Joe Dignan
Joe Dignan (European Head, IDC Government Insights)

Making smart cities accessible for the majority not the minority, ordinary people rather than the elite, is the key to success for the smart city market.

I recently attended the Smart City Congress in Barcelona, and although I have attended many such events over the years, it was special to be out of London steering my carry-on case (or being steered by my carry-on case; I am never sure who is in charge) and wandering about the winter wonderland that is the congress. The lights, the colours, the people, the robotic dog, the drones, the unmanned vehicles, the free coffee and Catalan pastries — it is Santa’s Smart City Grotto.

However, I had a familiar sinking feeling that we are still producing solutions for the wrong audience. We always pitch the Smart City story at the demographic that uses the least amount of funding and resources that the public sector has on offer. I watched video after video showing diverse but always photogenic people talking to their bathroom mirror, car, office lights, garage doors, and plants before ordering a flight to New York through their sleeve. This is not the world of city governments.

As an analyst, I spend my life being briefed and offered vendor marketing collateral, and for many years I have been asking vendors to show me the “blue-collar” solutions. I was once asked by a politician how to explain smart cities on a doorstep in the rain while canvassing in Scunthorpe, England. My answer did not even convince me.

If we accept that the majority of public sector expenditure, the bit not keeping the lights on, is spent on social services and health, and assuming that vendors want to sell their value propositions at scale, why are they not focused on where the greatest RoI for the customer is? What do smart cities mean for a single mother on benefits in a tower block with no lifts? Why is a robot care assistant better than a human care assistant? I have yet to see a robot wash its hands.

Smart cities have been the coming thing for many years, but you can only be a “coming thing” for a finite amount of time. Out of enlightened self-interest, I believe that vendors need to pivot from designing solutions for the advantaged and focus on what technology can do for the disadvantaged. In doing so, they will support the outcomes cities are looking for and sell more. Less robotic dogs and more real-life solutions. I still liked the dog though.

We at IDC’s European Government Insights are going to focus on solutions that impact People, Place and Performance. A synthesis of that thinking can be found in the IDC European Government Executive Summit 2021: Snapshot and look out for a new IDC Worldwide Research agenda in 2022 called Sustainable Buildings, Homes and Districts.


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