Michael Burton 26 March 2020

Where are your services on the Smart City journey?

The advent of new digital technology such as 5G, the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and data analytics have the potential to transform our cities, towns and places, drive efficiencies, open up new businesses and improve the lives of our citizens through improved public services. But this transformation cannot be achieved without the public and private sectors working together.

Furthermore, are local authorities fully aware of what these changes mean to their place and to the services they deliver? Have they, for example, developed a Smart City – or to be accurate, Smart Place – shared services strategy with their partners and identified which services should be included within it? How far are they in pooling staff, infrastructure and data to bring efficiencies and share in revenue opportunities?

To find out more, The MJ and BT recently undertook a survey of local government directors to attempt to answer these questions. The good news is that sharing of services, already well established within local government, is also a key part of the Smart City/Smart Place agenda.

Almost three quarters of survey respondents said their shared smart services were ‘in development’ while 20% said they were actually up and running. In contrast, just 7% said there was no sharing at all.

So what were the reasons named for sharing services? Cost savings emerged as a key priority followed by the need to make efficiencies and provide a better service to citizens. The ability to attract investment and expertise the councils did not have was slightly lower on the priority list. Indeed the need to make money was less of a focus; in a separate question an overwhelming 93% of respondents said they did not generate revenue by selling their shared services to other partners. Of the tiny sample who did sell the services, the other customers were mostly local government or other public sector.

Three quarters of respondents said their shared services were with other parts of the public sector while a further 20% said they were sharing with a mix of private and public. Only 7% said their shared services were with the private sector alone. The NHS was by far the most common partner, named by 78% of respondents, followed by the police, named by 50%.

At a practical level sharing services in a Smart City/Place context was most developed in adult care, hence the NHS as prime partner. Next came children’s services, then community safety, housing and revenues and benefits and streetscene services like cleansing and refuse collection. Further down the scale were leisure and recreation while least developed were parking services according to respondents followed by traffic and highways.

So what exactly is being shared? Asked to ‘tick all that apply’ two thirds of respondents named back office technology and data as their key areas while almost half named staff. Much lower down at 20% was accommodation.

Looking ahead to the future the survey asked respondents for their views on services going forward which were most likely to be sharing more infrastructure and facilities with other partners. There were two services which stood out way above the others – both being named by 80% of respondents. They were community safety, such as for lone workers, anti-social behaviour and security in open spaces like parks and then care services. These were followed by parking services and environmental monitoring (such as air quality and pest control), libraries and parks, then smart energy (lighting, vehicle charging) and mobile coverage including 5G roll-out. These form a major wish list for local authorities in the Smart City/Place agenda.

Asked to name the obstacles to better sharing of services in Smart City/Place, an overwhelming 86% of respondents named lack of skilled staff while 60% named lack of money, 40% named lack of up to date digital technology and 40% also named cultural obstacles in partner organisations. Sharing of data was also named by 20% of the survey.

Finally what is the most important ingredient to developing successful shared services? The top answer given by respondents was the sharing of data followed by a joint investment by partners and improved access to digital technology. ‘Clear goals’ was also named as a priority. The journey has started but there is still plenty of road yet to be covered.

Brian Jackson, head of BT surveillance, comments on the survey findings:

Budgets are tight for everyone these days, particularly so in the public sector. We’re all aware of pressures on local authority budgets while demand for services in social care, housing and community safety are increasing. It’s an environment where individual services find themselves having to make cuts to services rather than offering holistic new, 21st century citizen-centric ones.

This is where the evolution of ‘Smart Places’ or ‘Smart Communities’ is helping to bear fruit.

For example, in the world of community safety, BT have helped local authorities across Sussex share CCTV services with the police. Different permissions and controls are allowing appropriate access to footage for different public services and community insights. Funding is spread across stakeholders, with significant service savings experienced across the board. You can find out more about our work with Sussex Police at http://www.bt.com/sussexpolice.

BT have been working on several sharing initiatives when it comes to Smart Places and Internet of Things (IoT) too. From refuse management and smart parking in Milton Keynes (MK: Smart) to air-quality sensors in Birmingham, we are working with communities and councils to explore how data from IoT sensors can support a range of initiatives.

For example, in Bradford and Birmingham, we have integrated IoT sensors within BT’s digital street units to measure air quality in real-time. Data is then available via BT’s data hub for analysis by Bradford City Council and a group of researchers and scientists in Birmingham, led by the University of Birmingham. With the air quality monitored, there is now the opportunity to manage it, reduce its sources and create a healthier city – something that could in turn reduce demands on the NHS and make savings for social services.

We’re building our knowledge base through working with partners from across the value chain and focusing on building out the infrastructure to enable greater adoption of IoT and Smart Cities. Local authorities have already invested in significant infrastructure and, with the move to digital IP, can do more with it, like providing free public space wifi to keep citizens included and attracting mobile operators to expedite their roll-out of 5G. The MJ survey shows that sharing resources, knowledge, skills and people is the direction the public sector is taking. Change is always challenging – and BT is spearheading it alongside the public sector.

To find out more about the work we are doing, please visit: https://business.bt.com/solutions/surveillance/smart-cities/ or get in touch directly with Trish Bacon in our Surveillance Solutions team at trish.bacon@bt.com

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