How to Start Building a Smart City: A Government Employee's...
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How to Start Building a Smart City: A Government Employee's Perspective

By Shonte' Eldridge, PMP, Deputy Chief of Operations, City of Baltimore

Shonte' Eldridge, PMP, Deputy Chief of Operations, City of Baltimore

Smart lighting, smart parking, smart transportation and so on. Smart city solutions are growing at a tremendous pace with no end in sight, as its projected that by 2025 the smart cities industry will be a $400 billion market, in 600 cities worldwide, and generate 60 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (McKinsey research). So with all that is available, how does a jurisdiction new to the smart cities game get started? That is the situation I was faced with when asked to lead the City of Baltimore’s smart cities strategy; as no detailed step by step guide existed and sifting through the thousand pieces of information on how to start was like drinking from a fire hose. Therefore, to save other government employees who might find themselves in the same predicament some time, I wanted to share three actions we took when the City of Baltimore began its smart cities journey.

"Smart cities are usually born out of a city’s desire to use data and technology to solve their social, economic, transportation and environmental challenges"

First: We Read A Lot...Then Read Even More

As stated above, there are several websites, blogs, research papers and LinkedIn articles that can keep you updated on the newest smart cities technology, funding options available and the lessons learned from various smart cities implementations. Read, subscribe and follow as many as you can stand. Although each city should develop their own unique smart cities path, the only way to know what is out there is to educate yourself. There are a lot of great resources, however the websites and LinkedIn company blogs that I have found to be the most informative are:

• Smart Cities Council
• Government Technology : Check this Top Government Tech Solution Providers
• Smart Cities Dive
• Bee Smart City
• Smart Cities World

Second: We Developed A Smart Cities Plan Before Implementation

Due to the infusion of technology into people’s everyday life, cities are under an enormous amount of pressure to deliver the same technological bells and whistles that our residents, business and visitors have become accustomed to from private corporations; and I have personally seen this pressure lead other cities to rush into projects that are not well planned, wrong for their communities and ultimately doomed fail.

After talking to colleagues about smart cities projects that did not go so well, the reason most often cited for the failure was the absence of a smart cities strategy or comprehensive project plan. Which is unfortunate as any trained project manager will tell you, the key to a successful project is to start with a well-developed plan or strategy.

To ensure the City of Baltimore did not fall into the trap of implementing smart cities technology because it was the shiny new trend, we first developed an inclusive digital transformation strategic plan. Having a plan not only focused our smart cities efforts and guided our limited resources, but also identified the data and infrastructure gaps we needed to fill in order to give our smart cities projects the best chance of success. Of course you can you start a smart cities project without a plan, clear goals and reasons for why you are doing it, however be prepared to waste time, resources and face stakeholder rejection.

Third: We Built Strong Smart Cities Relationships

Smart cities are usually born out of a city’s desire to use data and technology to solve their social, economic, transportation and environmental challenges, and the City of Baltimore was no different. However, instead of developing our smart cities goals and plan in a vacuum, the city chose to engage seven surrounding universities, local and national tech companies, philanthropic organizations, community members, smart cities subject matter experts and other city/state CIOs. We also formed a smart city committee so we could regularly meet with some of our partners and move the city’s smart cities agenda together. The existence of strong relationships/partnerships is not only helping the city identify and implement the most appropriate smart cities projects for our communities, but more importantly they are helping us find creative ways to fund them.

The smart cities community is very giving and people are more than willing to share what they did right and what they did wrong. Search for subject matter experts on LinkedIn and message them, that is what that feature is for. Some of my best smart cities contacts are people that I have never physically met. Save yourself the aggravation and time yelling why me and ask for sample RFPs, documents and advice. Trust me, this one simple, no cost action will save your hours of time.

In Conclusion

Across the world, smart cities technology is improving lives, bringing communities together and making governments more efficient. However, in my opinion to truly become a leading smart city, cities should learn all that they can, carefully plan, engage the community and implement technology that actually improves people’s experience with their government and enhances their quality of life.

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