By Nicki Hutley | 21 Apr 2016

There is no one clear definition of a ‘smart city’, and there are many aspects of what we think of as ‘smart’ that are already embedded in cities and even towns across Australia and globally. This includes remote video health services, smart lighting (on streets as well as in buildings) and virtual education campuses.

We hear more and more talk about the need for cities of the future to be ‘smart cities’. But just what does this mean?

While there is no single, consistent definition, the truly smart city will embrace technology to ensure the best outcomes in all aspects of service delivery and across the built environment. This means optimising efficiency, economic returns and customer experience. Smart cities are not about robots or driver-less cars. And they are not solely about technology; it is about how people deploy new technologies. The smart city will be evidenced by the efficiency and integration of its transport, health, education, housing, government and business services; in the way all these things connect to each other and to the citizenry.

Image credit: Kevin Brennan

Because smart cities involve complexity, delivering optimal benefits requires a number of key ingredients.

Evidence demonstrates that collaboration will deliver better outcomes. This can be achieved through on-going steering groups that champion genuine change and investment in the building blocks of change.

Firstly, we need the right infrastructure – not just towers and cables, but the supporting systems, platforms, data centres and so on. And to deliver this infrastructure, we need highly skilled people. Not just coders, but strategic thinkers. There is currently a chronic shortage of such people, not only in Australia, but globally.

Also essential to the development of smart cities is collaboration among policy makers and businesses across sectors and geographies. It is only too easy when planning our cities that we think in silos. But evidence demonstrates that collaboration will deliver better outcomes. This can be achieved through on-going steering groups that champion genuine change and investment in the building blocks of change.

Finally, technological change involves many winners and losers. In investing public monies, a clear evidence base of costs and benefits needs to be established.

Forbes estimates that, by 2025, there will be some 26 smart cities globally – half of these in the US. None of these in Australia. If we are to prove them wrong, much work needs to be done.

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