Smarter cities

By Stijn Viaene, professor of Management Information Systems
(Source: Smart Business Strategies, 12/2012)

  • Professor at KU Leuven and Vlerick Business School
  • Partner at Vlerick Business School
  • Deloitte Research Chair Bringing IT to Board Level

These days European and other authorities get quite excited when we touch on the issue of innovation in a number of large European cities. This innovation is based around the ‘smart cities’ concept, that is cities where sustainable development and the wellbeing of the inhabitants is approached from a fundamentally different angle. We are talking about cities like Barcelona, Berlin, Amsterdam, Bologna and London. But our very own Ghent also gets a look in.

The Smart City World Congress in Barcelona last month welcomed no less than 7000 visitors from 82 countries. And there’s no escaping the fact that in this context a lot is expected of the new ICT. All the cities have underlined and highlighted big (open) data, big analytics, social media, mobility and cloud computing in their agendas.

Mobility experiments with huge amounts of sensor data in an ‘internet of things’ on Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia. London’s plans for the rollout of an ‘urban operating system’ where the city and third parties can offer ‘smart services’ to the citizen to their heart’s content. Amsterdam’s West Orange project where a couple of hundred dwellings are fitted with digital displays for energy management and other home electronics. These are just a few of the strategic initiatives which are getting me enthusiastic. They’re a breathtaking preview of the digital possibilities of the future.

Whether or not the current experiments actually result in smart cities doesn’t actually depend on the technological opportunities. The fate of our cities is in the hands of the political and administrative decision makers. I am somewhat concerned that so few of them have a Chief Information Officer. Firms such as Cisco and IBM do an absolutely sterling job as purveyors to the most ambitious cities. But who is thinking along with these people? Who is offering the necessary response? Or would our city leaders prefer to outsource the portfolio and strategic ICT decisions to these third parties?

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