On Smart Cities: What the future holds for SMEs
Smart Cities: What the future holds for SMEs Event Panelists

On Smart Cities: What the future holds for SMEs

We gathered together on a rainy 10th of June evening to discuss Smart Cities and what the future holds for the SMEs in the industry. In Huckletree Shoreditch’s event space, a diverse crowd of professionals from different companies came together to listen to the reflections of Nicola Millson from the Connected Places Catapult, Metin Barış from Parabol, and Yhonny Raich from Where Is My Transport.

Under the moderation of Dr Cindy Regalado, each participant shared their views on topics ranging from challenges for Smart Cities entrepreneurs to the importance of leadership to run Smart Cities. The panelists also discussed their reflections on whether we should build on existing technologies to avoid production of tech junk or whether new technologies are needed in the drive to innovate. They also discussed the potential of technologies to cross borders and the value of international collaborations in the sector.

The evening began with Dr Cindy Regalado’s address to attendees introducing the Innovate UK programme, T-DEB – of which this event is a part of – and introduced the participating Turkish companies in the audience. We then plunged into the first topic of the evening: areas of opportunities for SMEs in Smart Cities. Nicola Millson shared what Connected Places Catapult offers in terms of supporting SMEs and projects in different stages of development and providing environments for networking such as the Transport Café.

The panel then progressed into discussing the challenges of Smart Cities, starting with the need to have strong leaders who interpret and use data wisely to make informed decisions about cities and regions – decisions that ultimately affect research and business. ‘Leaders and government are the most important thing we identify when entering a new market,’ said Yhonny Raich from Where is my Transport, reminding us that for government officials, complex notions like data and sensors sometimes become very overwhelming. He highlighted that having a champion to advocate for their technology and to help them navigate in the government ranks was essential.

leadership requires establishing a common framework and standards by all stakeholders

Likewise, Metin Barış, the CEO of Parabol stressed the importance of reaching out to stakeholders. He noted that ‘leadership requires establishing a common framework and standards by all stakeholders’: industry contributes ideas and implementation, associations build bridges across sectors, public authorities provide regulatory frameworks and enforcement, and NGOs analysis and assessment. He also highlighted that citizens are active participants and there is an increasing role that citizen science plays in supporting leadership in Smart Cities. See for example, this presentation by UCL on Citizen Science and the Science of Cities.

Nicola Millson reminded us how crucial it is for leaders to be open and willing to change noting that leadership needs to also come from the creators of the systems working with each other as collaborators to address key challenges. ‘Necessity is the mother of innovation,’ she said, highlighting that this too is where the willingness to work together comes from; collaboration and being able to share data between systems is essential to further develop the ecosystem.

Necessity is the mother of innovation,’ she said, highlighting that this too is where the willingness to work together comes from

The panel discussion then focused on the technologies of Smart Cities: should we be simplifying and building on existing technologies rather than continuously creating new ones? Is there efficiency in implementing simpler approaches in smart cities?

Metin Barış acknowledged that there is a kind of romanticism for technology with buzzwords like AI, cloud, and big data but warned against developing technology and pursuing change merely for the sake of change. He noted that development should follow an ‘objective-oriented approach’. ‘The biggest problem we face is interoperability,’ he said, and advised Smart Cities SMEs on not being romantic about how they approach smart cities but instead be object-oriented: working toward continuous availability, interoperability, security, data protection, seamless deployment, etc. Yhonny Raich pointed out that compatibility is key to succeed in Smart Cities: being flexible and able to design and deliver solutions aligned with the way that governments operate. Nicola expanded on the 3 Horizons approach to problem-solving with understanding the current problem, understanding how to solve it, and understanding solutions at hand.

When we collaborate across borders, it provides an opportunity to see and learn from each other’s problems and solutions’, which in turn contributes to the development of regional/continental scalable solutions; it has the opportunity to move toward ‘long-term ecosystem creation as a connecting and unifying platform with stakeholder value-creation at heart’.

Smart Cities are becoming global in many ways and we asked panelists how the sector can benefit from international collaborations. They reflected that an international perspective can support long-term planning by, for example, building collaborations with international stakeholders. Metin explains: ‘When we collaborate across borders, it provides an opportunity to see and learn from each other’s problems and solutions’, which in turn contributes to the development of regional/continental scalable solutions; it has the opportunity to move toward ‘long-term ecosystem creation as a connecting and unifying platform with stakeholder value-creation at heart’. They also agreed on Patrick Geddes motto: ‘Think global, act local’. Small changes at the local level or small scale can have a big impact; it is like ‘glocalisation with a butterfly effect’ Metin notes.

While you can certainly have KPIs in e.g. transport systems such as number of accidents, travel time, waiting time, etc, the challenge is in how do you, as an SME inform policy and decision-making. And this is where bridging organisations like the Catapults play a key role because they can facilitate initiatives that look at gaps and overlaps as opportunities for innovation.

Panelists reflected on our audience’s questions such as ‘how is the impact of technology measured?’. Panelists discussed that this is a struggle for SMEs because you are one of several players in the system. While you can certainly have KPIs in e.g. transport systems such as number of accidents, travel time, waiting time, etc, the challenge is in how do you, as an SME inform policy and decision-making. And this is where bridging organisations like the Catapults play a key role because they can facilitate initiatives that look at gaps and overlaps as opportunities for innovation.The panel was followed by a networking event where attendees had the opportunity to get to know our programme’s Turkish Smart Cities companies visiting the UK to build collaborative R&D partnerships across borders. You can read more about this exciting Innovate UK programme at tdebproject.com and read all the participating companies’ profiles.

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