Blog – 33 key points for smart city policy-makers

Lea Hemetsberger

Jun 18, 2018



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When Martin Brynskov, Chair of Open & Agile Smart Cities (OASC), first asked me to moderate the panel Platform and Solutions Convergence & Interoperability of the two-day workshop Internet of Things and Smart Cities & Communities Platform Convergence at IoT Week in Bilbao this year, my first thought was: 9 presentations on smart cities. Won’t everything have been said by the 3rd presentation?

Tanya Suárez, CEO of BluSpecs, moderates the session ‘Platform and Solutions Convergence & Interoperability’.

Now, some of you will have been asked to moderate sessions at events of varying size and diverse audience and you will know what I’m talking about. But I can honestly say that this was the first time that I have come across 9 panellists, speaking on a relatively narrow subject who, without exception, kept my eyes glued to them and their screens and my ears tuned to their next sentence.

While replicating the content would be out of the scope of a post such as this, I did want to share one or two of the key takeaways from each panellist. I hope they will be as enlightening for you as they were for me:

Olavi Luotonen of the European Commission’s DG CONNECT IoT Unit was refreshingly honest when he kicked off with his first piece of advice for would-be smart city implementers:

  1. Put the cats on the table: Kick-starting a project, probably designed 3 years ago, and sticking to what was in the original proposal, is evidence that you don’t have the ability to learn and adapt to your environment.
  2. Grow big ears: Listen to the community. This is the key ingredient for sustainability and is one of the founding principles of the concept of Living Labs.
  3. Do what it says on the box: Apparently many proposals focus on clever acronyms that leave unclear what the project is all about.

Olavi´s colleague, Svetoslav Mihaylov of the Smart Mobility and Living Unit, added:

  1. The tail should not wag the dog: We must start with societal needs and then work on the data needed to solve these.

Jesús Cañadas, Head of Sector, of the Spanish Ministry for Information Society and the Digital Agenda had the following advice:

  1. Don’t introduce verticality into horizontal domains: Smart cities require open interfaces and open standards and the role of ITU and similar organisations is critical here.
  2. Avoid vendor lock-in. Procurement processes need to consider what happens to the infrastructure, devices and data when the contract ends.
  3. Be open to different business models. This is a huge challenge for current procurement regulations but is an essential requirement for a data-driven economy.

Lindsay Frost, NEC Laboratories Europe, Sector Forum for Smart and Sustainable Cities and Communities (SF-SSCC), ETSI Board member agreed with the points above and added:

  1. Many needles in many haystacks. There is a huge amount of information on standards for smart cities; this information needs to be ordered and prioritised in a way that users can find what they need.
  2. Twist your brain 90º from technologist to policy maker to understand what data needs to be shared to create new value.
  3. Call a spade a spade: We must use common ontologies; ITU and SAREF are acting as unifying forces here.
  4. Keep climbing the data pyramid: Even if you have to find a way to charge, it is still worth the effort.

Kees van der Klauw, Chair, Alliance for IoT Innovation (AIOTI) provided a different perspective:

  1. Everything is hunky dory. Or is it? Cities are still working in silos. Budgets are organised according to these silos and the return isn’t seen by the investor.
  2. Embrace Negative Naggers. Individuals who consistently question why something is being done are critical for the success of smart cities.
  3. Don’t believe the hype: How can you expect applications (which are mature), to be developed on platforms (which aren’t)?

Ramy Ahmad Fathy, Vice-Chair, ITU-T Study Group 20 for IoT and Smart Cities & Communities and an AI entrepreneur had the following advice:

  1. Go beyond the buzzwords: What does transforming sities into smart cities actually mean? Set targets that are related to the challenges in the city.
  2. Bring real numbers into the game: 60K people are added to Chinese cities every day. This gives an idea of the scope and the size of the challenge. And Cairo is the world’s fastest growing city.
  3. Show me the money: Some smart city goals may have hefty bills attached to them and need to be carved into bite-sized piece. Standards can help different pieces fit together.
  4. Focus through focus groups. Standards must be developed from the community. Bring other stakeholders into the standards debate.
  5. Mind the Gap: Engage in forward looking research and continuously look at areas that need to be addressed.
  6. Don’t ignore data monetisation: This needs to be a topic that is on the table.

Martin Brynskov, Chair of the OASC summarised the lessons learned from a global network of connected cities:

  1. From opportunity to risk management: We must transition from simple exploration of the potential to management of the risks that are associated with mass deployment.
  2. We need MIMs: Minimal Interoperability Mechanisms to help users link systems together.
  3. We are crash test dummies: so build in iteration; we will make mistakes and this is OK.
  4. Don’t start from scratch: OrganiCity has a playbook that can be used by any city wanting to explore the road to transformation, and SynchroniCity has a framework for standards-based innovation and procurement, ready to use.
  5. Leave room for wild cards: you will have good ideas for sure, but you don’t have the monopoly on the best ones.
  6. One size doesn’t fit all: when it comes to the Terms & Conditions for data, look at the specifics of the use.

Key pointers from José Manuel Cantera from FIWARE Foundation were:

  1. The here and now: Data can be used in many contexts. Data may be immediate or as part of historical sets that provides a view of how things evolve over time…
  2. Remember Schrödinger’s cat: Categorising information is important; know when someone was observed may be relevant for a given piece of data

Omar Elloumi, Nokia Bell Labs, tech lead of oneM2M and Smart Grids Standards and Chair of AIOTI Working Group on Smart Cities offered more commercial considerations:

  1. No longer any colour as long as it’s black: Cities have wide range of connectivity options. Just be careful about the total cost of deployment.
  2. Open data: Consider carefully if your RFP (Request for Proposals) should really ask for turnkey solutions (end-to-end network connectivity + hardware + application). You may find you gain in the long run if you require instead component reusability.
  3. Beachheads for smart city procurement: Commercially viable and sustainable use cases that are cross-domain are the best place to start.
  4. No IoT platform will dominate. But the Not-Invented-Here syndrome needs still to be avoided at all costs.
  5. From data points to data streams: Our next challenge is to consider how can they be processed and how we can scale capacity.

Martin Bynskov, it is a real credit to you that you were able to put together such a well-balanced group of experts.

And one more thing. My sincere thanks to all for keeping to the allotted 8 slides and 10 minutes. It meant that your messages were punchy and to the point. As I said earlier, it has been an absolute privilege to share the stage with you. I look forward to progressing the conversation at IoT Week 2019 in Aarhus, Denmark, June 17-21.



Tanya Suárez is CEO of BluSpecs, an innovation agency, and founder of IoT Tribe, an equity-free accelerator that brings start-ups and corporates together to do business. Also, Tanya works as an evaluator for the European Commission’s SME instrument and is a board member of AIOTI.