The future is calling for smart cities

Ghent: a smart city case study

A new trend is underway: the movement to become a smart city. The goal? Making smart use of resources to deal with today’s – and tomorrow’s – urban challenges. Based on their study of the City of Ghent (Belgium), Vlerick’s Joachim Van den Bergh and Stijn Viaene have published a report, targeted at city managers and administrators, to offer observations and recommendations for making their cities smart.

But first of all, what is a ‘smart city’? Stated simply, a ‘smart city’ is a city that makes smart use of resources and information technology (ICT) to solve urban problems. More specifically, a smart city creates a knowledge infrastructure that enables it to shift from reacting to problems to anticipating problems and solving them proactively. As a smart city coordinates resources, services and activities to improve the efficiency of city operations, it improves the quality of life for its citizens.

Ghent’s smart city ambition

The authors chose Ghent as the subject of a smart city case study, because, as they state: “In Ghent we found an ambitious and self-critical organisation that is locally and internationally well respected for its smart city efforts.” Moreover, Ghent’s ambition specifically aims for ‘a smart citizen in a smart city’. The study focuses on the organisational challenges that a city administration faces as the result of its ambition to become a smart city.

And it goes deeper as well. Today, cities all over the world have the ambition to become smart. But what does it take to go beyond the experimental phase and really make it happen – to turn ambition into reality?

Observations & Recommendations

The authors start from the hypothesis that “the actors that design and carry out the organisational transformation in smart cities will have to dynamically adjust their design, planning, and control of organisational change to reflect the ecosystem perspective and its key success factors.”

Their case study research has resulted in 6 key points of interest that can help city administrators better understand the impact of the smart city ambition and how to turn it into reality:

  • Ecosystem approach
    A city has to think thoroughly about the position it wants to take in the urban ecosystem. In the case of Ghent, the city administration is striving to position itself as an active, and activating, director in the ecosystem.
  • Smart city leadership
    Simply aspiring to be a smart city is not enough: political willingness and long-term commitment are needed to put and keep things in motion. In the City of San Francisco, for example, a true innovation department, headed by a Chief Innovation Officer, supports city-wide smart city efforts.
  • Coordination mechanisms
    Many smart city initiatives, even if they’re part of a larger programme, often form an uncoordinated set of projects that are labelled ‘smart city’ to attract visibility and budget. To get beyond this stage, the city administration has to install formal and informal mechanisms to support and coordinate smart city projects.
  • Business-IT alignment
    The authors believe that a smart city ambition implies rethinking the city’s e-strategy and the role of its IT department. They advise developing an ICT strategy as a spin-off of the city’s long-term strategy to address specifically how ICT will contribute to ‘smartness’.
  • Organisational readiness
    Successful organisational change will not happen if the existing – and desired – organisational cultures are not taken into account. The smart city is as much about cultural change as it is about adopting technology, formulating strategies and designing structures.
  • Beyond experimentation
    Many smart city projects are experimental in nature – but the authors believe that initiatives should not be restricted to pilot projects or so-called sandbox initiatives. In addition to innovation and re-design of existing city services, smart cities should be about innovation and new service design.

Source: “Smart City: Turning ambition into reality (Observations and recommendations for the city administration)” by Joachim Van den Bergh, Senior Research Associate, Vlerick Business School, and Prof Dr Stijn Viaene, Partner Vlerick Business School, Full Professor KU Leuven. This report was sponsored by Fidecity.

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