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Integrated Smart Infrastructure

The next horizon in smart city development


By Katerina Zalamova

· smart cities,sustainability,open data,industry challenges

From digital transformation of cities to cities which are building futures

We can date the beginning of the smart cities era in mid 80s of XX century, when the City of Barcelona draw the first strategic plan for its transformation. As it was explained to us by Joan Clos, former Mayor of Barcelona (1997-2006), the promoter team of this transformation put the process foundation on the objective to create jobs. Barcelona needed a transformation because of the economic crisis in that time which leaved the city with 60K jobs for 1 million habitants.

Barcelona is the oldest smart city project known by us. It was planed in the mid 80s of the last century and since then, it have been developing. Today, many cities planning teams are learning from its experience, replicating and evolving the concepts.

Key learnings for success

The best thing in not being a pioneer is that one can learned from the errors of the pioneers. Today, the digital transformation is a reality which has transformed the ways of doing on all levels: individual, social and political. The people have been transformed with the adoption of the mobile communications. The businesses have been transformed through virtualising their processes. The cities have been transformed with the deployment of intelligent devices on a scale.

We have analysed the success of the digital transformation of the European cities in the framework of the EU HORIZON 2020 program on Smart Cities and Communities. There are a few trends that have been defined based on the following basic learnings.

  • Smart City Brand. The smart cities projects which succeed to scale up their innovation pilots have a city brand. All of them have defined their identity as more than a smart city. Barcelona is a Digital City. Eindhoven is a Brainport. Amsterdam is Circular City.
  • Citizen interaction is more important than just process optimisation. Digital transformation have been promoted as the solution for process optimisation, cost reduction and economic growth. First business, then cities adopted technologies only for this purpose. Years later, it was proved that the success is related more to user/citizen engagement than process and financial optimisations. 
  • Integration. Smart city infrastructure normally is a network of thousand to million connected devices. It was shown during the last decade through the effort to deploy those networks on scale, that technological integration and unified standards are the fundaments for success.  

The New Horizon: Integrated Smart Infrastructure

Based on the examples of Barcelona and other European cities, we define the new horizon in the city planing as the design and implementation of integrated smart infrastructures. We define an integrated smart infrastructure the one with the following elements:

  • Identity Integration: An interactive infrastructure creates culture. The city identity’s purpose which the infrastructure will served is its backbone. The integration of the city brand asures that the infrastructure is integrated homogeneous in the city landscape and won’t stand alone as something artificial to the city life. 
  • People Integration. The infrastructure is interactive with the people. The citizens are present in all the process’s steps from the design, through the deployment to the final exploitation. The infrastructure converts the citizen from a passive consumer into an active prosumer.
  • Data Integration. To be an interactive infrastructure, it consumes, creates and acts with/on data. The design of the flow of data within the infrastructure is called Data Model. The Data Model is a key element for the successful deployment and exploitation of the smart infrastructure.
  • Technological Integration. One infrastructure provides multiple services. It is a key element for the acceleration of the deployment on scale, for the minimisation of costs and maintenance needs.
  • Unified Legal Framework. An integrated smart infrastructure needs a unified legal framework for its purpose as a provider of multiple public services. It asures smooth hybrid operations between multiple stakeholders. 

The New Era of Smart Cities

After more than 20 years in smart city developing around the world and hundreds of cities digitally transformed, we are at the dawn of the new era of smart cities. What cities have been experienced as trying to become smart up to today was a digital transformation. In the new era of smart cities, it will be building futures.

This shift in the approach comes natural from the digital transformation. It is originated in the basic characteristic of the digitalisation to convert passive systems into interactive.

Additional to the new opportunities created by the interactiveness, the acceleration of the technological development originated by it, accelerates a cultural and social transformation. The reality around us is transformed which means the needs evolves. Then, it is clear than the solving-a-problem approach becomes unsustainable.

This has become very clear at the city level. Then, we suggest a new approach to the definition of the digital transformation for cities. We named the new approach with the concept future building process.

We suggest that future building process is a suitable approach to any type of cities: existing and in project ones because one always can put a first day for the new era and can start the building of the new future.

A key element in the suggested approach is the definition of City Brand. The identity of a city shapes its future. This identity is build on its history, people, traditions & heritage, economic opportunities and dreams for the future.

The integrated smart infrastructure is the result from this approach as the vehicle for the building of the new reality. Its elements asure the accomplishment of the City Brand through the involvement of the citizens as a basic infrastructure’s element.

Integrated Smart Infrastructure: Benefits

The benefits of the Integrated Smart Infrastructure have been studied by us for variety of cases: small municipalities, big cities, regions and countries. These benefits can be summarised in the following key conclusions:

  • In all case a reduction of an estimate 60-80% in the deployment time have been identified. An acceleration of the local economy transformation in the first two years of the projects can be observed. 
  • The return on the investment has an exponential behaviour as for the same volume of investment a multiple business models can be developed. 
  • The needed investment decreases by the number of the services which can be served with a unique infrastructure.
  • The management of the infrastructure can be simplified due to its unified legal framework.
  • In 8 of 10 cases a full automatisation of the processes can be achieved.

Integrated Smart Infrastructure: Opportunities for building new futures

The Integrated Smart Infrastructure can be used as a vehicle for building the dreamed future of a city. The proposed approach for its design defines in first place its purpose then sets the basis for the realisation of a new future vision. The responsable team in the city council can plan for a 10, 20, 100 years the future of the city.

The suggested approach widely explores future scenarios about social dynamics, public services and city systems, business models and creation of novel economic activities.

The Integrated Smart Infrastructure provides the opportunity for the creation of a new economic reality trough the specialising of the city in specific industries. In CREA IDEA LAB definition approach, we focus all the processes in the building a traction to the city from the first moment. Citizen engagement, marketing and commercial promotion of the city are key elements of our methodology. We use the city identity as a macro frame to define the mix of technologies, the initial set of public services and business models which will contribute to the stable return of the investment, and lastly, the attraction strategies.

The Integrated Smart Infrastructure is a real tool to solve any environmental, social and economic challenges. It can empower cities and regions through adoption and exploitations of the technology giving personalised answers about their sustainable growth.

At a regional scale, it creates opportunities for regional stability and prosperity.

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