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Drivers of Smart City Innovation
Tye Hayes, CTO, City of Atlanta
Today, the government sector is awakening to the need to innovate in the world of smart cities. However, amidst the craving for an innovative city, the existing legacy and aging infrastructure is weighing it down. And generally many local government entities are strapped for budget. Even though the projects are funded, local governments find it challenging to strategically build a sound and future-proof infrastructure. To sum it, to build on top of aging infrastructure, strategically innovating on the foundation, and staying ahead in terms of innovation, are the important challenges in the sector.
What are the challenges when it comes to implementing innovative changes?
The setback in implementing the evolution in the cityscape is infrastructure. Also, communication that ensures a clear understanding of how to develop smart cities and time required to make long term changes often prove as stumbling blocks. The amendments require time and planning, but oftentimes there is pressure to implement quickly. Alongside, as the way of receiving services from a city has changed for citizens and residents, another challenge is to ensure that digital literacy is in place to enable community engagement around the changes. In order to establish proper communication and digital literacy, it is essential to be ever-ready to anticipate questions and answer them.
What are the criteria in choosing the right solution partner, and what are some solutions that can be implemented to build smart cities?
From a solution or vendor perspective, it is important to understand the business challenges being addressed. Often in the space of smart cities, the vendors willing to communicate about the solution and the resulting transformation of the city fail to have a conversation around change management. This leads to some of the solutions being unfit. This is because the solution is just pushed without taking into consideration the entire ecosystem in terms of success criteria identified upfront, time spent to find out the foremost technical requirements from both usability and training perspective. If an organization is providing a mutually beneficial solution for an issue in the city while garnering profitability, then the emphasis on the product comes only second. This is because, the conversations cannot be centered on a particular technology, product, or vendor, but has to revolve around truly understanding the unique challenges of different cities and designing solutions specific to its needs.
What are the predicaments in the government sector that is hindering its success?
The major factor that is holding the government back from transformation and prompt functioning is its time-consuming procurement cycle. It could either be the budgeting process or the full procurement process taking a longer time or obtaining the funding for a particular item for a unique transformation.
With the approach of not spending money on reinventing the wheel, we want to foundationally structure the city and its infrastructure to give us the ability to grow securely
If the process of approval and purchase is not foreseen and planned properly, the product could become obsolete and outdated by the time it is received. The government sector has to fast track implementation to be competitive and stay current and be marketable like the private sector. We have to adopt a few of the private sector practices while still meeting the valuable needs of the government of the city and its fair procurement practices and streamline and reduce lead time for tasks in the pipeline.
Could you discuss some of the projects you have been a part of in the recent past and the technological elements involved in making the projects successful?
We are working immensely toward strengthening our core infrastructure. We are also standardizing our implementations across the entire city, including the airport with a holistic view. Our goal is to implement a secure, future-proof infrastructure that can support numerous innovative initiatives for our respective constituents and projects. With the approach of not spending money on reinventing the wheel, we want to foundationally structure the city and its infrastructure to give us the ability to grow securely.
What advice would you like to give the budding entrepreneurs?
My first piece of advice would be on collaborating and having cross functional networking opportunities with other cities and CTOs from private sectors or vendors. Increased communication and collaboration can lead us to be smarter about accomplishing and implementing tasks without starting from scratch. I believe in observing the environment of organizations that are implementing identical solutions in other cities and then understanding our unique situation with the city of Atlanta to incorporate some of that information to trim down our learning curve. The next step would be to spend time in planning upfront and understanding requirements to integrate systems efficiently. The third step is to check on data and analytics strategy during the course of implementation because ultimately data is where the future is. Cities become smarter when they can capitalize on the amount of data to make data-driven decisions as a whole.
What were the innovations done in the projects you have been a part of, and how did they help in making the project more successful?
The project that I have been a part of comprehensively revolves around rebuilding our infrastructure and certainly wrapping security around our operations. Security has been our major focus for a city with numerous prominent security vendors from a platform perspective both in managed services and technology. Moreover, we are extensively working on areas of public safety and have a real-time crime center. Also, the other key areas include traffic management for the city, along with an emphasis on our smart water infrastructure.
What is the leadership strategy you follow to encourage your team and progress toward any project?
I think it is important to establish a vision so that the team can understand the direction they are proceeding. As the team is our trusted experts, there needs to be collaboration and levels of accountability where they have a voice on how the solutions should be implemented in the city. With several ways to implement solutions, I encourage my staff to speak their minds to challenge things if they are not right. Joint decision making as a team in terms of moving and transforming the city is important. This should be the strategic vision for the city for both our business units and employees in our department.
Can you shed some light on where do you see the government sector moving ahead in the coming years? What are some of the transformations you expect to happen in the sector?
For true transformation to happen at a government level, it requires factors like public-private partnerships where the private sector is collaborating with educational and government entities to solve problems holistically, for collaborative thought processes and funding, and a 360-degree view around policies and processes. Many cities have strategically accomplished these factors, and that is going to be the future. City infrastructure has many players in areas like distributed ledger technology, aviation, and various arms that are our beneficiaries. So, if we take a comprehensive look at a city as a joint collective group and solve problems, it will drive quicker transformation.