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How to succeed at becoming a smart city: Myth-busting advice from a smart city expert

Posted October 24, 2019 in Business, English, Network, New Technology by 0

How to succeed at becoming a smart city:  Myth-busting advice from a smart city expert

Smart city programs open a world of opportunity for municipalities and their citizens.  The benefits have been proven worldwide, from projects that improve safety and transportation to those that build community engagement.  At its core, it’s about making a city more liveable,” says Murray Marven, Senior Consultant, Smart City and IoT Solutions at Bell Canada.

The federal Smart Cities Challenge has done a great job in raising awareness in Canada and many promising smart city projects are now under way, says Marven.  He’s encouraging cities that have yet to jump on board to begin with a pilot project.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about becoming a smart city,” said Marven. “The truth is that there are big benefits to be gained. The important thing is to start.”

We spoke with Marven to debunk smart city myths, and to share his advice on how cities can get started and achieve success on their smart city journey.

There are so many definitions of what a smart city is. How would you define a smart city?

Murray Marven: Let’s start by talking about the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT technology allows businesses to gather data in real time to make better decisions. The same principle applies to cities and municipalities on a much broader scale. They can make informed decisions that have significant social, community and environmental benefits.

At the end of the day, it is about what the technology enables a city to do to affect the lives of its citizens in a meaningful way. This includes things like more cost effective solutions to manage the city, the beautification of the city, making it safer and more liveable, improving the quality of life and increasing citizen engagement. In short, it’s about helping a city be a place people want to be. Being a smart city benefits citizens, workers, staff and elected officials.

It starts with defining how you want to positively impact people’s lives, and then using proven technology to do that.

You’ve said that the biggest obstacle for cities is fear.  How do you address that?

Marven: Smart cities haven’t been heavily deployed yet in Canada, as the fear of the unknown is one of the biggest obstacles. But these solutions are widely proven in Asia, Europe, and across the U.S., and also within Canada if you factor in the commercial sector. To mitigate risk, cities can always start with pilots. The solutions work and the outcomes are well known. There is no question in my mind these things will deliver. I would just encourage cities to get started.

Let’s clear up the common misconceptions you’ve heard from municipalities about becoming a smart city. One is that it’s only for big cities.

Marven: If we look south of the border, more than 30 per cent of smart city projects are taking place in smaller cities, according to a survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors..

While smaller cities may not have the same problems with parking as a larger city, almost any city of any size has city buildings and is probably spending 30 to 40 per cent more than they need to on energy if they are not fully optimized. Energy is one of the most substantial costs many cities face, and by saving on energy costs, cities have the ability to reinvest their savings into other areas to help improve the lives of their citizens.

What do you say to those who believe that becoming a smart city is too expensive or that they have to be on the leading edge for it to work?

Marven: Here’s where technology helps to lower the entry point. In the past, an Internet of Things (IoT) solution had to have a costly network and storage. Now, data can be stored on a cost-effective cloud. Plus, the solution doesn’t require a city to build out its own Wi-Fi or proprietary wide area networks to support it. The truth about IoT is that it rarely requires a lot of bandwidth. Today, sensors can be connected using LTE-M, a low-powered wide area network that’s part of leading carriers’ cellular networks. The entry point is dramatically reduced from where it was 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago. There’s no need to wait for new technologies like 5G to start being a more attractive city. 5G will just add to that attractiveness. 

What’s your advice to cities on how and where to start?


There are basically five steps to get started.  The first is to develop a vision based on the core issues facing your city. 

Second, build support for the vision with citizens and across Departments. Consultations will help provide validation and support for the top priorities. 

Third, choose the right partners. Know that you’re not alone. There are partnerships available to you with Canadian organizations that use global best of breed offerings to

build made-for-Canada solutions.

Fourth, don’t wait.  Start small if you have to. Pilot projects are a great way to demonstrate early results.

Finally, be relentless and make your city smarter every day.

What smart city initiatives produce the best results?

Cities are very different with regard to their core challenges, but one common challenge we see is that aging infrastructure and water leaks are often an issue. It’s common to have 30 per cent of processed water leaking into the ground. That’s a public safety issue because leaks erode the infrastructure, such as roads and gas lines. To an earlier point, these solutions are appropriate for cities of all sizes – one of our recent deployments enabled a city to reduce water loss and mitigate infrastructure failure costs amounting to about $130k per year by monitoring the city’s water pipeline network using smart nodes attached to existing fire hydrants. Similarly, monitoring solutions can mitigate damages caused by flooding, which has been identified as the number one problem for cities by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Energy optimization is always big because cities can see immediate savings. As energy constitutes such a large percentage of a city’s spend, small changes can amount to big savings.  For example, the City of Chicago expects to save $10 million a year in energy costs by replacing 270,000 lights with LED lighting equipped with intelligent controls.

Technology also makes a difference when it comes to citizen engagement. Unlike businesses, city services are to be available to everyone. They need to find affordable ways to reach the hard-to-reach members of our communities. 

What are the pitfalls to avoid?

Marven: It’s extremely important for cities to establish a plan and purposefully budget for innovation and infrastructure improvements. Cities are not allowed to run deficits so it has to be baked into the budget to create the momentum.

Secondly, cities need to find ways to make procurement more agile, by using research projects and pilots, for example. Public sector procurement policies are in place for good reasons, but the policies need to support the timelines involved with innovation.

Thirdly, cities will need to start coordinating across silos. A platform that allows them to see the entire city’s operations on a single plane of glass can help them find new cross-functional efficiency opportunities and cost savings. As an example, it will allow a city to coordinate all of its public service vehicles in real-time during a public event, like a parade. Cities can easily ensure that buses, garbage trucks and emergency vehicles have clear routing instructions to deal with road closures.

Finally, they should beware of proliferating projects in a vacuum, without a framework, plan and partnerships with key stakeholders. Champions can come from many places, but a plan sets the necessary alignment. 

What factors should cities consider when selecting a partner?

Marven: Look for a partner with experience that will help you avoid the pitfalls I’ve just outlined. At Bell, we will work with you on the business case and help find ways to resolve challenges. We’ll sit down in a workshop to sketch out the overall plan.

Pick people who demonstrate best of breed solutions, but also build redundancy in their portfolio. Redundancy in the solution stack reduces risk. Make sure the partner will look for the solutions that you need.

Finally, look for a partner that invests in Canada. Much smart city success is in Asia and

Europe, but there are not a lot of snow plows in Singapore. You need a provider who will consider the Canadian space first and foremost and place your needs above all else.

At Bell, Canada is our market and our focus is on this geography.  We’ve worked in the connected sensors space building these solutions for over 20 years.  Network investments in Canadian cities span coast to coast and across all community sizes.  Regardless of the size of the city, you’re not competing against Paris or Rio or any other place. You will always be the priority. We have 52,000 employees in Canada that want to see Canadian cities be successful. We live here too.

Learn more about Bell Canada’s smart city solutions here.

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