place-based innovative solutions tailored to the local context. By constantly engaging with local users, an inclusive governance structure can contribute to raising awareness of the benefits of smart technologies and improve their acceptance among local communities (especially within those social groups that are more reluctant to or less capable of using digital services and devices).
Furthermore, clear governance enhances the accountability of ‘smart places’ by providing a well-defined strategic framework to guide the implementation of smart technologies and assess their outcomes. Setting objectives and performance indicators through a participatory process further maximises ‘smart places’ transparency and ensures a fair balance between the potentially diverging interests of public, private and community stakeholders.
Finally, having this clear governance structure in place is essential to fully leverage the potential of ‘smart data’ while minimising the technological, legal and ethical risks that the use of smart technologies may entail. The strategic framework allows local leaders to make ‘smart decisions’, using data in a way that is beneficial to local communities and compliant with existing regulations. Defining place-based processes for collecting, sharing and analysing data further contributes to building ‘smart places’ where digital technologies nurture social cohesion and economic resilience by enabling bottom-up place-based innovations.
Also covered by (this will open in a new window)Total Telecom and The Herald Scotland.
At FarrPoint, we know there's no one-size-fits-all approach. Therefore, we deliver solutions in partnership with our clients. If you have any questions about smart places governance, please get in touch or view our services page below.
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